The Postman Always Rings Twice Review

Frank (John Garfield) is a drifter, working his way along the road, his itchy feet never allowing him to settle down in one place for too long. When he is dropped off at the Twin Oaks diner to take up a new job however, the owner Nick Smith (Cecil Kellaway) introduces Frank to his young, beautiful wife Cora (Lana Turner) and Frank knows he has found a reason to stay around a bit longer. Cora feels it too. Trapped in a loveless marriage with a man much older than herself, she is looking for a way out. The two of them begin to wonder what kind of life they could have together if Nick should happen to meet with an unfortunate accident.

Tay Garnett’s 1946 version of The Postman Always Rings Twice is a classic little noir film version of the James M. Cain novel that smoulders where the ugly and much more explicit 1981 remake starring Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange overstates. Lana Turner as Cora, lights up the screen from the moment she makes her almost legendary first appearance in front of Frank. She brilliantly captures the vulnerability of a young woman married to an older man with no ambition or drive, who suddenly meets a handsome, romantic drifter and is willing to do anything to break free, even if it means murder. Garfield is also brilliant as Frank, outwardly tough and ruggedly handsome, his weakness shows in his battle between his need to wander and his desire to have Cora. Together they manage to convince us of the deep raging passions without the film ever needing to show them ripping the clothes off each other – a silent, smouldering look, an intake of breath, a hesitant pause and the passionate plunging into the sea are all that the film needs to describe the intensity of their passion. Despite the slight toning down of some of the more lurid and racialist aspects of Cain’s novel (Nick Smith is Nick Papadakis in the novel and the remake – a Greek immigrant, which makes Frank’s jealousy of his possession of Cora a little more intense), the 1946 version is almost identical to the novel in characterisation, pacing and emphasis.

The film also boasts a superb supporting cast featuring Hume Cronyn as the clever, double-dealing lawyer, Leon Ames as the suspicious DA and Audrey Totter as the ‘other woman’ who adds spice to an already explosive relationship. Much as I love the similarly themed Double Indemnity, based on another James M. Cain novel – and must confess that if I was forced to I would choose Wilder’s film over this one – there is something much more convincing about the Lana Turner and James Garfield’s ‘couple fatale’ (if I may invent a term) than the Fred MacMurray & Barbara Stanwyck pairing, something that convinces you that they could be driven to any lengths necessary to have each other.

Warners Bros show other distributors how to treat their important back catalogue releases here with a fine transfer of a good print onto a dual layer disc, a fine selection of extra features, a full selection of European language dubs and a full selection of subtitles for all those languages as well. Extra features are also fully subtitled in all languages. It's encoded for Regions 2, 4 and 5.

Most of the film looks spectacular – a full range of grey-tones, luminous whites, solid blacks and wonderful shadow detail. There is a faint level of grain which makes the film look a little soft in places, but never any more than you would expect to find in a film print this old. There are some irritating parallel tramline scratches running down the left-hand side of the print for about the first twenty minutes of the film, which is not always clearly visible, but can be very distracting once it is noticed. It’s a pity because otherwise, there is hardly a mark on the print, which is crisp, stable and transferred without any noticeable artefacting problems whatsoever. It’s still an impressive picture though.

The original English audio track is presented in Dolby Digital 1.0 mono through the centre speaker and it's adequate. Never totally clear, there is a fair amount of hiss that hasn’t been eliminated by noise reduction. Nevertheless there are no crackles or pops, levels remain strong and stable and the dialogue is always audible. French, German and Spanish dubbed versions are also included, as are subtitles for all these languages and more, including English for hard of hearing.

Introduction by Richard Jewell (05:01)
Richard Kewell, Film Historian and USC Professor of Critical Studies presents a good, informative and spoiler-free introduction to the film, its history and its cast.

The John Garfield Story (57:40)
Narrated by Garfield’s daughter Julie, this is a typically thorough Turner movie channel documentary, extensively covering Garfield’s background, family life and film career with lots of contributions from many famous acting names. It’s told in the familiar American rags to riches style, from Julie’s (his real forename was Julius) tough life on the streets as a kid, overcoming a stutter to achieve rapid success in Hollywood as the tough-guy in so many noir films. The actor’s downfall, like so many others, at the hands of the House Un-American Activities Committee is particularly tragic, leading to the actor’s death at the age of only 39.

Behind the Scenes Image Gallery
A good and extensive selection of photographs, mostly black and white with some colour poster images are presented, needlessly and distractingly, in a framed photo-album style.

Theatrical Trailer (02:23)
The theatrical trailer looks good, but using long takes from scenes, gives away a little too much about the outcome of the film. The trailer for the 1981 remake is advertised on the back cover of the DVD, but I didn’t find that present on the disc.

The 1946 version of The Postman Always Rings Twice is quintessential film noir, with a dark, storyline involving themes of fatal attraction, murder, blackmail and betrayal, played with smouldering sensuality by the two leads. The Warner Bros Region 2 DVD presents a fabulous film in a good edition with fine supporting extra features. A modestly impressive release.

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