The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946, Tay Garnett)

The Postman Always Rings Twice has been kicked so severely out of consideration as a top-drawer noir (in favour of more obviously auteurist works, or those with the stamp of approval from twenty-first century mannerists) that it is now probably somewhat underrated. Never mind all that because it’s a film rich with pleasures; from the gloriously ironic and tragic scene in which the ill-fated corpulent husband sings of his happiness in seemingly ill-suited love to Lana Turner while John Garfield leers at her over his shoulder to Hume Cronyn’s effortlessly devious performance as the defending lawyer to the images of Turner with her platinum blonde hair glistening in the moonlight above the California surf (did far-off ships mistake her for a lighthouse)? This is one of film noir’s great essays on the fundamental unknowability of people, their inscrutability and deceptive facades which are impenetrable even in the most intimate of relationships; everyone in Postman passes each other in the night on the way to their ends and it’s hard to believe any of them ever get to accurately see or remember each other’s shape or form in the dark. Thanks to Tay Garnett this convoluted plot with its endless twists and turns appears as fluid, natural and revealing as one of his tracking shots, the gas station which could be co-owned by Edward Hopper becoming a spot for all the torment, loneliness and tiredness of a post-war country to take up permanent residence. Garfield and Turner never seem free of their demons (did they any in film?), and love in 1946 is going to be lies and death; no kiss is free of them.

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