Toronto Film Society presented The Postman Always Rings Twice on Friday, May 11, 2012 as part of Season 65 May Festival: The Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid Weekend.
“The Postman Always Rings Twice” is a controversial picture. The approach to lust and murder is as adult and matter-of-fact as that used by James M. Cain in his book from which the film was adapted. The subject matter, the star values and release are a boxoffice combination that assure sock returns, but pic seems almost certain to be marked with controversy over such a frank display of adultery and the murder to which it leads.
Production guidance by Carey Wilson is showmanly. It was boxoffice wisdom to cast Lana Turner as the sexy, blonde murderess, and John Garfield as the foot-loose vagabond whose lust for the girl made him stop at nothing. Each give to the assignments the best of their talents. Development of the characters makes Tay Garnett’s direction seem slowly paced during first part of the picture, but this establishment was necessary to give the speed and punch to the uncompromising evil that transpires.
As in Cain’s book, there will be little audience sympathy for the characters, although plotting will arouse moments of pity for the little people too weak to fight against passion and the evil circumstances it brings. The Harry Ruskin-Niven Busch script is a rather faithful translation of Cain’s story of a boy and girl who murder the girl’s husband, live through terror and eventually make payment for their crime. The writing is terse and natural to the characters and events that transpire.
Cecil Kellaway, the husband, is a bit flamboyant at times in interpreting the character. Hume Cronyn is particularly effective as the attorney who defends the couple for murder. Leon Ames is splendid as the district attorney. Audrey Totter again demonstrates her ability to take a brief bit and make it something to remember. Alan Reed, the blackmailing detective, and others are equally good.
Camera, background music and other behind-the-scenes credits are carefully calculated to further the somber mood and the inevitable conclusion.
VARIETY, Brog., March 16, 1946
THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE, screen play by Harry Ruskin and Niven Busch, based on the novel by James M. Cain; direction by Tay Garnett; produced by Carey Wilson for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. At the Capitol.
The long hesitation of the “Hays office” to permit a motion picture to be made from James M. Cain’s plain-spoken novel, “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” is proved an unnecessary caution by the film which came to the Capitol yesterday. For “The Postman,” as evidenced in this treatment, makes a sternly “moral” picture on the screen, without in the least evading the main line or the spirit of the book. It also comes off a tremendously tense and dramatic show, and it gives Lana Turner and John Garfield the best roles of their careers.
Actually, there is nothing so sensational about the story “The Postman” tells. It is strictly a crime-and-punishment saga, and it has been told on the screen before, notably in the film version of Mr. Cain’s own “Double Indemnity.” But the picture achieves its distinction through the smart way in which it has been made and through the quality of its representation of two passion-torn characters.
Carey Wilson, who produced it for Metro, stuck close to the realistic style of the novel in picturing this story of a young bum and a temptatious blonde who kill the husband of the latter and then find you can’t “monkey with murder” profitably. He and Tay Garnett, the director, shot much of the action out-of-doors—or, at least, around a solid reproduction of a California roadside lunch-stand—in establishing the sordid liaison between the feverish hobo and the girl. And then, where the script called for action inside the lunch-stand, in court and jail, they gave these scenes all the tough-grained texture of actuality.
Furthermore, Niven Busch and Harry Ruskin preserved in their well-constructed script the terseness and flavor of dialogue that was striking in Mr. Cain’s book. The build-up of incident and character has the rhythm of a throttled-down machine, and the moments of cold, deliberate violence suddenly burst with accelerated force. Also, without illustrating any of the bluntly carnal scenes of the book, the authors, actors and director have suggested sensual tensions thoroughly.
Too much cannot be said for the principals. Mr. Garfield reflects to the life the crude and confused young hobo who stumbles aimlessly into a fatal trap. And Miss Turner is remarkably effective as the cheap and uncertain blonde who has a pathetic ambition to “be somebody” and a pitiful notion that she can realize it through crime. Cecil Kellaway is just a bit too cozy and clean as Miss Turner’s middle-aged spouse. He is the only one not a Cain character, and throws a few scenes a shade out of key. But Hume Cronyn is slyly sharp and sleazy as an unscrupulous criminal lawyer, Leon Ames is tough as a district attorney and Alan Reed plays a gum-shoe role well.
In its surface aspects, “The Postman” appears no more than a melodramatic tale, another involved demonstration (two hours in length) that crime does not pay. But the artistry of writers and actors have made it much more than that; it is, indeed, a sincere comprehension of an American tragedy. For the yearning of weak and clumsy people for something better than the stagnant lives they live is revealed as the core of the dilemma, and sin is shown to be no way to happiness.
NEW YORK TIMES, by Bosley Crowther, May 3, 1946
Notes compiled by Caren Feldman