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Dr. Rich Edwards

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

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John Garfield is natural and unengaged in his entrance, depicted in a realistic style, casualty and fortune both giving impulse to the narrative's opening : a hitch-hiker being dropped in the middle of nowhere - and yet, exactly where his presence is most needed, as the job ad suggests - "Man Wanted"... any man or particularly him? Only later we'll know that this sign is a response not to Garfield's character need for a job and a place to be, but to Lana Turner's character's emotionnal and sexual desire of a truly manly presence in her life. "Man" refers more to masculinity than to humanity. "Wanted" is more in the sense of desire than of need. And who wants is not the fat and old owner of the diner, but his much younger and attractive wife. The ships are down.

 
In her turn, Lana Turner's entrance is overtly staged and orchestrated. She knows exactly what to do to make a man look at her and come to her: the sound of a lipstick falling and rolling on the floor is all it takes for her to be noticed; we see the scene through a POV shot, his eyes and camera following the lipstick's movement and tilting up to her long legs.
 
Even if his look is already a look of desire, John Garfield doesn't react exactly as she expects: he looks at her but refuses to move in her direction, making her come down from her self-confidence pedestal of femme-fatale. No matter how nice he first seemed, we immediately understand that he knows how to play the same seduction game she's playing. The burned food foreshadows the danger of a fatal outcome.
 
(this scene not only made me thought of Howard Hawks's The Big Sleep, when Bogart's Philip Marlowe meets the General Sternwood's youngest daughter, but also this Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity's well-known anklet scene:
)
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These Daily Dose of Darkness clips make me realize that I'm really behind on my knowledge of film noir. I've heard of The Postman Always Rings Twice, partly because of the Moguls and Movie Stars series, but I've never seen it. Now, this is another film that I want to make sure to record and watch this Friday!

 

There are quite a few traditional elements of film noir: the voiceover, the chiaroscuro lighting influenced by German Expressionism, and the wonderful introduction of what I assume is this film's femme fatale, and yet it's still very MGM. From what I've observed in watching other MGM films, L.B. Mayer always liked a very clean and glamourous look to his films, probably to best showcase his stars. Whereas Warner Bros. films seem to lean towards a realist (to an extent) approach to filmming noirs, MGM seems to lean towards a formualist approach.

 

These entrances are pretty interesting. John Garfield's character seems to be a flake, or free spirit as it were, so I'll be interested to see where his character progresses. Lana Turner's entrance, on the other hand, sets her up to be considered more for her body than her mind, with the shot of her leg and the slow pan up.

 

Once again, I can't wait to add this film to my movie watching line up!

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Twin Oaks?  OMG ~ All I could think of was the Wilkes’ Plantation in “Gone With The Wind.”  Of course, Ashley’s plantation was “Twelve Oaks;” but the sign by the gas station DID give my heart a beat. 

 

Talk about giving my heart a beat.  Boy, that John Garfield was a looker!  He doesn’t appear that tall, but he sure had a sweet face.  :wub: 

 

Now, for Lana Turner.  I have never understood the male fascination with Lana Turner.  No doubt she had a gorgeous figure; but personally, I don’t think her face was in any way particularly pretty or distinctive for that matter.  I’m being serious here, not just catty.  And I HATE that stupid turban she wears in this scene.  I would think she would have been even more alluring if her hair was down long about her shoulders.  But then I’m not a director.  For my part, Garfield was just dandy.

 

This is an altogether sizzling meeting between Garfield and Turner, and the burnt hamburger underscores it very artistically.

 

And I believe Turner does lose the turban somewhere along the way…. ;)

 

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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?

 

Garfield is a wanderer. His casual entrance is the luck of the draw....a good ride, dropped off where a job is being offered. Carefree and aimless, looking for whatever is around the corner.

Turner is stunning. Her entrance is enticing, beginning with the rolling lipstick on the floor and the eye-full camera sweep that frames her in the open doorway.

 

-- What are some of the noir elements in this sequence?

 

Contrary to many film noir, we are in bright (albeit black and white) sunlight, in the country, obviously waiting for something to happen. The cop stopping the DA is almost comical and Garfield’s character shows little interest. The fact that the epitome of law and order lives just down the way from the filling station/cafe bodes our anti-hero not well.

Turner is the key noir element. She oozes trouble. Also, if there is a diner, you can bet your burger that you are smack dab in a noir.

I suppose the smoking` hamburger perpetuates the smoking in noir element. Or the smoking-hot Turner.

-

- 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).

 

If I have this right, and I may not, big stars, A list directors, are the key to the MGM house style. And well known supporting players. Leon Ames. The DA. You know he will reappear.

 

One MGM film nourish sort of film from the same year is Undercurrent. And what a grand cast. Hepburn, the Roberts Taylor and Mitchum.

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I haven't watched this one in a while-I laughed out loud when I saw the "Man Wanted" poster...a "sign" of things to come perhaps? Did Lana Turner convince her husband that they need help?   When she and John Garfield meet over the deliberate drop of her lipstick they both immediately knew what was going to happen(and so did we!) so let the games begin....  To me this film is classic noir with the use of the voice over narration, the framing, lighting/shadows and  characters- the seemingly happy go lucky guy who will be caught up in something bad, the femme fatale,  and the poor sap of a husband who has no idea his days are numbered.  A must see on my list.

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Besides many of the other things that caught others' attention, I was struck on the second viewing by the hapless husband's throwaway line to Garfield's character, "Don't go away!" sealing his own doom.

 

And that hamburger! At the moment that Garfield/Frank seems to be in control of the situation -- having made Turner/Cora come to him to get her (obviously) dropped lipstick -- the hamburger foreshadows his fate. Like the burnt burger, Garfield/Frank symbolically throws his life away because he was too distracted by Cora.

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This is a far cry from James M. Cain's book. Our bookclub read the book and showed the movie. The comparison between the two were quite startling. Comments were made about how stylized and "Hollywood" the movie is. The book won out over the movie. However, I doubt the production code of the day would have allowed the film to made exactly as Cain wrote it!

 

I gleaned a lot of good information about Frank as a drifter including hitching a ride with the DA who says he hopes to see Frank again, therefore, setting us up for future developments . In the roadhouse cafe, Cora and Frank size each other up....who will control whom? By dropping her lipstick Cora is daring Frank to pick it up and bring it to her (as an obsequious gesture); he refuses..now he's in control. Cora reluctantly retrieves it, giving him an "I'll get you" glance. She proceeds to apply her lipstick in an enticing, sultry way, and when finished, without saying a word, she turns and shuts the door. In that exact moment Cora has gained the upper hand. Frank is definetly in on this one and the "man wanted" has taken the bait.

 

Cora is filmed standing up while Frank is sitting down, putting Cora in a position of power and control. The effect of the cucoloris visual within the cafe lends itself to the noir perspective...shady and cool. It was hot outside. Cora is dressed in white, all beit sexy and revealing. I suppose this is to suggest a tad bit of innocence? Maybe not so much?

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Some of the noir-ish elements in this sequence from The Postman Always Rings Twice include the voice over at the very beginning, the use of light and shadow (the lattice on the interior wall, the window/blinds on the floor), the element of "danger" for Frank and Cora (the DA lives down the street), and the slinky femme fatale.

 

Frank and Cora make very different impressions upon their entrances. As Frank gets out of the car, we're immediately greeted by his genial and positive disposition. We also learn that he's a bit of a wanderer, still looking for his ultimate happiness. Cora, on the other hand, appears framed by a doorway, perhaps a symbol of Frank's entrance to a new world upon meeting her. She's tall, sexy, mysterious, and doesn't say much. Another commenter observed in another message board that femmes fatale had a tendency of wearing white. Cora is no different. Too bad her intentions aren't as pure as her clothing...

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Garfield's entrance, in a broad sense, shows that while he may appear to he a happy go lucky wanderer, perhaps down on his luck, he isn't. He is not willing to fit in to the confines of what society holds for the common man. He does not see himself as a common man and is looking for his own idea of the brass ring. He is depicted as pleasant and respectful to his host in the car and was willing to share his views of the world but never asked the driver anything about himself, even his name, as he refers to him as "mister" when he exits. He clearly wants to live life on his own terms and although he is adept at "playing nice" to get what he needs to survive (a ride, food, a job) he is untrusting and on the con until he finds what he is looking for.

 

He "has itchy feet" and then his sight pans across the floor and up the body of Turner. She has framed herself in that doorway like she is standing on her mark as she has done many times before. She stands in that light and glows like a statue of a goddess to be admired. His feet are not so itchy now. She looks like a cat about to play with a mouse and it appears clear from her manner and total expectation on her part that he will bring her the lipstick she dropped (also very likely as she has done many times before).

 

There are shadows on everything from the walls to the floor and even Garfield as he walks through them to get closer to Turner while she remains bathed in the glowing light further illustrated by the white outfit. That outfit may be white but is very provocative for a roadside diner so there is no innocence there. She is punctuating the meaning of the advertisement of "Man Wanted". She is looking for something too that she has not yet found. The difference is that Garfield will actively move from place to place and does not care about comfort where she is used to getting what ever she wants and will wait for someone better to come along and give it to her. It appears however that Garfield has seen this act before and although he is more than interested in her, he knows better than to make it too easy. This begs the question of who will be the cat and who will be the mouse.

 

In this case MGM has taken what could have been a simple small, obviously Noir film and by throwing in big stars with just enough Noir style to make it sexy and dangerous has communicated quickly that the audience is in for one heck of a ride.

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Another hot film.

 

We see Garfield leaving a car, thanking the driver for the lift. Judging by the talk, he is footloose and fancy free, going wherever his feet want to take him.  He does get a little worried when the cop pulls the driver over, but is relieved when the cop tells him it was the District Attorney and not a notorious criminal. Does Garfield's character have a criminal background? Is that why he got a little nervous?

 

Diners run rampant in films noir, and the diner in this one is no exception. It is run by a middle age man (who is of Greek origin in the original novel, he has the last Smith in the film, perhaps MGM did not want to offend any ethnic groups)

 

The rolling tube of lipstick does get Garfield's attention and we see Lana's lovely legs, then a full body shot of her all in white. According to reports, Lana only wanted to wear couture style clothes for this film. She doesn't wear the usual plain dress or apron a waitress would normally wear.

 

She is also in control, waiting for Garfield to hand her the lipstick. But Garfield also likes to be in control, he makes Lana come and get the tube herself which she does reluctantly, then closes the door tightly behind her.

 

Quite fitting that Garfield then notices the smoking hamburger, clearly symbolizing his thoughts on what he has just saw (and we have too!!) 

 

Oh, and the lipstick does play a key role later in the film......

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Garfield enters by vehicle after hitchhiking a ride to a roadhouse.  He saunters from the car to the building, and learns on the way, from a highway patrolman, that the man who gave him a ride was the local DA.  As Garfield continues to walk calmly to the building, the owner comes running excitedly out of the door.  He seems intent about talking Garfield into the position of mechanic for the roadhouse.  After they both enter the building, the owner runs out to attend to a customer.  A lipstick container falls and rolls toward Garfield.  He looks over at two gorgeous legs and then follows the view up to a very seductive-looking Lana Turner.  She enters the light from a back room, suggesting that she's the owners wife.

 

The lighting, from the sun, is in the foreground.  When the action moves to the inside of the roadhouse, shadows are cast in criss-cross fashion across the walls and floor from the window light.  The camera angle, at one point, is low and follows Lana Turner's legs up her body to her face.  The camera features a closeup of Garfield as he takes in the sight.  Moments later, there is a closeup of Turner as she realizes that Garfield is not going to walk toward her but instead expects her to walk to him.  She does, then turns and walks away from the camera, offering a seductive view of her rear end, as Garfield must be enjoying.

 

I'm not familiar enough with other MGM movies of this period to comment on this third observation.

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A famous and typical film noir opening scene, from a famous film noir movie. There is voiceover narration from the protagonist (John Garfield) who arrives in a rural diner, ready to start a new life working in it. He meets the owner, they talk about the job and little things, everything seems quite and peaceful, but, as we have seen in many films noir, this peace is not going to last song.

 

The scene is very similar to that in Double Indemnity (an adaptation of another James M. Cain novel), when Walter Neff meets Phyliis Dietrichson. Both there and here, the protagonist aims to meet a man to talk business, but ends up meeting his sexy and dangerous wife, who immediately attracts him and starts to tease him. He'll never be peaceful after that meeting; he has just entered the dark, passionate and destructive world of film noir.

 

Lana Turner's entrance to the scene is also typical of a femme fatale like Phyllis Dietrichson or Kathie Moffat from Out of the Past. When her appearance is made clear to both the protagonist and the audience, everything seems to change, the music, the settings, the tone of the film. This time the first thing we see of her is her lipstick fallen to the ground, a sign that a femme fatale is ready to appear. Turner is just impressive, in a revealing suit, she's ready to bring her charms to claim whatever she wants. You can tell this character is going to be a dangerous female from miles away.

 

Both Turner and Garfield were not the biggest stars of their era (as Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange were in the film's remake in 1981), but they were certainly more famous than most actors regularly appearing in noirs. Don't forget that MGM was the studio always proud of its stars, the studio that made lavish and glamorous films and paid little attention to directors and anyone "behind the camera". These characteristics don't suit at all with film noir style, so MGM was not the most prolific studio in the noir business. Many MGM noirs were low-budgeted and had a darker tone than most A-films noir made during the era, such as Border Incident and Mystery Street. This particular film, though, is a high quality combination of MGM's glamorous "house style" and film noir dark and fatalistic approach.

 

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Off topic: Does anyone like the Universal monster movies?

I loved these when I was a teenager catching them on TV in the Horror Host shows of the 70's. They were fun and at the time still relatively creepy. The world has dramatically changed in cinema horror but I still like these simple classics as you don't need all the gore to make a monster pic.

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“Man Wanted” the sign says, and isn’t that the truth.  Although the narration sounds world-weary and defeated, Frank in the beginning of the film is optimistic.  The narration itself is something that crops up often in films noir, as does a drifting character constantly in search of something, like Frank is.  The tone so far is pretty light with likeable characters and some humor (“Yeah, he says, ‘The district attorney’.”).  The shadows are more pronounced inside, though maybe not as pronounced as Out of the Past.  Cecil Kellaway’s character is extremely friendly and helps put us at ease.  But then he leaves, and a sound gets Frank’s attention.  His eyes (and the camera) pan across the floor over that dropped tube of lipstick, the shadowy x on the floor (Danger!  Do Not Cross!), and then over to those very shapely feet and legs.  I don’t usually like to pull this term out, but this is a very interesting use and subversion of the male gaze. Cora shot all soft-focus and glamorous, and the camera and Frank are clearly enjoying looking at her.  She is inviting them to look, though, and her little trick of dropping her lipstick is clearly staged (a sexier version of a lady dropping her handkerchief).  She continues to invite his gaze by posing and looking at her compact, giving him a little tease of what she has to offer.  Cora is one femme fatale who knows how to make innocence work for her.  There is an interesting little power play between her and Frank in this scene.  She expects him to approach her, but he holds his ground, forcing her to approach him.  This irritates and intrigues her.  She is not going to let him off easily, though.  Taking her lipstick, she sways back to the doorway (On a side note, I love 1940s shorts.  They’re so cute.)  She then completes her performance by putting on her lipstick, steps away, and closes the door as if saying, “Show’s over.”  The only thing that gets Frank out of his trance is the smell of burning, another danger signal.  He’s found himself in a place too hot to handle, and if he’s smart, he’ll keep on drifting.  But of course, in true film noir fashion, he doesn’t.

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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 enters the film as a hitchhiker, out in the California sunshine. When asked why he is peripatetic, he answers that he thinks his next great opportunity is always down the road. He then points to the "Man Wanted" sign. Just as he is dropped off at the gas station/cafe, we hear the police siren (I could imagine Alfred Hitchcock's oft told story about his fear of the police and especially of being pulled over while driving). Both the siren, the cop and the district attorney foreshadow Garfield's problems with the law. So we learn that he is a drifter, without a lot of personal ambition, who is living on the fringes.


 


It is interesting that Cecil Kellaway just assumes that Garfield is a drifter who wants the job advertised on the sign. Garfield is not so sure. When they are in the diner, Kellaway starts a hamburger  for his visitor and leaves to serve a customer. Just at that moment a lipstick drops and rolls into the scene signaling a woman is on her way. The glamour heralded by the lipstick does not disappoint and Lana Turner's gorgeous face and form enter the scene. Garfield is dumbfounded by her beauty, wordlessly flirts with her by withholding the feminine artifact, making her "come and get it." She does and then after some fabulous posturing, slams the door in Garfield's face. Turner wants a man too, but not in the same way her husband does. In order to get him she stages the opening pantomime, just so Garfield knows what kind of unexpected temptations lie in this gas station. 


 


When Garfield takes the burning burger off the grill, it isn't the only thing smoldering in the room. The deal is sealed: Garfield is the man wanted. he is wanted for work by Kellaway, as a sex partner by Turner, and as a future criminal by the DA.


 


What are some of the noir elements in this sequence?


 


This MGM noir from the mid-forties (under the leadership of LB Mayer) isn't about to compromise the head on glamour and beauty of its star Lana Turner. Mayer spent a lot of blood, sweat and tears grooming his stars and he would never have used experimental lighting just to create a tawdry atmosphere for the audience at the expense of his valuable property. Lana Turner was one of the most glamorous MGM stars of the 40's and Mayer would only have shown her to her best advantage. So the noir elements are cast not on the actors, but on the scenery. 


 


In the diner, the initial shadow on the wall behind Garfield is that of a lattice-type fence. It creates a shadow alright,  but it is an ordinary shadow of an innocuous nature. The shadow is also fairly light in color. There are no ominous shadings. Once Turner enters the scene the shadows don't get any darker in color, but they get more complex in nature as Garfield crosses a maze of them on the floor to hand her back the lipstick. Garfield is already becoming entangled in a complex web from which he won't be able to escape.


 


The scene, though incorporating the elements of noir, (foreshadowing of trouble with the law, signs with triple meanings, friendly schnooks who make good dupes, a stunning femme fatale, and shadows trapping the protagonist in a sinister situation from which he cannot escape)  doesn't compromise the classism which is a hallmark of Leo the Lion. This "A" noir is getting the full MGM treatment of glamour, beauty, and accessibility no matter how base and low the subject matter.


 


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).


 


The MGM style under Mayer was to photograph its stars head on, no weird angles to distort their carefully crafted images. MGM subject matter was classic, wholesome and middle class in nature. MGM noir under Mayer tipped its hand slightly to noir constructs without the intensity of RKO (Out of the Past), Warners (Maltese Falcon) or Paramount (Double Indemnity). The femme fatales are more beautiful, if equally evil, the sets easy on the eye, and the lighting subtle with faint shadows depicting the claustrophobic, trapping of the characters. As pointed out by the instructor, this changed under Dore Schary's leadership later in the decade. 


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Such a great scene...everyone and everything is sizzling...even the hamburger!

 

Poor Cecil, he reminds me of the leprechaun he played in "The Luck of the Irish" with Tyrone Power and Anne Baxter...such an adorable movie, hardly ever on.  At any rate, he seems to be hopping about like he did in that movie.

 

How can a man of that age and physical appearance believe that he can hold onto Lana...really?  Perhaps she was at a low point in her life because obviously he married her but does he really think that his life and offerings to her are so wonderful?  All you have to do is look at her body language, she clearly feels she's above everyone.

 

Poor John, he let his little brain rule his big brain and so typical of film noir movies.  Women make mincemeat out of these guys.

 

Very good movie.

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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?

The first part of this opening scene is optimistic: John Garfield is grateful for the ride, he says he might have found a job. Even the driver doesn't get a fine... The scene takes place outside, in the sun, and the landscape (over the policeman's shoulder) is enchanting. Then things start to go south when Cecil Kellaway's character becomes more and more insistent on hiring him. Why being so insistent?

Garfield's character seems optimistic and easy-going in this sequence, but he quickly tells the other characters he's always on the move.

 

Lana Turner... there's the sound of something rolling on the floor that makes the hero turn around (her lipstick), an intriguing tune (saxophone?) and then the camera follows Garfield's eyes. What we first see of Lana Turner are her high-heeled shoes, then her long legs. It's a cliche, but I find it very sensual, even suggestive (and as a woman, I find it very inspiring).

She exudes confidence and she wants people to look at her. She expects men to pander to her every whim. She doesn't take no for an answer.

 

-- What are some of the noir elements in this sequence?

- voice over

- a feeling of imprisonment (maybe the word imprisonment is too strong, but I can't find a better word) because Garfield's character has ants in his pants yet Kellaway insists on hiring him and keeping him in his restaurant.

- doom. The D.A. and the police's presence foreshadow something bad. The charred hamburger too.

- white clothes. I have a crack-pot theory about femme fatales and white color. Lana Turner is not the only femme fatale wearing white clothes (Jane Greer wears a white dress in Out of the Past). It makes her look more innocent and she definitely plays with it.

 

-- 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).

I'm afraid I don't watch enough MGM movies to answer...

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  And I HATE that stupid turban she wears in this scene.

 

 

That turban is, I kid you not, one of my least favorite costuming choices I've ever seen in a film. It's ridiculous and unflattering. It's a big part of what makes the "sexiness" of this scene laughable and not genuine to me. I just can't stop staring at Turner's head and thinking that she looks like a giant q-tip.

 

It's weird, because I watch movies from all different eras, and anachronistic (or, more accurately, "period appropriate") clothing rarely bothers me (hello, absurdly high-waisted pants!).

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Starting off with John Garfield's entrance in The Postman Always Rings Twice, it's bright and sunny, broad daylight, his character Frank as a happy go lucky guy hitchhiking down the coast and not really sure where he's going ("San Diego, I guess." he says in voice over).  A self professed nomad looking for new places, people and ideas with little concern about his future.  Right away the audience learns a great deal about Garfield's free spirited character Frank.  Lana Turner's entrance is staged by the camera following a tube of lipstick rolling across the floor and slowly tracking back from whence it came (a floor shot containing standard noir shadows of venetian blinds) stopping at Cora's white heels and panning up to her shapely legs.  Cut to a close up of Garfield, and he is quite mesmerized by Turner in her blazing white hot shorts and halter top clinging to her curvy figure.  They lock eyes for a brief moment (which could have been an eternity), Garfield catches himself from a sexual freefall and retrieves the lipstick and speaks, "You drop this?"  Turner barely acknowledging his existence continues to admire herself in her compact mirror, extending her open hand towards Garfield.  We know this is a drop dead gorgeous woman who knows it and is used to having men grovel at her feet.  He likes what he sees but he's been around the block a few times and is nobody's fool (yet).  She can come to him!  Understanding his resolve and her "challenge", she takes the lipstick with a half-felt courteous thanks, and makes a slow turn around and exit only to pause in the doorway, turn profile and finish applying her makeup just to make sure he got the picture head to toe and top to bottom of all her assets (her sexual power base).  Then there's that smell in the air.  There is a lot more than hamburger smoking in this scene!   

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Some years ago a guy I knew told me a story about how he inadvertently got into an ill-advised discussion with his date who was outraged about how senseless and ridiculously easy it was for men to become attracted to a part of a woman.  Not the woman herself, mind you, just some part.  The guy insisted that a man might see (and this was his example) only the calf, ankle and shoe of a woman and instantly become wildly attracted to her.  His date scoffed and needless to say, the evening didn’t end well.

 

This dynamic is in full display in Cora Smith’s (Lana Turner) entrance in The Postman Always Rings Twice, Tay Garnett (1946).  When the rolling lipstick gets Frank Chamber’s (John Garfield) attention, it doesn’t take long for Frank’s eyes to track back to Cora’s shoes, ankle and calf.  In about two heavy heartbeats, he’s toast.

 

The amazing thing is Lana Turner is dressed like she’s going to spend a leisurely day on the French Riviera.  She couldn’t be more of a fish out of water in this roadside hamburger joint.  It’s almost comical except for the part that I’m completely buying it.

 

After the, “you want it, come and get it” power struggle over the lipstick it’s clear something is going down between these two.  What I really like in film noir is the power of a femme fatale to completely alter the present and future goals of the person she’s involved with.  The burning hamburger symbolizes not only how quickly Nick forgot the task at hand but his charred future as well.

 

Frank’s entrance is more of a full scene that lays out his restless backstory, introduces Kyle Sackett the district attorney (Leon Ames), the close proximity of the law, as well as proprietor Nick Smith (Cecil Calloway).  The initial voiceover has the tone of someone recanting the past.  It’s weary and sounds like something that someone would rather forget.

 

Ironically, Frank couldn’t be more right than when he tells Sackett, “Maybe my future starts right now.”  Frank doesn’t realize that, while his future is starting now, his future is also moments away from irreversibly derailed.  What I like about Frank’s entrance is how his backstory is written as a dramatic scene.  No laundry list of facts, the scene on the highway is well crafted  with symbolism and characters that will play an important part in the film.

 

By the way, didn’t the rolling lipstick remind you of Robert Mitchum’s rolling coin that stops at Jane Greer’s table in Out Of The Past?

 

-Mark

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One moment.

 

There's a section of business I particularly love in this scene. After the Garfield character picks up whatever it is the Turner character dropped, and he holds it out for her to come and get, Turner holds out her hand so he'll bring it to her and Garfield leans back on the bar, as if to say, "No, I'm not bringing it to you. You come and get it." All that in two simple gestures. Great!

 

It's been quite some time since I've seen this film, and while I remember loving it, I remember feeling it was maybe a bit more upbeat than other films noir (in the execution, of course, not in plot). I think that has to do with MGM, which was the song and dance studio of the time. I'm going to revisit the film this Friday, however, and make sure that observation still holds true for me. 

 

I do highly recommend the unauthorized Luchino Visconti adaptation of this story, "Ossessione." It's also been some years since seeing it, but I remember feeling Visconti's version was more emotionally charged. Below is a link to the entire picture on YouTube: 

Edited by TCMModerator1
Video removed due to copyright concerns
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I want to start with Cecil Kellaway.  His early moments in this film present a nice, likeable guy who is honestly happy to see Garfield's character.  No deceit in this man - what you see is who he is.

 

John Garfield makes his entrance on wheels.  Fitting, because he's a rolling stone, having no set destination, no set ideas about life.  Note the foreshadowing:  "Maybe my future starts right now."  In the conversation with the police officer, Garfield's character gets a tip on life.  The officer comments that it was not money, but three words, "The district attorney", that changed the situation with the stopped car.  Take note, film audience:  Power (or control) is of higher value than money. Garfield's migrant life may bring him money at some point, but will he ever have power like that of the D.A.?  Notice that at the end of the ride, as Garfield is dropped off, he is outside the car (symbol of power), talking to Ames, who's on the inside.  

 

Lana Turner's entrance is typical Lana Turner:  immediate sex appeal.  Our first view is only of her legs.  Our next view shows the full package:  A beautiful woman in a 2-piece shorts outfit with a very short top and high heels - edgy for the time, not the usual outfit of most women in the 1940s.  But she's dressed all in white, which suggests purity and innocence.  So who are we to assume her to be?  In answer to this question, her actions speak pretty loudly.  Instead of speaking to Garfield or approaching him to take the lost lipstick from him, she simply extends her hand.  This woman is used to commanding men, and she's used to them doing her bidding.  We can see a glimmer of anger that this guy doesn't follow her program as she takes the lipstick from him.  Many of Turner's roles cast her as conniving and controlling, and this one is apparently no different.  She then turns in the doorway and finishes the picture of her character by making a show of using the lipstick.  She's letting him know that she is still in control, whether he realizes it or not.  Yep - This is one to stay away from.

I haven't read yet about MGM's film noir "house style".  But MGM's love of star power in general is apparent in the casting of Garfield, Turner, and Leon Ames.  And the presentation of Turner in this film is how MGM always presents Turner in any film:  Gorgeous woman, controlling, conniving, amoral.  Whatever it takes to get what she wants, and she doesn't care who she uses or hurts in the process.  (Can you tell I'm not a Turner fan?)  MGM glamor will always come out:  Turner's clothing (Who wears high heels with shorts even today?) and her makeup (the drawn-out putting on of the lipstick).

Film noir techniques:  I noticed that Turner's outfit is blindingly white.  But Garfield in that same scene is more shadowed, with the blinds pulled down behind him.  And that burnt hamburger is just a sample of what she'll do to the men in her life.  

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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?

 

Garfield/Frank: A hitchhiker, but not a down on his luck one. Prefers the road; he’s a wanderer, a “free spirit”. He has gotten a ride from and been talking to of all people, the District Attorney, as revealed by the motorcycle cop who pulls over the D.A., then salutes and lets him go. So there you are: John Garfield is already on the D.A.’s radar.

 

Turner/Cora: Her lipstick rolls into his view. POV of Garfield, as camera moves from lipstick over to Lana, moving upwards until we see all of her, standing in the doorway, dressed in white head to toe (as she is for most of the movie except for one scene), in her little sun suit, preening in the mirror and posing in the door way. She is cool to the point of cold, yet seductive. She stands there, allowing him to look her up and down. When she is deciding if she will come get her lipstick from Garfield’s hand, Lana gets a close up in soft focus which is lit to show her extraordinary beauty.

 

Both: Garfield can’t believe his luck. He displays a confidence (leans casually on counter, won’t go to her) that says girls are easy for him to get. The push/pull of their relationship starts immediately when Cora/Lana holds her hand out for him to bring her the lipstick. He stops, leans on the counter signaling “come and get it” by holding it out in his hand to her and refusing to bring it to her. She pauses, deciding, then still cool as a cucumber, she walks over and takes the lipstick from Garfield’s hand, slowly turning around (so he can get a good look), walks back to the doorway, poses again in the doorway while putting on the lipstick (so he can get another good look) and then shuts the door in his face. She closes the door slowly, so it’s not a complete rejection of Garfield. It’s more of an “I’m not that easy.” Garfield is reminded of his hamburger on the grill by the smell of it burning; but he remembers something else and lunges over the counter, starting outside to take the Help Wanted sign down. Cora and Frank have just started down a long, slippery slope.

 

-- What are some of the noir elements in this sequence?

 

The Curator’s Notes indicate this film’s noir elements were adapted from James M. Cain’s novel. I have not read this one yet (it’s next on my Cain list) so I can’t speak directly to what elements were used in the film from the book. I’ll just mention observations: Lana/Cora is in bright white (including her very light blonde hair) and her lighting is bright except for the soft focus of her close up. Garfield/Frank is in shadows across from her as he stands in the lunch room. The music is moody, not romantic but seductive, then becomes lighter as he goes for the burning hamburger. The music has gone from dramatic overtones (outside the diner) to seductive overtones (when they see each other) to lighter overtones. From the very start, a shadow of doom is cast over Frank by showing him with the District Attorney right off. The motorcyclist cop is another indicator, even though a false alarm, it nevertheless telegraphs trouble ahead. Even the lipstick rolling on the floor forecasts coming events. So we have music, lighting, costume going from light to dark and incidents foreshadowing events to come.

 

-- 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).

 

I did a quick Wikipedia check of MGM movies during the 1940’s. Up to 1950 there were fewer film noir movies than after 1950. It looked like one or more per year is that list was accurate. This would apparently reflect the transition from L.B. Mayer to Dorie Shary. The Clock (1945), The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945) and Malaya (1949) with Spencer Tracy and James Stewart, especially stand out in my viewing memory. These movies are more suspense than film noir, which would concur with the production policies of MGM in the Forties under Mayer. These films also share the high quality production standards, the A list actors, and good to high quality direction and writing. Asphalt Jungle (1950) and Mystery Street (1950) are two that are great examples of the post-Mayer MGM. Both these movies are grittier, harder and without the high tone production quality of MGM under Mayer.

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Some years ago a guy I knew told me a story about how he inadvertently got into an ill-advised discussion with his date who was outraged about how senseless and ridiculously easy it was for men to become attracted to a part of a woman.  Not the woman herself, mind you, just some part.  The guy insisted that a man might see (and this was his example) only the calf, ankle and shoe of a woman and instantly become wildly attracted to her.  His date scoffed and needless to say, the evening didn’t end well.

 

This dynamic is in full display in Cora Smith’s (Lana Turner) entrance in The Postman Always Rings Twice, Tay Garnett (1946).  When the rolling lipstick gets Frank Chamber’s (John Garfield) attention, it doesn’t take long for Frank’s eyes to track back to Cora’s shoes, ankle and calf.  In about two heavy heartbeats, he’s toast.

 

The amazing thing is Lana Turner is dressed like she’s going to spend a leisurely day on the French Riviera.  She couldn’t be more of a fish out of water in this roadside hamburger joint.  It’s almost comical except for the part that I’m completely buying it.

 

After the, “you want it, come and get it” power struggle over the lipstick it’s clear something is going down between these two.  What I really like in film noir is the power of a femme fatale to completely alter the present and future goals of the person she’s involved with.  The burning hamburger symbolizes not only how quickly Nick forgot the task at hand but his charred future as well.

 

Frank’s entrance is more of a full scene that lays out his restless backstory, introduces Kyle Sackett the district attorney (Leon Ames), the close proximity of the law, as well as proprietor Nick Smith (Cecil Calloway).  The initial voiceover has the tone of someone recanting the past.  It’s weary and sounds like something that someone would rather forget.

 

Ironically, Frank couldn’t be more right than when he tells Sackett, “Maybe my future starts right now.”  Frank doesn’t realize that, while his future is starting now, his future is also moments away from irreversibly derailed.  What I like about Frank’s entrance is how his backstory is written as a dramatic scene.  No laundry list of facts, the scene on the highway is well crafted  with symbolism and characters that will play an important part in the film.

 

By the way, didn’t the rolling lipstick remind you of Robert Mitchum’s rolling coin that stops at Jane Greer’s table in Out Of The Past?

 

-Mark

Well put, Mark.

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