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John Garfield and Lana Turner are attractive leads in The Postman Always Rings Twice; both seemingly tailored for 1940s Hollywood film noir. Garfield proved equally adept at playing All-American heroes and seedy rebels before his Red-Scare downfall and early death, and Turner, a staple at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, was a frequent femme fatale and early scream queen for Victor Fleming. The motive for murder is lust when Garfield begins an affair with a married Turner, who feigns a doting housewife to Cecil Kellaway's much older diner proprietor. MGM waited twelve years before bringing this adaptation of James M. Cain's racy novel to the silver screen, and director Tay Garnett's efforts to push the bounds of a restrictive Motion Picture Production Code are evident. The Postman Always Rings Twice is solid noir, though it never reaches the greatness of Double Indemnity or The Maltese Falcon, and its quick-fire romance boils over into duplicity and intrigue.
MGM was better known for fantastical musicals and elaborate dramas like The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind than film noir, and began playing catch-up in the 1940s, well after Paramount and Warner Brothers embraced the genre. The Postman Always Rings Twice unites Frank Chambers (Garfield) and Cora Smith (Turner) after Frank comes to an out-of-the-way diner and gas station for employment. Cora's husband Nick (Kellaway) runs the joint, and his character has scarcely left the room before Frank and Cora share a fiery kiss. Husband and wife are separated in age by several decades, and Cora reveals her marriage to Nick is one of convenience. Frank and Cora quickly unite and plan to run away together, but Cora backs out at the last minute, causing Frank to suggest life might be better without Nick.
In the true spirit of film noir, Cora quickly forgets any allegiance to her humble provider, and joins Frank in planning Nick's death. Cora and Frank move from innocent pawns in the game of love to scheming backstabbers in record time, and Cora's frequent all-white outfits can no longer cloak her in false purity. The pair uses Nick's propensity for drunkenness to stage an elaborate accident that should kill him, but the plan backfires, drawing the attention of inquisitive District Attorney Kyle Sackett (Leon Ames). With their actions under the microscope, Frank and Cora begin to crack and turn against one another. This sets off a string of frantic double-crossing maneuvers and some very bad behavior from the forlorn lovers.
As one of MGM's first noir films, The Postman Always Rings Twice had trouble matching the grittiness of pictures coming out of the Warner Brothers and Universal lots at the time. There's a Mayberry-like feel to the opening scenes at the Twin Oaks diner, and the shadows, fog and deception that became genre staples are nowhere to be found. Frank appeals to Nick's ego so he can stealthily move in on Cora, who spends the opening reel whispering arbitrary thoughts of child-like naivety. Garfield does the majority of the heavy lifting, particularly in these early scenes, and the seasoned actor offsets awkward moments where Turner looks ready to break down and sob. Turner is certainly an attractive women, and one can understand why Frank would fancy her character. Turner's acting is certainly adequate, but it's no match for Garfield, who runs circles around her craft.
There are many moments of unconsummated passion where it's clear the censors scared some modesty into the filmmakers. There's very little physical affection in the film, but there are some slippery innuendos that get the point across. As the film barrels forward, it gets chatty and plays fast and loose with its characters' motivations. I liked the climactic gamesmanship that results in a murder trial and subsequent betrayal. Some of the revelations are a bit farfetched, but Garfield and Ames's intensified game of cops and robbers keeps the film grounded in reality. The Postman Always Rings Twice wraps up with a bit of death and some virtues, but remains one of Hollywood's most entertaining lesser noirs.
Warner Brothers has done as good a job as any studio in championing film preservation and restoration and bringing its classics to Blu-ray. The studio has done a nice job with The Postman Always Rings Twice, which receives an impressive 1.33:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer free of any print damage. It's wonderful to see older films sparkle in high definition, and I can't imagine this looking much better. Detail is solid, and the black and white image is sharp and clear. A pleasing, natural layer of film grain remains, and the image is free of any obtrusive noise reduction and artificial sharpening. There's a bit of expected softness in spots, but black levels are solid throughout.
The restored 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio mono mix is excellent. Dialogue is crisp and clean throughout, with hardly a hint of distortion or hiss. George Bassman's score sounds full and articulate, and the music is layered nicely amid the dialogue and ambient effects. French, Spanish (Latin and Castilian), German, Italian and Portuguese 1.0 Dolby Digital tracks are also available, as are English SDH, French, Spanish (Castilian and Latin), German, Italian and Portuguese subtitles.
Warner Brothers includes a number of interesting extras on this single-disc release. First up is an Introduction by Richard Jewell (5:04/SD), in which the film historian and author gives a truncated history of the film. The John Garfield Story (57:43/SD) is an excellent piece on the late actor that was produced by Turner Classic Movies. Garfield's daughter, Julie Garfield, narrates the documentary, which dives into the actor's military service, movie roles and later struggles with the United States government. There's also Lana Turner: A Daughter's Memoir (1:26:30/SD), another TCM piece that includes scandalous testimony from Turner's only daughter, Cheryl Turner, who stabbed the elder Turner's mob-enforcer boyfriend to death in 1958. A lot of time is spent on Cheryl's story, but this feature dives headfirst into Lana Turner's tumultuous life, including her substance abuse, seven marriages and whirlwind career in Hollywood. There are also Two Vintage Shorts: "Phantoms, Inc." (16:45/SD) and "Red Hot Riding Hood" (7:15/SD). The former is part of MGM's cautionary "Crime Doesn't Pay" series, while the latter takes the tale of "Little Red Riding Hood" and spins it on its head. The extras conclude with the 6/16/1947 Screen Guild Theater Broadcast (28:51/audio only), which has Garfield and Turner reprise their roles in a slimmed-down version of the story, and the film's theatrical trailer (2:31/SD).
MGM's fiery The Postman Always Rings Twice doesn't quite match the grittiness of the noir films coming out of Warner Brothers and Universal at the time, but remains a twisty, fast-paced thriller. John Garfield and Lana Turner unite as lovers scheming to knock off Turner's much-older husband. When the plan backfires, the pair begins to sabotage one other. The dialogue is rapid-fire and plot nimble, and The Postman Always Rings Twice benefits from its charismatic lead actor. Warner Brothers releases the film on a technically excellent Blu-ray that is loaded with bonus features. Highly Recommended.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.