Dr. Rich Edwards

Daily Dose of Darkness #15: MGM Noir (Scene From The Postman Always Rings Twice)

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John Garfield's "entrance" is really an exit (a nice noir touch), with him getting out of a car and then talking through it's open window. Lana Turner's entrance is quintessential noir, first showing only her legs, then to a shocked John Garfield, then back to the whole, big Lana Turner, in all her turbaned glory, nicely framed in the doorway.

 

The short clip we watched gave many clues to the characters of Frank and Cora. From his conversation with the DA, we learn that though Frank is somewhat of an aimless drifter, he's a seemingly friendly, likable guy. He doesn't seem like a bum, because he's interested in the "Man Wanted" sign, and he offered to watch the burger so the old guy could go serve his customers. But when Cora burst onto the scene, we see that Frank may be the kind of guy who's, shall we say, easily lead into temptation? Cora, on the other hand, appears to be calculating from the start. We know good and well she dropped that lipstick on purpose so she could check out the new guy when her husband was not present, and so he would have the chance to check her out unimpeded. And although Lana Turner is presented in a much more diffused, glamorous style than one associates with most films noir, the camera still manages to capture a hardness to the character.

 

Some of the noir elements in the clip we saw are diagonal shadows, a moody score, a rootless man and a very dangerous dame. I must say, though, that the cinematography seemed like noir-lite to me, which makes me ask if that is the MGM style we're trying to identify?

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I don't think the lipstick scene with Lana Turner is so much about seduction as it is control - who will have the upper hand in this relationship? Garfield asserts that he will be, by making her come to get the lipstick, but her actions afterward belie that notion - she acts as though nothing serious has happened, and she leaves, asserting her own control of the situation.

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This scene belongs to the actors. Too much is read into the structure of the scene. It is simply about sex and power. Garfield is trapped from the moment the lipstick hits the floor. Turner's ice cold calculation is in her eyes. For an actress of limited range she nails this scene - big time.

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This movie looks fun..

 

The entrances differ greatly and I really liked how it set the characters apart. Frank is a quick and abrupt entrance where the cars pulls up and he hops out. Then we get a view of him in the small boxy frame of the car window. Cora's entrance has a bit of smolder to it. First we get the legs that go on for days and then we get a slow sultry look at her entire body framed as mentioned by others by the long door frame. Contrasting styles but the characters are definitely intrigued. Frank seems much more of a pauper than of a prince to the princess style of Cora's actions so I think possibly that could be why the relationship is so destructive.

 

The voiceover where the man is talking about something in the past tense reminds me of the detour and there is lots of other noticeable parts to make the film have tangible noir elements. The femme fatale and the tense power struggle between the main characters is another aspect.

 

This looks like an interesting movie and after the youtube video finishes it looks like theres also a modern version I'd really like to watch both and be able to compare and contrast.

 

Mark

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The entrances of both characters are definitely different.  He is one that moves around much more as he mentions he can't seem to stay in one place to long.  Her entrance is surely the typical noir style as the camera slowly pans across the floor and than up till we finally see all of her and as others have mentioned framed in the doorway.  You can see that she is absolutely going to bring a lot of trouble into his life.

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We are introduced to Garfield in full sunlight. He arrives after revealing he has hitchhiked to this destination, and he also reveals to the proprietor of the restaurant that he has itchy feet. So immediately we know that he is a bored transient, always trying to find a place to take root. Turner on the other hand, is introduced as a pair of legs. When the camera pans up we see her in a bright white outfit contrasting the dim lighting of the cafe. Her attitude is one of superiority as she stands there admiring herself while expecting Garfield to return her lipstick without asking, and acting rather upset when she has to retrieve it herself.

 

We are also introduced to the noir elements immediately. The scene opens with a voice over narration. The "Man Wanted" sign that we see at the beginning is a classic touch of foreshadowing that became popular with noir films. In the cafe, we get the classic mixture of shadows and dim lighting. And when Turner arrives on the scene, you just know she's trouble, like so many other women in the genre.

 

The first thing I noticed from this clip, as much as they use the aspects of film noir, the final product appears smoother. The shadows are just right, enough to show that they exist but not so dark that the features of a star like Lana Turner are buried. In other MGM films noir, like "Desire Me" and "The Stranger," the shadows played a more prevalent role in the final product. I'm not sure why this is, but I'm guessing MGM wanted to highlight their stars, Lana Turner and John Garfield.

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What we learn from Garfield's entrance is that he has no money, no home and  no job. He has just hitchhiked from San Francisco and after seeing a "Man Wanted" sign hopes to land a job soon.

He's a rolling stone type.

 

The owner of a diner offers him a job that includes a rent free room.

 

Shortly after, he hears something dropped to the floor. He looks down at a lipstick rolling and when it comes to a stop the camera begins to dolly across the shadows on the floor and then stops and pans up to reveal Turner's legs. Then cut to Garfield, who upon seeing her (we have not yet seen her face) he literally catches his breath ever so slightly. Cupid has caught his heart. Cut to full shot of Lana Turner dressed in an all-white shorts outfit.

 

Turner next expects Garfield to hand her the lipstick but instead he stays his ground and expects her to come get it from him, which she does.

 

I believe his actions shows him to be confident, adventurous and fearless. In his dealing with her, he seems to think he knows how to handle this woman. He's no gentleman.

 

Turner, upon getting her lipstick, turns around and sassily walks to the door, turns around, does her lips, and glancing back at him closes the door behind her.

 

She comes across as aware of her beauty, confident in her ability to handle men and believing she can get what she wants.

 

There is a pace here that shows the confidence the director has in this project. In other noirs the action at times seems rushed. Here there is no hurry. Really looking forward to seeing this on Friday.

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John Garfield enters as the friendly drifter starting his future right now.  Little does he know his future is a little more complicated than a new job. Enter Lana Turner with those legs, that body looking cool and uninterested.  But there's interest there alright...on both sides.  The sexual tension is palpable.

 

The perfect entrance for a noir... film the narration of the first person POV.  The camera work panning from the lipstick, along the window shaded floor, to the legs...stop. Up to reveal this beauty, this femme fatale.

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Thinking about John Garfield's entrance -- hitchhiking into town -- has me thinking about the theme of hitchhiking generally. It certainly seems to be a recurring image in film noir. It's a mechanism to introduce one of the two venerable plot lines: a stranger comes to town (the other being, a man goes on a journey, according to Tolstoi). It establishes a man as a drifter, less affluent, perhaps on the run. A hitcher is dependent on the chance of whoever passes by, with the added touch in noir that initial bad luck quickly turns into a man's doom. Hitchhiking incorporates many unknown factors and there's a huge element of risk for both driver and hitcher. In fact, I finally got through Detour which I had DVRd a few weeks back, which epitomizes how wrong things can go on both sides.  

 

But I feel as if I'm maybe missing the bigger context of hitchhiking. I'm old enough to remember hitchhiking as more routine (in the 60s and 70s, but nothing I did too much myself, being female made it a little more dangerous, I guess). Am I correct that it's much less common nowadays? Hitchhiking seems to be a commonplace of that period. America in the 40s and 50s was starting to become a nation of automobiles and the expansion of the interstate highway system and the prosperity of returning GIs able to afford big cards is part of the background. But at this time, not everybody could afford a car, so hitchhiking wasn't uncommon, either, and wasn't necessarily a sign of moral laxity.

 

So, what are the conventions of hitchhiking against which the variations we've been seeing play out? Today's clip with Garfield being given a ride by the D.A. is how I usually think of the hitchhiking ideal -- two friendly people, glad to share ideas. It's quite respectable to give rides -- even the D.A. does it. Maybe the driver and rider really connect. Garfield jokes about having rambled on about his theories of life). There are probably different expectations about why a female would be hitching, as the car-owner Haskell in Detour was thinking. But Haskell was basically expecting quite a bit of give-and-take with his male passenger also, and revealed quite a bit about his own relationship with his father, his experience with Vera, his childhood scars, etc. These conversations are certainly key to the plot development, but my sense is that it wouldn't be unusual to have this kind of conversation while riding. In fact, the characters are actually happy to have the company. In Daily Dose #4 we got the introduction to Dark Passage in which Humphrey Bogart escapes from prison and catches a ride. He's the opposite kind of person, refusing to chat, and even becoming quite testy about why the driver would want to know so much. On the message boards, there was some agreement with that sentiment -- why was the driver so nosy? But I think the Dark Passage scene played off the expectations that most hitchers would be talkative, and Bogart's refusal marks him immediately as secretive and dangerous. Perhaps I'm wrong about the normalcy of hitchhiking-- please chime in if I'm missing something.

 

Riding in cars and picking up hitchers is enough a part of our national consciousness that Road Pictures based on only that are a genre unto themselves. A study of hitchhiking in films would encompass more than just films noir. And so I suppose we might expect a range of ways that hitchhiking scenes are used to bring characters together and advance the scene. Garfield's arrival isn't all that noir, despite hints of fatal darkness to come, so we begin with daylight and normality. But it's a great narrative device to get that Stranger into town, and I'm enjoying the comparisons in the way the theme is used.

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Before Cora's entrance we see Frank mostly from the side and the back. His conversation and body language signal a drifter, a man not inclined to put down roots or take responsibility, maybe a litle bit lazy and opportunistic, maybe a little bit naive and certainly open to influence. The sign says "Man Wanted"; Frank replies, "Here I am - use me".  John Garfield the actor is able to convey that impression effortlessly in spite of MGM overdressing him for the part.

 

The first scene, the conversation through the car window, is shot in straightforward over-the-shoulder style so we see their faces and observe Frank's carefree come-what-may attitude. I also detect foreshadowing in the driver's "maybe we'll meet again", which is given a dark note in the next scene when we find out who the man is, for why would Frank meet the DA again unless he were in trouble with the law? Interesting that the traffic cop's conversation with the DA is drowned out by passing motor noise, as if this little act of petty power-mongering should remain cloaked. I'm hearing "You can't write me a ticket. Don't you know who I am?". Someone who can use the "Don't you know who I am" line gets his way without resorting to bribery.

 

Back to Frank. His first meeting with Nick is shot at medium distance from the side and behind, an impartial observer's POV. Nick appears as the quintessential friendly rest-stop guy. I sense he relishes the prospect of having another man around in a jovial, buddy sort of way. He takes pride in showing Frank the diner.

 

Then it gets personal - and turns noir. Nick bustles outside to help a customer. "Don't go away". Frank won't, he's about to be hooked. Now for a moment the camera looks straight at Frank which is a POV shift from outside observer to first person, so we can witness Cora's entrance through Frank's eyes. The sound of the rolling lipstick draws his attention downward. His eye follows its path through bar-like shadows on the floor back to its source - Cora. The path of Frank's gaze speaks for itself. Cora is revealed legs-first in all her glory, standing there for all the world to admire. It's been amply noted that her spotless-white outfit blows the conventional coding of white = purity out the window in a second. But then Kathie Moffat also made her entrance white-clad in a doorway.

 

The rising music and Frank's face seen front-on tell us what he's feeling while the blinds throw more jail-bar shadows on his jacket. Frank picks up the errant object and holds it out to Cora like bait as he leans back on one elbow and wordlessly dares Cora to come out from under the doorway and reclaim it. There's a very brief duel of looks which ends on a gauzy close-up of Cora as she gives in. She approaches Frank and takes the lipstick. Then she gives him one more eyeful before retreating upstairs. The seduction is complete and both parties are equally smitten. Frank leaps over the counter with an energy that he probably hasn't felt since high school. The burnt burger doesn't matter. It's not the food that'll keep him here.

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I love that we are introduce to Lana Turner by the dropping of her lipstick that rolls across the floor in the direction of John Garfield. The long, low angle shot from the lipstick to her shoes and then her gorgeous legs. Garfield has come undone. Turner has control. The hamburger sizzles and then burns. Could it? Would it? Should this be a metaphor for our key players?!?

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Fate. The thing we all hope for, but are never ready for.

 

I think Garfield is guy who has "itchy feet" because he's always on the take. Looking for the next best thing or to take advantage of a situation. He's never content. He's offered food and a job, obviously not having one, and doesn't know if he's ready to commit. That is until Lana enters. Lana owns it, the cafe, the scene and the beauty. It's a peep show. The anticipation builds...something falls, a rolling lipstick, bare legs and then her. She's gorgeous. He's sold. But wait, is she game? He tests her by not giving the lipstick back, provoking her to come and get it. She doesn't retrieve her dropped item, rather she waits for it to be given back. A little cat and mouse. I think she sees something in him. She takes the lipstick and finishes the show with the flair of confidence. Her look conveying the knowledge of where her lipsticked lips go.

 

Perfect example of two top-notched actors with contrasting images. The rugged male and the female beauty. The ideal mix for a film noir. I wonder where the saying, "opposites attract" comes from because film noir fulfills that saying in almost every aspect.

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How are the "entrances" of John Garfield and Lana Turner staged in this sequence? What do their "entrances" reveal about their character?

 

John Garfield entrance tells us that he is a foot loose and fancy free person. Not a care in the world and he has never been anywhere long enough for his shoes to get old.

 

Lana Turner's entrance tells me that she is looking for a little something something and hoping Garfield stays around to give it to her. She doesn't care about her husband, and isn't afraid to user her womanly prowess to get what she wants. As Kathy Bates said in The Waterboy, "Cause little girls are the devil!" 

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I love that we are introduce to Lana Turner by the dropping of her lipstick that rolls across the floor in the direction of John Garfield. The long, low angle shot from the lipstick to her shoes and then her gorgeous legs. Garfield has come undone. Turner has control. The hamburger sizzles and then burns. Could it? Would it? Should this be a metaphor for our key players?!?

 

Great observance, moxie264! I have always thought this to be one of the great film noir entrances of all time. Wow, Lana Turner, indeed! JG didn't have a chance ;-)

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In Ted Garnett's The Postman Always Rings Twice, 1946, Frank's (John Garfield) scene entrance is from a car and is seen saying his goodbyes (from the other side of the car) through the open car door window. His entrance is ordinary and his mood is hopeful (to find a job), changable, and unpredictable.  Cora's (Lana Turner) entrance is from a diagonal POV point of view (from Frank); first a rolling lipstick on the floor, then looking diagonally to whoever dropped it and stopped at a pair of white opened-toe heeled shoes with comely tanned legs.  She is the wife of the roadhouse owner Nick (Cecil Kellaway) and Frank does a double take to see such a 'hot' dame in this out of away place.  Cora's (Lana Turner) entrance is show stopping, breath taking and anything but normal.  She seems cool at first and she expects her whims to be catered to as she beckons for her stray lipstick.  But, her expression in response to Frank's refusal to bring her lipstick to her by holding it out to her, shows that she is not one to be denied anything and is willing to play along for now.  She is 'sizzling' hot (one of the most memorable femme fatales) and the forgotten burnt burger emphasizes this.

 

Documentary realism is used in Frank's entrance from the car ride on the road walkking up toto the roadhouse.  Cinematic use of diagonals, equal lighting emphasis on actors & settings, and music to heighten Cora's entrance produce a formalistic atmosphere.  Everything inside the roadhouse appears real until Cora appears and then reality becomes skewed for Frank as he forgets the cooking burger until he smells it burning after Cora closes her door.

 

The MGM "house style" for their film noirs of this period are the 'stars' appearing in the picture, lavish in their close-ups, wardrobe and make-up especially the women stars, the attention to scene composition which is grand and imposing, and full orchestral music.  Cora (Lana Turner) is lavishly dressed in all white turban, shorts, collarless demure bandeau-like bare midriff blouse and open toed heeled shoes and she has a close-up that emphasizes her beauty and intentions.  Unlike Warner Brothers, there is no grit or dirt or budget conscious in the MGM fim noir "house style".  Other examples of other MGM film noirs with this "house style" in the 1940s are Gaslight, 1944, starring Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman, Rage in Heaven, 1941, starring Robert Montgomery and Ingrid Bergman, and Hitchock's Rebecca, 1940, starring Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier.   

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Well there’s no question that we have a noir film here. We have a drifter and a femme fatal. We have quick dialog and a diner filled with interesting shadows. We’ve already been introduced to a cop and the district attorney – you know you’re going to see them again. Of course this film demonstrates again that noirs don’t necessarily have to happen in dark city alleys.

 

I also contend that we can read too much into these noir devices. Yeah, a lot of great noir scenes happen in nightclubs, diners, bars and other watering holes but you can really find that in any story. Whether it’s the Roman baths, the prison cafeteria, the old west saloon, or the dining hall at Hogwarts, stories frequently have these scenes because they logically bring strangers together to share knowledge or confront each other.

 

I also don’t put a lot of stock in the entrances of these characters. In nearly every scene in nearly every movie will have at least one character entering. It kicks the scene off because the character enters for a purpose – they want something. Usually the other character wants something different, which gives rise to conflict and make the scene run. If the scene is an interior, this means the character will usually enter through a door. Further, the best way to introduce a main character is to have them pause in the doorway, where they are framed like a picture, and have all of the other characters turn upstage and look at them. This happens in all kinds of movies. Sure, framing Garfield in the car window instead of a doorway is somewhat novel, but not extraordinary.

 

I don’t know that I’m expert enough to truly draw conclusions about the MGM style, but I think it’s fair to say they turned out LOTS of movies, films noir included. The problem is that films like “The Postman Always Rings Twice” are a little too polished and overproduced. The “Man Wanted” sign is neatly printed on a perfectly square piece of wood as if it were made by a Hollywood prop master and not a gas station attendant. The car is as clean as can be, and Garfield who has been traveling from San Francisco in LA is clean-shaven and clothes are neatly pressed. There is no a single piece of trash out front or the slightest bit of grease on Nick’s apron. And then there’s Lana Turner; does she look like Hollywood eye-candy or the wife of a gas station owner? Then there’s the “meet cute” with the lipstick that would be more at home in an MGM musical than film noir. It’s still a great movie, but it feels a little sanitized. 

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Possible spoilers

someone mentioned, don't remember that the shadows make lana look trapped. That seems to be a common plot line in the 40s  The so called helpless wife, trapped in a marriage, finds a poor sucker to help her, also known as conk my husband upside his head, take his money, and when the cops show up they can act helpless again and tell them they dont know why this man killed my husband, it's not my fault i'm helpless

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Lordy, what an entrance! I have seen the movie but had not remembered that scene. How could I have forgotten?

 

They challenge each other with the lipstick.

 

Her body language says "Bring it to me, now."

 

His says, "No. You come to me."

 

And she does. That tells him everything he needs to know about whether she'll cheat on her husband (once he finds out that she's married, that is).

 

They're both goners from the moment they set eyes on one another.

 

 

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This scene is a perfect set-up for what follows.   Frank (Garfield), self-professed nomadic drifter, has hitched a ride - with the local DA, no less ( who foreshadows things to come by telling Frank "maybe we'll meet again") --- who is then quickly whisked inside and given the hard sell by the proprietor, Nick (Cecil Kellaway); whose looking for a man to help him run his gas station/diner.   The steam rising from behind the 'Man Wanted' sign is also a foreboding of what's to come. 

 

Nick throws a beef patty on the grill for Frank...another tip of the mitt of 'free' things being thrown to Frank to lure him deeper into the web of this seemingly innocuous setting.   Nick's distracted by a car needing gas, and Frank tells him don't worry, he'll look after the grill.   Nick no sooner leaves the diner to pump gas when a lipstick plunks on the floor and starts to roll Frank's way.

 

More than the hamburger on the grill starts to sizzle as the camera slowly backtracks the roll of the lipstick, over the bar-like lattice of shadow on the floor, to a pair of white shoes, and a long glimpse at a shapely pair of legs.   

 

Rarely has anyone been given a better entrance than Lana Turner, as Cora.  Seldom has anyone responded to such an entrance as Garfield in this scene...he literally has to catch his breath he's so stricken by the lovely and inviting visage standing but feet away.  

 

The similarities between this scene in The Postman Always Rings Twice and the one we looked at the other day from Out of the Past are striking.   Greer and Turner are dressed in white. They know they attract attention without really trying.   Mitchum drops a coin that rolls towards Greer, Turner drops a lipstick that rolls towards Frank.   One look at Greer and Mitchum's eyes...and voiceover...make it clear he doesn't care any more about Whit's $40,000 than Whit does, just as Garfield gasp for breath at the mere sight of Turner says that he isn't interested in being a drifter any more.      

 

Cora makes no attempt to retrieve her lipstick.   She waits for Frank to pick it up and remains planted in the doorway, tellingly gazing at herself in her compact mirror; expecting, no, luring him to bring it to her.   He's wise to that game, however, and leans back into the counter; forcing Cora to come get it from him.   She takes it, but then dawdles in the doorway again while she returns to her mirror and puts her lipstick on before closing the door.  

 

The trap has been set on both ends.   Frank is hooked by Cora's stunning looks, and Cora's hooked by Frank's unexpected aloofness.  Also telling, Frank begins to sniff something burning...beside him.  It's the burger ---symbolic of a job/responsibility he's forgotten and neglected because of Cora.   This too, is a foreshadow of things to come.  

 

More remarkable still, is that not a single word of dialogue is exchanged by Cora and Frank in this first meeting.   

 

Noir doesn't get much better than this.   

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We start with a voice over, as always. There's steam in the background. Even though it's daytime, we know there's something seedy about to go down. We know we are in California, a metro for noir. The initial exchange shows Garfield's character to be friendly and likable and talkative. But he is also a traveler and philosopher, someone who doesn't want to stay in one place long (byhis own omission). Garfield's entrance is done externally and brightly lit. It's a logical deduction that he is a good guy, considering the DA picked him up. Then again, this is noir and all is NEVER as it seems.

 

Turner's Entrance (proper noun intentional) is in shadow. The pan starts at her feet and legs, cut to Garfield's perspiring face, then to her whole body, standing provacatively in white. But Garfield is ready to play. She has to come to him. And as she does, his world stops to distraction.

 

That hamburger steam is no accident. There will be much more sizzling to come.

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Well there’s no question that we have a noir film here. We have a drifter and a femme fatal. We have quick dialog and a diner filled with interesting shadows. We’ve already been introduced to a cop and the district attorney – you know you’re going to see them again. Of course this film demonstrates again that noirs don’t necessarily have to happen in dark city alleys.

 

I also contend that we can read too much into these noir devices. Yeah, a lot of great noir scenes happen in nightclubs, diners, bars and other watering holes but you can really find that in any story. Whether it’s the Roman baths, the prison cafeteria, the old west saloon, or the dining hall at Hogwarts, stories frequently have these scenes because they logically bring strangers together to share knowledge or confront each other.

 

I also don’t put a lot of stock in the entrances of these characters. In nearly every scene in nearly every movie will have at least one character entering. It kicks the scene off because the character enters for a purpose – they want something. Usually the other character wants something different, which gives rise to conflict and make the scene run. If the scene is an interior, this means the character will usually enter through a door. Further, the best way to introduce a main character is to have them pause in the doorway, where they are framed like a picture, and have all of the other characters turn upstage and look at them. This happens in all kinds of movies. Sure, framing Garfield in the car window instead of a doorway is somewhat novel, but not extraordinary.

 

I don’t know that I’m expert enough to truly draw conclusions about the MGM style, but I think it’s fair to say they turned out LOTS of movies, films noir included. The problem is that films like “The Postman Always Rings Twice” are a little too polished and overproduced. The “Man Wanted” sign is neatly printed on a perfectly square piece of wood as if it were made by a Hollywood prop master and not a gas station attendant. The car is as clean as can be, and Garfield who has been traveling from San Francisco in LA is clean-shaven and clothes are neatly pressed. There is no a single piece of trash out front or the slightest bit of grease on Nick’s apron. And then there’s Lana Turner; does she look like Hollywood eye-candy or the wife of a gas station owner? Then there’s the “meet cute” with the lipstick that would be more at home in an MGM musical than film noir. It’s still a great movie, but it feels a little sanitized. 

 

Love your comments on how pristine everything is. That's the cleanest roadside diner ever. I think you're right: It would have been a lot grittier made by another studio. From my understanding, Lana Turner was a top star by the time this was made; you can't put your top star in a dump and dress her like a frump.

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Q: How are the “entrances” of John Garfield and Lana Turner staged in this sequence? What do their “entrances” reveal about their character?

A: John Garfield comes on the scene as a hitch-hiker, someone who appears to be a drifter. He’s got an ordinary everyman quality to him. Lana Turner on the other hand, enters the scene like a goddess. She’s dressed in white shorts, top, and turban. And like a goddess, she’s aloof, but aware of her impact on men; she’s bothered by the fact that Garfield’s character didn’t fall at her feet in worship (he’ll do that later!).

 

Q: What are some of the noir elements in this sequence?

A: The flashback narration by Garfield. The nice shadows inside the diner, the lattice shadows on the wall, the venetian blinds form shadows that fall over Garfield. Those same shadows fall on Turner when she moves into Garfield’s space to retrieve her lipstick.

 

Q: What did you notice in this sequence that you identify with the MGM “house style?” (Answer this question only if you are already familiar with other MGM films noir from this time period).

A: The scenes feature great key lighting that shows both Garfield and Turner at their best. No odd angles, but rather pretty straightforward (but effective) camera work. Also the gas station and the diner look beautifully well kept. Nothing bleak or low-rent about the place.

 

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Well there’s no question that we have a noir film here. We have a drifter and a femme fatal. We have quick dialog and a diner filled with interesting shadows. We’ve already been introduced to a cop and the district attorney – you know you’re going to see them again. Of course this film demonstrates again that noirs don’t necessarily have to happen in dark city alleys.

 

I also contend that we can read too much into these noir devices. Yeah, a lot of great noir scenes happen in nightclubs, diners, bars and other watering holes but you can really find that in any story. Whether it’s the Roman baths, the prison cafeteria, the old west saloon, or the dining hall at Hogwarts, stories frequently have these scenes because they logically bring strangers together to share knowledge or confront each other.

 

I also don’t put a lot of stock in the entrances of these characters. In nearly every scene in nearly every movie will have at least one character entering. It kicks the scene off because the character enters for a purpose – they want something. Usually the other character wants something different, which gives rise to conflict and make the scene run. If the scene is an interior, this means the character will usually enter through a door. Further, the best way to introduce a main character is to have them pause in the doorway, where they are framed like a picture, and have all of the other characters turn upstage and look at them. This happens in all kinds of movies. Sure, framing Garfield in the car window instead of a doorway is somewhat novel, but not extraordinary.

 

I don’t know that I’m expert enough to truly draw conclusions about the MGM style, but I think it’s fair to say they turned out LOTS of movies, films noir included. The problem is that films like “The Postman Always Rings Twice” are a little too polished and overproduced. The “Man Wanted” sign is neatly printed on a perfectly square piece of wood as if it were made by a Hollywood prop master and not a gas station attendant. The car is as clean as can be, and Garfield who has been traveling from San Francisco in LA is clean-shaven and clothes are neatly pressed. There is no a single piece of trash out front or the slightest bit of grease on Nick’s apron. And then there’s Lana Turner; does she look like Hollywood eye-candy or the wife of a gas station owner? Then there’s the “meet cute” with the lipstick that would be more at home in an MGM musical than film noir. It’s still a great movie, but it feels a little sanitized. 

But isn't the "polished" effect part of the noire style?  It isn't really realism, its an affected, formalist vision of the scene.  Just a thought that came to mind.

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The scene from Postman continues the use of shadows and highlighting to draw attention.   I love the gridded pattern on the floor leading to Lana's legs. 

 

These characters certainly have a restless spirit in common;  you can tell there is trouble ahead.

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It was interesting that the shadows at Lana Turner's feet some how cast her as forbidden fruit a jail bait like quality, not in the sense of her being too young, but as being married to the owner of the place. The shadows were ghostly familiar of those that you would find in a county lock up.   The appearance of rich girl and poor boy from across the tracks. This was a big budget film from all the scenes and the music score. Great stuff.  

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