Monday, July 11, 2005

The Postman Always Rings Twice

is really, really good -- and Lana Turner is the best thing about it. I saw it the other night on AMC and I was pleasantly stunned, because no one ever thinks of her as being a fantastic actress so much as a gorgeous one. It's a great noir classic where Turner plays this lonely wife who winds up plotting the murder of her older husband with John Garfield, and what amazed me was that she had, all the way through, a really tortured sense of innocence. She wasn't a femme fatale in the usual sense of the word, because she didn't seem evil. She was the good girl with the incredible body who had to be convinced to do a bad thing, and who wanted to be convinced. It's all there in those eyes of her, and her lips, the way she could be child-like or devious. To watch her in this film is to be reminded that a movie is 90 percent casting. Jessica Lange was no match for her in Bob Rafelson's steamed-up 1981 version.

The title of the movie has always eluded me, although they spell it out in the end: that a postman always rings twice, and if you didn't hear him the first time you do the second. Garfield and Turner kill her husband and get away with it; then Turner dies in a highway accident and Garfield is blamed and sentenced to die, even though he's completely innocent. In other words, his fate has caught up with him; never ask for whom the postman rings, he rings for thee. He's really dying for the first crime, of course, in the greater scheme of things, and all he can hope for at the end if that he and Turner wind up together, either in Heaven or, like Dante's Paolo and Francesca, elsewhere.

So noir, isn't it? The movies were always about fatalism, about people who were born to lose, who couldn't get out of their destiny if they tried -- and trying is mostly what their lives are about.

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