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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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The prolonged entrance of Frank (John Garfield) tells us a lot about him, a breezy, no-ties kind of guy who probably appealed to a lot of young men in those immediate postwar days whose feet were probably were a bit itchy to go places, as Frank confesses to Cora's husband Nick. Frank in the original novel is, I suspect, kind of dark in outlook when we first meet him (getting thrown off a vegetable truck, as I recall), but this being an M-G-M product, our hero can't be too far removed from the regular, all-American image the studio liked to project under Louis B. Mayer's reign. Before Frank can get used to the idea of working for Nick, we are introduced to Nick's wife Cora, and yes, it is a stunning introduction. Dressed in white, not uttering a word and expressing that cool, uncaring demeanor -- not even thanking Frank for picking up her lipstick which she may have deliberately allowed to roll across the floor -- Cora is as much a vision of beauty as Jane Greer's Kathie Moffatt is in her famous introduction in the later OUT OF THE PAST. Cora, as Kathie in her opening scene, has chosen the innocence of white to mask her more venal self. Frank doesn't know it yet, but he's hooked and the future in which he finds himself entrapped does indeed start at Nick's roadside eatery/fill-up joint.  The noir influence is visualized in the shadows of the exterior lattice work inside the diner and in the tracking shot to Cora's entry at the doorway; once Frank has come inside from the bright California coastal setting, the world gets a bit dimmer and shadowy. But this being an M-G-M flick and a top-of-the-line vehicle, Nick's place is spotless; one expects Andy Hardy and the gang from Carvel High to stop in for Cokes. As in the novel, Frank and Cora are neither wholly good or wholly evil and that worked to the film's advantage because the studio didn't want the characters to be so bad and consumed with each other that they became unlikable, giving POSTMAN a salacious ring Mayer & Co. didn't desire either. It wasn't good for Turner to be a total femme fatale and thus we empathize with Cora as we do with Frank. Both are the victims of their own emotional needs and longings that somehow makes murder seem like a reasonable solution. Despite some stabs in that dark direction with such early '40s entries as JOHNNY EAGER with Robert Taylor, and Tracy and Hepburn's KEEPER OF THE FLAME, noir was still a new concept to M-G-M and as far as Mayer was concerned, an alien one. But changing audience tastes demanded that the studio attempt such films. Thus, POSTMAN created that meld of black doings in plush surroundings that soon expressed itself in such Metro entries of 1946-48 as Robert Montgomery's LADY IN THE LAKE, HIGH WALL with Robert Taylor and the gripping ACT OF VIOLENCE, co-starring such noir heavyweights as Van Heflin and Robert Ryan.

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Whoa! Cue the orchestra, it's Lana. 

 

Hmmm...entrances, well Garfield makes a few entrances. We see him enter the California sunshine as "Man Wanted." He is a cheerful traveler on the road of life without any worries "plenty of time for that." 

 

When he enters the diner - ta, DAH - he enters the world of noir complete with venetian blind shadows and subtle chiaroscuro lighting.

 

BAM! a lipstick rolls into a box of light, and the camera pans towards its source and then climbs up Lana Turner's legs while the orchestra, in a minor key, develops into a symphony of lust - you can just see it when Garfield takes a breath.

 

Garfield makes Turner enter the diner to retrieve her lipstick and as she crosses the threshold she is painted by the canted angles of the shadows cast by the venetian blinds. The diner, at this point, is the noir center point.

 

Another interesting choice of female costume - white lipstick, white shoes, white shorts, white top, white turban - the color of purity and innocence, good and truth. But unlike Greer in Out of the Past, Turner isn't trying to appear to be anything other than what she is - the femme fatale, and if you're the noir anti-hero, you don't care.

 

What the entrances reveal about the two characters is that Garfield is going to move from easy going to calculating and dark at the hands (and/or body) of Turner. Turner's entrance says it all. She's up to no good, and knows exactly what she's doing.

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Garfield's entrance shows a hitchhiker, a loner, a wanderer.  The owner of the restaurant is so happy to see him, greets him like a "prodigal son" of sorts.  Poor lamb, he has no idea what's coming!!  And Lana Turner's entrance?  Her entrance spells trouble, right down to the shadow on the floor in front of her that look like the shadow of prison bars...  The voiceover, the use of light and shadows are all in the noir style.  I haven't seen this movie in ages and am really looking forward to watching it tomorrow!!

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I've seen this movie a few times; once at Stanford Theatre just last year. I was disheartened to hear the younger crowd laughing at Lana Turner's entrance. It kind of killed the mood.

 

Anyhow, Garfield's appearance establishes himself as a fast talker (BSer) and not on the level much in the same fashion as Glenn Ford in Gilda. He is disheveled, possibly down on his luck, and taken in by an older gentleman. It's so much the standard archetype in MGM cinema that it was overused during the golden age of the studio system.

 

Contrast this with Turner's appearance, and we have a woman who is clearly mysterious; the music establishes that air. She only says two words ("thanks" twice) further adding to that mystery. She clearly is a woman who works her body/sexuality to get what she wants. (Her husband is all too eager to oblige.) However, Garfield doesn't seem to buy it particularly when he refuses to walk over to her to hand back her lipstick. He expects her to retrieve it from him to portray the idea that no dame is going to control him. He isn't under her spell (yet). However, I still think he's a total cad; I guess being a gentleman means weakness in his mind.

 

As someone who collects vintage fashion, I'm not much a fan of the turban, either, but it was a popular headpiece in the 40s, and I own a few vintage ones. The clothing is definitely too minimal to include heels; however, the film is set in a hot environment and playsuits were popular. Plus, women always wore heels during the early-mid 20th century. (Heck, they dressed up just to go grocery shopping.) 

 

Turner wears white which is done on purpose. I won't spoil the rest of the film, but the color choice reflects her character. White is purity and innocence, but it is also the most intense heat (the white tip of a flame is always the hottest). Cut to when the meat starts to burn; definitely a metaphor of his future with this woman.

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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…. ;)

I'm wondering if the purpose of the turban was to keep our focus or Garfield's focus on her face and eyes?  After all we've already been distracted by her legs, the heels, the shorts and halter.  Maybe the turban was applying  the brakes to see this woman's face since so much concentration was spent checking her out below the neck. Then possibly director Garnett wanted a symbolic halo effect. Then again maybe Turner just wanted it that way.  Who would know for sure?   :  ) 

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Garfield's entrance is staged out of doors and takes up most of the scene. The natural lighting is a contrast with typical night time shots or darker interior shots of noir films we have seen in the past. He is framed in the window of the car as he thanks the driver for the lift. This is a close up shot giving us a good look at the caracter's physical features. We also see that he is well dressed and of average build and seems to be a "clean cut" type. He is then framed in the foreground with the car, policeman and ocean behind, in a longer camera shot. The "man wanted" sigh is possibly a point of view shot, and makes the viewer wonder if  a double meaning should be implied--mystery all ready. The entrance is laced with dialogue between Garfield and three separate people. The length of the entrance and extensive dialogue allows much to learned about the character. Even information is shared about the driver, who happens to be the DA. We can be sure that "the law" will be involved in the story even at this early point in the film. Garfield " is looking for new people, places and ideas," ( he tells the driver); and his feet " get itchy" if he stays in one place to long, (he tells the owner). This suggests that his character is "foot loose and fancy free," and looking for adventure and excitement. Maybe a new beginning also. A new start from what past.? His style is easy, laid back as revealed in his interaction with the owner as they enter the lodge, where the lighting is more typical of noir films. We are already liking the character portrayed then we enter the noir world. Inside the lodge we see the typical contrast between light and dark, in a bar-like setting.There is interesting horizintal shadows when the sun comes through the venetian blinds.

 

Turner's entrance is much shorter allowing little time to find out much about her. For a short time the visual motif of the hidden face is utilized. Later she reveals nothing about herself in the dialogue. Is she a guest, an employee? I don't think many viewers would guess that she is married to the older owner of the lodge. She is eventually framed in a doorway--typical noir style, dressed in white. She is a typical noir "good looker". Her presence is first made known to Garfield by the sound of her fallen lipstick hitting the floor and rolling towards Garfield.  Keeping her face hidden,the camera pans across the floor slowly building tension until her feet are seen, at which time the camera shifts to a low angle shot and  moves up her legs, slowly giving birth to the face of the femme fatale who will lead Garfield into a dangerous situation by using her sexual charms. The low angle camera shot emphasizes her long legs and classic slim figure. He holds the lipstick out to her and makes her come to him, which causes her some little frustration-- but she gives in to his determination, but moments later "gives it back to him". The viewer gets the impression that both characters know they will see each other soon, so she shuts the door--almost in his face "so to speak."  She acts out a scene perfectly without dialogue, which  reminds me of a scene  in The long Hot Summer (I think it was) that requires dialogue to adequately pull off;  when Newman says to Woodard " you shut the door in a man's fact before he even knocks."

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What do the "entrances" reveal of each character?  

Not having seen this film, I am intrigued.  I sense a non-traditional femme fatal.  

 

Feet.

Garfield has feet itching to move.  Yet he doesn't move upon meeting this femme fatal.   
The introduction of Lana - feet first - suggests her feet are not itching to move.  Rather, she is a force nailed to the floor.  Yet, she does move upon meeting Garfield.

 

Lipstick.

I love the sound design in this encounter.  All quiet.  Lipstick hits the ground (man wanted received a "smack"!), lipstick rolls across the cool tile (man wanted slowly staggers and is rendered motionless), and lastly we hear an oboe playing a slow, descending chord of flat Noir notes.  This femme fatal does not have instant power over Garfield, as he refuses to walk the lipstick to her.  Man Wanted will not easily roll Lana's way.  

 

Mirror.

While there is ambiguity initially revealed in both characters, it is the symbolism in the mirror that has me anticipating a change in the femme fatal. When Lana first appears, she is holding her  compact mirror shut.  The lipstick drops and gazes are exchanged.  Yet, Lana appears caught in her gaze.  She is the one lured to walk over to Garfield and retrieve her lipstick.  But not before looking at her reflection in the mirror first - as if to remind herself of who she is.  After retrieving her lipstick, she returns to the doorway.  She opens her compact, applies her lipstick, and takes an additional moment to look at herself in the mirror.  She glances at Garfield and walks away.  

 

Her repeated views of herself in the mirror seem to foreshadow a change in this character. 
Who Lana is before meeting Garfield - and perhaps more importantly the image she carries of herself - is going to change now that she has applied her lipstick --- shade: Wanted Man.  

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

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Garfield's entrance is all exposition, from the voice-over to the dialogue and his appearance. We quickly get the idea that while his possessions all fit into one suitcase, he's not uncomfortable in his situation, and willing to take chances (and boy, WILL he...). Although it's never made clear (at least from the clip) why the D.A. dropped him off at that spot, Garfield quickly sizes up the opportunity when Cecil comes out to greet him and lead him inside. He's not making any commitments ('itchy feet") but also seems happy to at least play the first hand he's dealt. He says he's a good mechanic, but who knows if that's true? But it buys him some time.

 

It's established that the D.A. is a man of power and also lives nearby; likely he knows the people who own the diner. And if he does, he can probably already tell that our boy could be headed for trouble. Interesting take - when the police siren sounded; Garfield looked more confused than nervous. Watching the film with a more studious eye I now look at the siren noise and the D.A. saying "maybe I'll see you" as signs of what's to come rather than pure plot points...as symbolic as "Man Wanted" and the burger.

 

Between the cut of the halter top and the turban, Lana Turner looks almost futuristic. She rolls the lipstick tube at Garfield, knowing she's eye candy, and waits for him to make the move...the way she was positioned in the doorway made me think of a spider at the center of its web! But even when he parries back by making her fetch the lipstick, she gives him a nice rear view and then an invitational sideways pose...right before shutting the door and cutting him off. She's probably half expecting him to follow her, since she acts like she's used to getting men to do her bidding. And Garfield might even be thinking of doing that until the smell of the burning hamburger snaps him out of it. (Oh, you *are* going to get burned, sir...)

 

Also interesting that he vaults back over the counter instead of walking around - like he didn't want to get caught where he doesn't belong.

 

It's sunny and hot outside. The diner with its friendly owner and offer of a job, lodging and food seem safe and inviting. Even Garfield seems congenial, thanking the driver and apologizing for philosophizing during the ride, then joking with Cecil as they walk. But left alone in the diner, we see that the first flash of temptation brings out a change in his posture, his look and his attitude. He probably figured he'd hitch to a big city, try to find an angle to play and roll the dice. But now he's going "all in" where fate deposited him.

 

Like many noir guys, he's not as smart as he thinks he is, and he's underestimated his situation and the girl. Quicksand time.

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John Garfield enters in the bright sunshine. He's a modern vagabond, with my thought or worry of the future. He takes any job that suits him and keeps moving on, looking for the perfect job or place. "Man Wanted" at the gas station/dinner. Plenty of time to think of the future, he says. Then we meet the owner and his wife - Lana Turner. Her entrance is drenched in noir. Her lipstick rolls across the floor, a beckoning message to Garfield waiting for his free hamburger. The camera shows her feet first and then she descends the stairs into the camera's view. She's all in white but you can tell the white does not express virginity. She goes back upstairs, closing the door behind her. How did Lana Turner wind up with the husband she has. Does the "Man Wanted" sign have a subtle double meaning? And Garfield, so taken by her, rushes behind the dinner's counter to dispose of a smoldering hamburger. The sign, the lipstick, white, the smoldering food - you can sense there's more here than a man staying for a job.

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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: 

 

 

A really nice companion piece!  Thanks for sharing!  

Edited by TCMModerator1
Video removed due to copyright concerns
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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?

 

We hear John Garfield’s voice (as hitchhiker and narrator Frank Chambers) in voiceover before we see him exiting the car in which he has just hitched a ride.  The tail end of the conversation with the driver shows us that Frank is a drifter who has never had a job he liked and is not much concerned with his future.  He seems optimistic that his “future” could start right now with the “Man Wanted” sign displayed at the service station where he is being let out.  Before Frank can even pick up his suitcase, the scene is interrupted by a siren and a brief confrontation between a motorcycle cop and the driver.  This serves to demonstrate that the police are active on these California roads and reveals that the driver is actually District Attorney Kyle Sackett.   The juxtaposition of Frank’s arrival and the sudden presence of the police and the D.A. is a signal that Frank is likely to have future dealings with the law, as suggested in Sackett’s prescient farewell comment, “Well, maybe I’ll be seeing you again.”  Frank reinforces his character as a drifter in his initial comments to Nick Smith, the ebullient proprietor of the service station:  “My feet . . . keep itching for me to go places.”  So Frank the drifter enters the movie in apparent response to the “Man Wanted” sign and has already crossed paths with the law (benignly at this point) before he even meets Nick and has a chance to learn about the job and his future.

 

The entrance of Lana Turner as Cora Smith, Nick’s wife, involves few words.  Nick has left Frank alone to watch his hamburger on the griddle while Nick attends to a customer at the gas pumps outside.  Frank’s attention is drawn to the sound of an object falling to the floor and rolling toward him.  A POV shot shows us what Frank sees as he spots the lipstick on the floor and slowly pans up, across a floor crossed with diagonal shadows from the window panes and venetian blinds in the diner, and stops on the white shoes and shapely calves of Cora standing in the internal doorway.  Before we see the rest of Cora, the camera cuts to a medium close-up reaction shot of Frank, who slowly draws in his breath at what he sees in the doorway.  Then we get the full entrance of Cora all at once: a straight-on full shot of Cora standing in the door in the middle of the frame.  She is dressed entirely in white: white open-toed pumps, white shorts, white midriff-baring top, and white turban.  She is beautiful, and she knows it.  The geometric shadows seen earlier on the floor play across Frank as he walks over, picks up the lipstick, and stands at the corner of the counter several steps away from Cora.  Here is the entire dialogue:

 

Frank:  You drop this?

 

Cora:  Mm-hm.  (holding out her hand) Thanks.

 

(Frank does not respond to Cora’s open hand; he leans back on the counter and stands in place, holding out the lipstick in his open hand.)

 

Cora:  (walking over to retrieve the lipstick from Frank’s hand with a peeved expression on her face) Thanks.

 

Then Cora returns to the doorway and stands in profile while applying lipstick and observing herself in the mirror of her compact.  Then she turns and closes the door, ending her “entrance” in the movie.  Before the lipstick stops rolling across the floor, George Bassman’s musical score begins playing what is probably best described as femme fatale music, which lingers after Cora leaves the scene and is interrupted only by Frank’s burning hamburger.

 

Cora looks and acts as if she does not belong with Nick and his business.  She appears to  expect men to serve her.

                                                                                                                                                             

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

 

• Voiceover by Frank Chambers (John Garfield), implying the movie is a flashback

• Diagonal and crossed shadows inside the diner, on the floor and on Frank’s person

• Femme fatale and accompanying music

In general, I don’t see many of the lighting and camera techniques in this scene that we have seen previously in other films noir, but the thematic content seems to point pretty clearly toward a noir situation.

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I've seen this movie a few times; once at Stanford Theatre just last year. I was disheartened to hear the younger crowd laughing at Lana Turner's entrance. It kind of killed the mood.

 

Excellent point!  And not too far off topic: I was fortunate enough to have met another film fan, the very down to earth Quentin Tarantino at one of his film fests in Austin, Texas where the newspaper had quoted his comments about film audiences and their behavior. I shared with him an experience I had at the Rice Media Center during a screening of The Wild One.  There too a younger audience were laughing at the film's characters using slang of 50s, "cool", "crazy" etc.  I felt incensed that these people were not allowing themselves to get lost in the moment and appreciate the movie magic.  Not to mention I was equally embarrassed for the film's director Laszlo Benedek who was there for Q & A.  Tarantino replied, "I know, I know.  Some people just don't f**king get it!"  One of the few downsides to seeing a classic film with a large audience. 

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The thing that's also clear is that she wants to be: the blatant posing in front of him, applying makeup as if he's not there, her whole aura is "here I am, on display for you, what's it going to be?".

 

You can see in his face that he's making a decision as to what to do next. When he stands there, lipstick in hand, he's giving her an invitation and a challenge. Now she has to decide what to do. When she goes to him to get her lipstick, instead of walking away (a refusal to play the game) or waiting for him to bring it to her (indicating she feels on top here), she indicates she's the most interested party (or the most intimidated, but I don't get that vibe here, this feels very consensual) and accepts that (at least for now) he won the round.

 

Turner's entrance, on the other hand, reveals her sex appeal and doesn't have her saying much. In this scene at least, you could make the feminist argument that she is portrayed as a sex object--at least, in the eyes of Garfield's character (hello, Formalism). In other words, a study of the male gaze.

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In a college course, I learned that some species of creatures existed during such brief time periods that their fossils can be used to reliably date the age of the rock in which they are found.  Lana Turner's outfit in this clip reliably dates it to the early to mid-1940's. An obviously patriotic young woman, she is conserving cloth for the war effort with her bare midriff and those cute 1940's shorts that eschewed the voluminous use of material (using lots of fabric did not come back until the "New Look" of 1947). Also, she is wearing the turban hat, which was a staple of 1940's women's fashion, and rocking it better than Rosie the Riveter did, in my humble opinion.

 

I will set my alarm to get up early to watch this movie at 6 am on Friday, as Lana has captured my interest almost as much as she did John Garfield's, ha ha.

 

As for the prompts:

 

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

John's entrance reveals him as a carefree hitchhiker who "guesses" he is headed for San Diego and is not worried about his future. He seems ambivalent about the "Man Wanted" sign, telling the D.A. that this could be his next job (and the first one he would like), but then telling the diner proprietor that he can't work because of his "itchy" feet, only to then say that he might try the job for a couple of days. I thought it a bit odd that he told the proprietor to go outside and take care of a customer there, stating that "we" aren't making any money in here. Wouldn't "you" have been more appropriate? I don't know yet what will be the importance of the scene with the cop identifying the driver as being the District Attorney. I assume that will come up later.
While John had an entrance, Lana had an ENTRANCE! John visibly gasps when he sees her. Well, so did I, but you will never get me to admit it. We learn a lot about Lana's character in this scene. Obviously, she was aware of her impact on people of the male persuasion, and she expected John to come to her and hand her the lipstick case. She seems taken aback that he doesn't, and she has to come to him for it. She makes sure to show him what he is missing before she closes the door. Only then does John realize he has forgotten about the hamburger, and it is now too scorched to eat.    

 

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

The voiceover narration that begins the clip, the uncertainty about what will happen next, the femme fatale.

 

-- 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 am not familiar with other MGM films noir, but I am not one to be fettered by not knowing what I am talking about. What I know about MGM in general is that the studio had "more stars than there are in heaven" As the old saying goes, "when you got it, flaunt it." This scene flaunts it by being much better lit than what I am accustomed to seeing in noir films. Earlier in this course, we learned that for the "B" noir films, the poorly lit scenes allowed the studios to "hide" the lack of details in their cheap sets. When you have the best-looking actors and actresses, you don't want to hide their looks, right? So, this film shows us how good-looking Lana and John are. I am guessing this is a part of the MGM "house style." I noticed that the diner had the "legally-required" for films noir venetian blinds, and they provide the expected diagonal shadow on the diner floor, but the shadow isn't dark, and it isn't as obvious as the lattice shadow (also not dark) on the far wall.

- Tom Shawcross    

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John Garfield's entrance portrays him as someone without much meaning in life. He's a drifter, bouncing from place to place, but hopeful that his meaning will come soon ("maybe my future starts right now"), Lana Turner's entrance, on the other hand is quite different. She enters the scene like an angel, appearing in all white. I really like how the camera introduces her, opting to begin at her feet and moving up her legs. John Garfield's character is clearly blown away by her beauty, but tries to play it cool. You can't help but to immediately label her a femme fatale, as she appears to be utilizing her sex appeal early on, especially as she walks away and shuts the door. Of course you've got your shadows in this scene, as noir usually does. I think this was most prominent in Turner's entrance as she stands in the doorway. The film also features John Garfield providing a voiceover, implying a flashback, which is a noir staple. This is one of my favorite films noir, and I can't wait to watch it again on Friday. 

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The first film noir element that was obvious to me was the first person narrative by John Garfield's character.  When Lana Turner's character appears we know right away that she is the femme fatale (another film noir element). 

When we see the dropped lipstick and the camera pans upward, revealing who dropped it, I thought of a couple of things: one, the intent is for the audience (and John Garfield's character) to fall under the spell of her beauty; two, MGM is clearly showcasing (or should I say, exploiting?) one of their "more stars than there are in heaven", as Professor Edwards notes in today's text.  She was a bombshell and MGM wanted everyone to know it.

The other interesting thing I noticed: when John Garfield is holding the lipstick, we would all assume that he would be a gentleman and hand it back to her.  We can see the expectation on Lana Turner's face, yet he stands still, forcing her to walk over to him to get it and showing us that he will not fall under her spell.  I like the tension that it sets up.  I haven't seen this entire movie yet so who knows how long that tension will last...?

 

 

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I've seen this movie a few times; once at Stanford Theatre just last year. I was disheartened to hear the younger crowd laughing at Lana Turner's entrance. It kind of killed the mood.

 

Well, like I said--I've seen a ton of movies from the 30s-50s and I rarely have a difficult time getting into the film's world. Turner's entrance, to me, is just too much.

 

I know that there are a lot of things about older movies that can give a younger crowd the giggles---broader acting styles, anachronistic slang, clothing, dancing (sorry, Gilda), special effects, etc. But sometimes, even in context, moments in movies strike you as silly. Her whole "I'm going to stand three feet away and pretend I don't see you" act comes across to me as grating and annoying instead of flirty or seductive. There are effective elements to it (like seeing her feet first in that pan up from the lipstick, him suddenly realizing the burger is burning, or the way she closes the door without looking back as she leaves), but the middle chunk where they're checking each other out is too exaggerated for my taste.

 

I sort of get what the movie is going for (or what I think it's going for)--to capture some of that subjectivity of seeing someone and just going head over heels for them in a matter of seconds. I think that it comes across as overwrought, unfortunately.

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The introductions of the two main characters in this clip from The Postman Always Rings Twice reveal quite a bit about each character.  We hear Frank narrating about hitching a ride before we see him.  However, his entrance is quite different from what we would expect from a noir lead.  He steps from a car into the bright sunlight, which seems to match his rather sunny disposition.  He is not in some dark corner of a city, but out among nature; we can hear birds chirping and even see the breeze moving the branches on the trees.  Instead of a world-weary, cynical individual, we meet a man who comes across as polite and enthusiastic.  Instead of sarcastic quips, we see a man who seems quick to joke and laugh.  He’s a man out looking for his place in the world, but he doesn’t give the impression of someone running away.

 

Once again, as we did in the scene from Out of the Past, we leave a scene more on the realism side of the spectrum to enter a more stylized, formalist world one Frank enters the diner.  The light that reaches him now is filtered through venetian blinds and latticework. As soon as he enters the diner, we get a hint that the man with the wandering feet is now trapped, since the light patterns all suggest the bars of a prison no matter where he turns.

 

As in Out of the Past, our femme fatale is introduced wearing all white.  Of course, Cora’s entrance is quite different from Kathie.  As Frank traces the path of the lipstick back across the floor, we meet Cora’s long, bare legs first, clearly marking her as a sexual object.  While Frank’s gaze presumably continues to travel up, the camera’s does not; it cuts back to Frank, as we see that he is clearly taken with Cora, before we see the rest of her.  The shadows of the blinds are now even more visible on Frank as he walks towards Cora and picks up the lipstick.  Cora is wearing as little as she can, so the white does not suggest innocence or purity to the viewer.  In our first close-up of Cora there are shadows surrounding her face, making her a mysterious figure.  Even though we have not seen her do or say anything yet, we know that there is something dark inside her.  Although she tries to get Frank to walk over to her to return the lipstick, he stands his ground, causing her to walk through the shadows to reach him.  The entire encounter takes place in a shadowy realm that stands in stark contrast to the bright sunlight we saw at the start of the scene.  Even though only a few words are spoken on either side, the meeting of these two characters in the prison-like shadows is charged with sexual tension.  The “Man Wanted” sign from the beginning is taking on another meaning.

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In regards to the entrances:

 

John Garfield enters as a happy-go-lucky, somewhat disheveled traveler, in a car but quickly outside in the sun, which seems to be his natural habitat.

 

Lana Turner, on the other hand, has a highly staged entry, inappropriately dressed for a diner (especially if she lives/works there) with a completely white skin-baring outfit, turban and heels. I was reminded of an artificial flower, posed for everyone to look at, but hiding its true nature.

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From the start we know that Chambers is one of those many men looking for work or fortune who populated the USA routes. Sociable, friendly treatment, seems happy to find help or work. The ambience, the dialogues, camera motion suggest a friendly situation in which anything can happen. Everything changes with the appearance on the scene of a beautiful and radiant Lana Turner.  White, as excelling with its luminosity.  Here, the camera moves slowly following the eyes of Chambers, who had looked down to pick up the object that “fell”  at his feet. The camera ascends slowly showing the legs first and then the entire body of the woman who is haughty and seductive. The face of Garfield clearly show that something happened. Chambers found not only the possibility of work, food and money, but much more. This encounter between the protagonists, of the way in which it is raised, can be a noir element.

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Excellent point!  And not too far off topic: I was fortunate enough to have met another film fan, the very down to earth Quentin Tarantino at one of his film fests in Austin, Texas where the newspaper had quoted his comments about film audiences and their behavior. I shared with him an experience I had at the Rice Media Center during a screening of The Wild One.  There too a younger audience were laughing at the film's characters using slang of 50s, "cool", "crazy" etc.  I felt incensed that these people were not allowing themselves to get lost in the moment and appreciate the movie magic.  Not to mention I was equally embarrassed for the film's director Laszlo Benedek who was there for Q & A.  Tarantino replied, "I know, I know.  Some people just don't f**king get it!"  One of the few downsides to seeing a classic film with a large audience. 

 

I've also been through that also with movie goers too young or too clueless to understand the importance of having that "willing suspension of disbelief" when confronted with anything foreign to their experience. I was once part of a film group, and we were thrilled to have Dennis Hopper come and introduce a showing of "Easy Rider" and take questions after. A few grotesquely immature people in the audience snickered at some of the dialogue and situations, not realizing (or caring) that they were in the presence of a living legend and watching a watershed moment in American cinema. True to his nature, Hopper laughed it off and was incredibly generous with his time--even sharing some James Dean memories when he and Dean were in Rebel together. Maybe the fools who marred the experience eventually wised up and realized it was their loss.     

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My first thoughts (without delving too deeply):

 

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

 

When we first meet Garfield he seems young and possibly naive, enthusiastic about learning about the world about him. Lana Turner though, is in full-on vamp mode: the lipstick trick designed solely for the purpose of drawing the attention of Garfield to herself framed in the doorway. However, much to her surprise, Garfield refuses to give in and makes her come to him...perhaps he's not quite as innocent as he seems? 

 

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

 

The initial voice-over, the framing in the doorway, the light filtering through the blinds and, of course, the vamp! 

 

-- What did you notice in this sequence that you identify with the MGM "house style?

 

I don't know I can say much about this but it seemed the scene came with some pretty slick camera work, and I'm sure that didn't come cheap! 

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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 hitched a ride and sees a sign "Man Wanted", he decides to stop and see what happens. John's entrance is in the open sun, walking up to the diner/gas station is greeted by the owner looking for help. John is restless looking for something and can't settle down. Lana hears conversation in the cafe and wondering who's there. She drops her lipstick and lets it roll to him. He picks it up and is relaxed as he rests his arm on the counter. Lana wants John to take it to her. But John just waits for her to come to him. John has had experience with women like that before and will have nothing with it. Lana thinks she is hot stuff and wants to be in charge for this new relationship just starting.

 

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

There are several elements of film noir that we experience, first there is the voice-over where John explains where he is coming from and where he is going. Inside the cafe we see the shadow of the cross-hatched window treatment on the wall. There is low key lighting as the cafe owner's face is in shadow. As Lana comes in we see her full body and again low key lighting. In fact, the top of her head is in complete shadow. Next we see a closeup of her face with a low level spot on her eyes. The music is ominous, something is going to happen.

 

-- 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).

MGM finger prints are readily seen. John Garfield and Lana Turner were major stars at the time and MGM had to display them. Also the story is middlebrow in that we have a guy looking for a job and not sure where he is going in life. He takes a job as a mechanic, something that many people can relate to.

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My thoughts on the postman always rings twice. The attraction between them was immediate. Very powerful eye contact. He was literally blown away by her. Gives new meaning to love at first sight.

 

Some of the film noir aspects, burning hamburger, big man wanted sign, dropped lipstick, her being framed in the doorway, over the top outfit.

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