“With my brains and your looks, we could go places.”
A drifter (John Garfield) falls for the beautiful wife (Lana Turner) of an older restaurant proprietor (Cecil Kellaway), and the two young lovers are soon plotting murder.
Although two foreign adaptations had already been made of James M. Cain’s 1934 novel — Pierre Chenal’s Le Dernier Tournant in 1939, and Luchino Visconti’s Ossessione in 1943 — this 1946 MGM iteration is widely referred to as “the original” version of Cain’s story, in contrast with Bob Rafelson’s steamy but disappointing 1981 remake. While the latter is more authentic to both the novel and the time period in which it takes place, the stylized look and feel of MGM’s version (Tay Garnett‘s best directorial effort) nonetheless lend it a sort of classic timelessness: from Lana Turner’s infamous “lipstick entrance”, to Turner’s (nearly) all-white wardrobe, to the spic-‘n-span cleanliness of Kellaway’s roadside diner, this Postman lingers in one’s memory long after viewing.
As the unwitting femme fatale who causes the downfall of both Garfield’s drifter and Kellaway’s bumbling restaurateur, “sweater girl” Lana Turner gives what is widely considered her best, most iconic performance: she’s all tanned legs, platinum hair, and seductive poses — literally a cheesecake model come to life — and while some (see DVD Savant’s review link below, for instance) have argued that she’s too pristine and wooden for the role of a gritty roadside waitress, Turner’s sunkissed looks are the perfect embodiment of a seductive force too strong to resist. John Garfield is well-cast as smitten Frank Chambers, and is a perfect match for Turner, effectively capturing the frustrations of a man torn between erotic desire, wanderlust, and a basic sense of decency. Other bit roles are nicely played as well, particularly Hume Cronyn as the brilliant if corrupt lawyer who first plays Turner off of Garfield, thus starting a downward spiral which ends — in typical noir fashion — tragically.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- John Garfield as Frank Chambers
- Lana Turner — in her best role — as Cora Smith
- Hume Cronyn and Leon Ames as competing lawyers
- Turner’s infamous “lipstick entrance”
Yes, for its status as an undisputed noir classic. Listed as a film with Historical Importance and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)