Saturday, September 18, 2010

A Month of Noir Day 18 - The Postman Always Rings Twice

I'm okay with bad choices.  It's understandable that people are often weak, stupid animals, and despite how evolved we are, sometimes primitive urges get the best of us.  I consider myself a rational person, and would be lying if I said I never made a bad choice based on instinct.

With film noir in particular, bad choices are important.  It's not unusual for a misfiring synapse to start an entire plot in motion, or a momentary lapse of reason to lead to an unfortunate demise.  Hell, sometimes even a bad option is the lesser of two evils.  One of the reasons I enjoy this particular genre is to watch people try to wrestle those demons into submission, and most of the time find out that they are the ones pinned to the mat.

So I can forgive a bad choice, maybe even two.

But a film where almost every choice is the bad choice?  It better be damn good.

A wayward drifter, Frank Chambers (John Garfield) finds himself in a new town, with a new job opportunity, working at a diner for Nick Smith (Cecil Kellaway).  Within moments he is smitten with Nick's beautiful wife Cora (Lana Turner) and trouble soon follows.  They fight their desires for as long as possible, but instead of losing each other, they decide to murder Nick instead.

Unfortunately, The Postman Always Rings Twice is not damn good.  The premise is solid, but not believable in execution.  And I had high hopes.  When I was twelve I saw the remake with Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange, and perhaps it was just my pent up teenage hormones, but I thought it was quite good.  At the time I didn't realize it was from a David Mamet script, but now I can see why it worked.  Mamet's a smart man, and he realized that the movie needed to be really sexed up to work.  Add more sex, and the brain stops working.

This version didn't have the sex, so my brain worked overtime and came up with the following problems.

Why would a woman who looks like Lana Turner marry a guy who looks like Cecil Kellaway?  Oh yeah, because too many handsome men hit on her.

I can understand hiring the handsome drifter to work for you, but do you really want him that close to your way more attractive wife?  Sure.  And while you are at it, how about having them dance and go off for a late night swim with your permission?

So they decide to run away together.  At least they take the car and some money from the cash register.  Nope.  They just pack some suitcases and start walking. But at least they left him a note.  A note they need to retrieve once they change their mind some miles down the road.

Okay, so leaving is out of the question, at least without money.  I got it!  Kill him.  She did just read an article in a women's magazine that states all kinds of accidents happen around the house.  So just design an elaborate plan involving an electrical wire, a ladder, and a bathtub.  Just make sure a cat doesn't climb up the ladder and ruin the whole thing.

Fuck.  A cat climbed the ladder.

Got an idea.  Next time you want to kill a man, don't design some elaborate Rube Goldberg device that is more complicated than the game of Mousetrap and that setup that served Pee Wee Herman his breakfast.

But he lives, and this is a second chance to forget the whole thing.  So Frank  leaves for Los Angeles.  The miles in between you should cool things down.  Whats that?  You got a job at a place Nick frequents.  Way to separate dude.

And just when you feel Nick hasn't made a bad decision in a while, he thinks it's a great idea to sell the place and move to NORTHERN CANADA so your wife can take care of your paralyzed sister.  Now I get why she wants you dead.

Who could possibly save this film?  How about an oily Hume Cronyn. 

At last, a choice that makes sense.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

And just because.

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