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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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To any other MST3K fans on this board, did the opening scene with the hamburger joint guy remind you a lot of I Accuse My Parents? Old guy says "Yeah, you can move in with me and work for me even though we just met."  I never realized that's what I Accuse My Parents was ripping off (in that scene, anyway).

 

As for noir elements, the main character is desperate and down on his luck, so it's likely he'll be taken advantage of by a femme fatale (Turner's entrance is very over the top sultry - everything about her is designed to get attention).

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This scene says so much about both characters in only a few minutes. It starts with the typical voiceover narration, but something is a bit off. The voice sounds drained, defeated and the man seems to be discussing something that has already happened. Something bad has happened.

 

A car drives up to a small diner and a guy gets out - a hitchhiker and he is smiling (unusual for a noir). We recognize his voice as that of the narrator, but here his voice has energy. He's a drifter, but likable and at the ready with a quip. When the diner owner asks him if he is here for the jo, he replies he has a trouble that stops him from working: "My feet they keep itching for me to go places." He is actually quite charming in a low-key way.

 

Inside when he's left alone for a moment, he hears something drop and he follows a tube of lipstick to a pair of legs. This is the big entrance for Lana Turner's character (Cora) and it is bold, sexy, powerful without saying a word. The camera pans up her bare legs and there she is: cool, emotionless, gorgeous all in white with short shorts, a crop top and turban. It is a stunning sight and Frank is definitely stunned - we can see his quick intake of breath. She ignores him. When she looks at him and sees how captivated he is by her, you can see Cora's lip quiver just a touch. It is an amazing set up for what is to come: he is bewitched and she holds the power.

 

The film noir elements of the scene include the narration, the diner setting, the characters (drifter, feel mme fatale), Frank's witty dialogue, and the shadows. The shadows were especially interesting in this daytime scene as they played against the wall, on Frank's back (marking him as a trapped man) and were even on the floor as the camera followed the tube of lipstick - a great touch.

 

@toniruberto

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The character of Frank (Garfield) first appears on screen in a car. The vehicle pulls to the side of the road and he gets out, with a suitcase, and from a brief exchange with his temporary chauffer we learn that he is a drifter/philosopher, with no desire to settle down. He notices a sign stating "man wanted" posted at the driveway and casually states that maybe his destiny lies here. As he approaches the premises he is intercepted by the proprietor (Cecil Callaway) who very excitedly assumes that Frank came along to fill the position. Frank sounds reluctant, so Nick seeks to persuade him with a generous offer of salary, room and board, and even offers to cook him a complimentary hamburger as an example of the "kind of grub" he can expect if he stays. Nick proceeds with the cooking but is interrupted by an off-screen horn honk, a gas customer. Frank encourages him to see to his business, and just after Nick exits, we hear an object hit the floor. The camera follows Frank's gaze as he fixes on the rolling lipstick, and as he stoops to pick it up he notices a pair of feet to which are attached a pair of very fetching legs. As the camera pans up, we- and Frank- get our first glimpse of Cora (Turner), coolly admiring herself in the mirror of a compact. Her firm, strong posture and affected aloof attitude indicate a woman who learned early on the power of her sexuality over men. She is provocatively dressed in short-shorts and a midriff baring top- Frank doesn't stand a chance! His expression tells us that he is momentarily intoxicated by this vision. But a cool customer himself, he quickly recovers and coyly asks Cora if she "dropped this?" She gives him a confident smirk and only answers, "Um-hmm." as she extends her hand , expecting Frank to cross the room and deposit it there. But Frank defiantly waits, challenging her as to who will make the first move, and after a few moments he has his answer, as the petulant Cora struts over to him and takes the lipstick, then returns to the room from which she had emerged, and closes the door behind her, issuing her own challenge for Frank to break it down. Produced at MGM this film has all of the gloss of the A films of it's era- Star power, realistic exteriors, great clothes, cool cars. The no-expense-spared look.  

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We're introduce to Garfield 1st by his voiceover - which gives us clues that he is free, restless, and not worried about the future exclaiming "I've got plenty of time for that!" Things look normal when he goes into the diner but he's still cautious not to make any commitment about staying - he agrees to try it out for a few days.

Lana's lipstick rolling on the floor introduces her entrance - to the audience and to Garfield! She is framed by the doorway - back lighting ensures that we all get a good look at her from head to toe. While her outfit is white, we immediately begin to get clues that infer she may not be so clean...

Garfield and Turner ignite and compete for power - he picks up the lipstick but when she gives him a "bring-it-here" look, he's confident enough (and not yet crazy-in-love) to show her that he's as tough as he is handsome. She gives in, walks to get her lipstick, then walks away but not before pausing and posing for him.

 

What a perfect metaphor that the hamburger got burned!

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Just a side note or two i have noticed:

 

One MGM wasn't great at noir ish films(the lady in the lake being an experiment that failed and act of violence just above average), but this one is one that will not die.

 

When sets bring a artificial feel to them, they in themselves become more than a object/s to be viewed but the very essence of formalism or better yet the surrealism that makes us able to see them over and over again.  They are not real so we have no time 

stamps on them.  Twin Oaks, man wanted sign, Jeff Bailey's Gas Station, etc. etc.  Nighthawks scenes into which we can be drawn

like the filtered closeups or the low key lighting or the off center shots they combine to keep this films Noir going strong.

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What a pair John Garfield and Lana Turner make!  

 

One thing that I notice that remains similar to Out of the Past is Turner's white clothing.  This seems odd in a film noir, but it seems to closely mirror Jane Greer's wardrobe from the clip on Monday.  I wonder if it became an intentional theme to feature the femme fatale in white early on in a film to show her purity.

 

This clip remains largely similar to Out of the Past not only because of this, but also because of the general mystery of what will happen.  Will Garfield become the cook?  Will they end up together? What will happen to the hamburger...will the cook make another one? ;)

 

While it seems that these may be predictable, I think that, like lots of noir, things tend to stand in the way.  

 

I certainly know I have some catching up to do on both this and Out of the Past!  Looking forward to a GREAT weekend ahead!!!

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There's definitely a major element of foreshadowing in this clip. The first is when Frank speaks with the cop and the cop mentions that he pulled over the district attorney. The district attorney telling Frank he may see him again takes on a whole new meaning after we receive that piece of information; by the time his story is over, this isn't going to be the only run-in Frank has with the law. The second is the intense attraction between Cora and Frank. There's no doubt that there's an instant connection between the two, but that burnt hamburger! Such a beautiful metaphor with it sizzling and burning to a crisp, just as there's a "sizzle" between both characters. We know that a character in lust in film noir almost never ends up happily ever after. This, paired with Frank's earlier encounter with the law, tells us that this story isn't going to end well for Frank or Cora. 

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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?

 

To me, I believe that the “entrances” of John Garfield and Lana Turner are staged very differently in this sequence. I also believe that their “entrances” reveal several things about their character too.

 

When looking at John Garfield’s entrance, we (the audience) learn that his character is a restless drifter with big ideas and he desires new experiences in life.

 

This is highlighted by his voice-over narration and his discussion with a man that he has hitchhiked a ride from.

 

John Garfield’s character even expresses to the man that he sees the “Man Wanted” sign as a new adventure. However, he soon discovers that he has already unknowingly crossed paths with the local district attorney.

 

Which is a new experience that was unwanted and not planned for.

 

Upon meeting the diner owner, a man named Nick, John Garfield’s character expresses to Nick that he suffers from “itchy feet”. However he still takes the job offer anyway.

 

We (the audience) also learn that John Garfield’s character has also gained a set of different skills from his drifting to different places (being a born mechanic).

 

After Nick offers him a hamburger, Nick gets another customer and leaves John Garfield’s character in charge of the grill and his hamburger.

 

After a few quick moments, there is a thud on the floor. He looks down at it to discover a tube of lipstick. Following the line of sight from the tube he discovers…

 

Cora, Lana Turner’s character, legs first then the pair stare at each other for a brief second before John Garfield moves to pick up the tube.

 

Lana Turner’s character, Cora, pretends to go back to her “routine” of innocently applying her make up. She puts out her hand to receive the lipstick tube which is actually a battle of wills between the too.

 

However, we learn that John Garfield’s character isn’t as gullible as he seems. He makes her come to him.

 

After she does, she gives him a brief side view of her in an alluring manner when she reaches the doorway again. She pops her lips then closes doorway that she came from.

 

John Garfield pauses for a moment to let the encounter with Cora pass but he soon realizes that he smells the hamburger burning on the grill.

 

He quickly goes to look at it; it’s burnt, so he throws it away before hopping over the counter to go outside to help Nick.

 

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

 

I believe that there are several film noir elements in this sequence.

 

John Garfield’s off-screen voice-over for his character starts off this sequence but it also leads to several elements of foreshadowing in the story.

 

For example, before John Garfield’s character realizes he hitchhiked a ride from the local district attorney, the man tells him “Maybe I’ll be seeing you again”.

 

In addition to this, we (the audience) also learn that the double entendres like the sign that reads “Man Wanted” and the hamburger burning on the grill have a deeper meaning and context within this sequence.

 

I believe that these elements are also increased by an underlying element of foreshadowing that is made in conjunction with each one of them.

 

The lighting and camera movements like the low angle tracking shot from John Garfield’s line of sight up to the framing of Cora than to a close up on Lana Turner’s eyes while the rest of her face is surrounded by shadows also servers as another example of the film noir elements that are at work in this sequence.

 

We (the audience) basically get the idea that Cora is a femme fatale in search of a new man (or victim) and John Garfield’s character is a just another fly in her web. Although he isn’t as gullible as he plays, he’s still a fly in her web and doomed to end up like his hamburger.

 

  • 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 can’t answer this question because I’m not already familiar with other MGM films noir from this time period.

 

 

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Although it is definitely a noir film, John Garfield's entrance has a sort of every day quality about it.  He's a drifter, but upbeat, looking forward to his future that may be starting here and now.  Quite a contrast to Lana's entrance......slow, the camera climbing up her legs, not a word spoken, expecting the man to come at her beck and call..... now the every day quality is gone and the tension between the two begins as soon as they meet.   

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When John Garfield makes his entrance, his voice-over narration gives us a clue that things may not turn out good for him. Beyond that, he seems like a happy-go-lucky guy who is looking for work and is up for an adventure. When Lana Turner makes her entrance, I get the impression that she is used to getting what she wants out of men, but isn't very happy or fulfilled with her lot in life. To me, MGM black & white films always seem very light and crisp. They seem to have more lights and greys than dark and shadowy black. Their films noir aren't as dark and shadowy as other studio's films noir, but they are still really good.

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@500efr: Lots to consider with the studio system. "B" films are A+ & noir is everywhere! Always be wary of a woman in white from head to toe. It signals danger in a noir world.

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post-49257-0-11153800-1435196041_thumb.jpg

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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?
  • What are some of the noir elements in this sequence?
  • 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 from this time period).

I try to experience these clips freshly, as if I hadn't seen the films before.  At the same time, I take ito account that a filmmaker does nothing randomly, that life is compressed in film and every details matters.  So Garfield's character seems on the surface like a rootless but harmless fellow who gets a lift from a stranger, is thankful, says goodbye, and says he's going to ask for a job at the diner/gas station.  Nothing so far to even think its a noir or about murder.  However, the interaction with the cop--Garfield just so happened to be picked up by the district attorney.  That's a clue something will happen. Then Garfield reveals his character more when he admits to his feet being unable to stay in one place--but it is clearly not a happy-go-lucky type of restlessness.  The friendly diner owner lets him in and starts to cook him a burger, but runs off to pump some gas. 

 

At 2:50, the whole tone changes with the rolling lipstick and the shadow and camera panning up the legs of Lana Turner.  It will be a battle of wills from now on, as he picks up the lipstick but doesn't hand it to her, making her come  get it.  Yet he is clearly enthralled and not able to keep his eyes and mind off her.  It's downhill from now on; the die is cast.  The burger burning to a crisp is symbolic of what has happened to him, and just like he throws it in the trash, he is throwing his life away.  But is he?  Who will be the real leader in evil here? She or he? 

 

In terms of noir, I think the sudden contrast between the lighthearted, friendly, openness of the beginning--the stranger giving him a ride, the embarrassed cop, the somewhat daffy diner owner and the sultry, underdressed woman who appears out of nowhere and looks ready for seduction--is just another type of contrast of light and dark.  The seeming light can turn to darkness very quickly in a noir, as if to say the darkness is always there, ready to come out. 

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Garfield saunters in almost happy-go-lucky (not something you much in a noir) but Turner announces herself by dropping/rolling something and she feels Garfield in like a fish. I loved the shot that panned the floor to her legs on up. The was it was lit, it looked almost like a ladder climbing up to Turner. It made me want to climb that ladder too!

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I was unfamiliar with this story until now, so these are fresh impressions:

 

Frank seems very much like an every-day, nonchalant wanderer when he first appears. The appearance of the policeman made me momentarily apprehensive, but this passes when the two part company.

 

Lana Turner's character is obviously completely selfish from her first appearance.  She tries to be alluring and dismissive at the same time, as though she doesn't care what this stranger thinks of her, but she's determined to entice him anyway, and then show her rejection of him by closing the door.

 

The only noir element I noticed is a shift from a generally realistic film style to a formalistic one at the point when Cora's lipstick falls on the floor.  The camera focuses on it and then crawls over to make a meal of Cora's legs.

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1.)   Garfeild's characters enters the scene like a young kid about to enter a candy store. He rushes headlong from the car who gave him a lift right into the gas station looking for employment after he spots the man wanted sign. He's an innocent enthusiastic man about to enter a dark and foreboding world unaware of what awaits him.  He enters the diner and gebins to discuss with the owner the details of the job. Everything appear normal in this new world he has entered; almost banal.  Garfield's character even comments when the proprietor is called way something to the effect that there are no customers waiting.

 

        Enter into this dreary, dull world on a desolate side road Lana Turner's character.  She is introduced from her fallen lipstick first and then the camera tracks her legs to stop on her face and torso. Her entrance "ignites" the scene;  before her entrance, even the camera work appeared dull and rudimentary.  Flat shots of people framed against drab black/gray sets with dim lighting. The camera appears fixed and unmoving without fluidity.  Suddenly, the lipstick falls and the  camera performs a dizzying track to Turner.  A switch from realist filmmaking to formalist filmmaking. Even Turner's clothing...a white top with white shots and white shoes...a white turbin covering hair make her appear almost angelic as contrasted to he gray mis-en-scene. Her entrance suggests she is seductive...she almost seems to give off an electric power. 

 

 

2.)    Film noir were known for hidden double entendres which would convey emotions which the studios could not show explicitly due to standards restrictions.  After Turner exits the scene (the door closes) Garfield's character realizes the hamburger is burning to the grill.  The burning burger is a hidden symbol of Turner's "scorching" sexual power. Garfield was supposed to watch the grill. Realizing he was distracted by Turner,  Garfield throws the burger away. The act of discarding the burger represents his willingness to lie and cover up for the stunning Turner character.

 

3.) Will answer third part after I have viewed some MGM film noirs.

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With the voice-over narration and the DA saying they may meet again, the sunny entrance of John Garfield is full of foreshadowing and foreboding. He tells us he's rootless, not lucky but optimistic and searching for something. Moments later, he finds it.

Lana Turner's entrance in this hole-in-the-wall burger joint is like a vision from another world. I like the way Garfield gasps, just a little when he first sees her. She's gorgeous and expects to be adored. He sees that immediately and refuses to take the bait. The game is on.

I'm not a real student of MGM noir, but this film (and let's say Johnny Eager too) almost feel like they don't want to be "noirs." MGM is doing it beautifully, but it's not buying into the "noir" esthetic like Warner's or RKO. The deep shadows never seem quite as deep at MGM.

 

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Frank (Garfield) is our everyman; he's cordial, easygoing and optimistic. Adventure is only around the corner, even though it may be a dark corner. His entrance is shot in high key lighting or rather natural sunlight. We see him and feel like we know him because he is like any one of us. He doesn't know Fate is about to throw a major curve ball towards him in the form of an itty bitty compact lipstick. The gentle, smooth rolling of the lipstick seals his Fate and infatuation with Cora Smith. Lana Turner's (Cora) entrance is taken automatically from the male gaze. She is introduced to the audience using the male gaze, thus signaling her appeal and substance as an object rather than a subject. She's a thing before she ever becomes Cora (at least that's how Frank and the audience initially views her). The tracking shot and slight high angle of her legs suggests this notion seamlessly. Frank is taken by her. The white headwrap acts like a false halo. Form fitting and white implying purity and innocence but we know that this woman is no angel. The close-up shot in true MGM house style lures us into the glamour and beauty of Lana Turner's star face but the shaded lighting which casts a slight shadow accents that while beauty reigns supreme, there appears to be something lurking behind that sultry stare. A rough intensity, maybe implying pride and ego, but nonetheless dominance. She knows what she's got and she's not afraid to use it, as the full shot suggests. 

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Framed entrances and a diner with a view or two:

 

John Garfield's entrance is staged outside with his exit from a large, luxurious car.  His face is framed in the passenger side window as he talks with the driver who asks him if he is concerned about his future.  Garfield looks over his shoulder to point to the sign Man Wanted and responds that perhaps his future begins now.  The "Man Wanted sign is a double entendre:  he is wanted for a job by the enthusiastic older man who runs out from the building to greet him, and he is also "wanted" by the tempting woman who later poses for him is her skimpy outfit that shows her long legs.

 

Turner is staged with all of the glowing light of a studio soundstage.  She is framed in the doorway with a staircase leading up behind her, perhaps suggesting that she will lead Garfield up to "paradise."  Turner sparkles in her all white midriff skirt and slim white shorts with her hair is a white turban and her feet in white pumps.  The lighting of her entrance is clear and bright while Garflield as he admires Turner's curves is cloaked in gray tones. 

 

The nor elements are the juxtaposition of the realism of Garfield leaving the car and the formalism of the interior of the lunch counter.  The setting of the diner is a prime noir element with a twist; this scene happen in the daytime instead of at night, and the diner is on a rural highway overlooking the ocean instead of an urban landscape.  Both outside and inside shots have variants of light and dark tones.

 

As for the "house style" of MGM, the slow panning from the floor up Turner's sleek legs to her faces, the spotlight halo on Turner's face, and the surging, crescendo of music are highlights of MGM's master craftsmanship.  Although the score was not composed by Max Steiner who wrote for RKO and Warner Brothers, the music of this movie does have that swelling, dramatic effects that Steiner's scores did.  Compelling music can be a signature element of a bigger budget picture, and the viewer can hear that quality is put into this film

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Garfield's character is shown to be a drifter. That is made very clear from his arrival to this town and new job. I like how they introduce Lana Turners character with the lipstick rolling towards John and him bending to pick it up to see her legs and the camera follows them all the way up. She is staring at herself in the mirror. She is sexy and knows it but John's character will not be a push over he makes her come get her lipstick and plays it cool.

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Sometimes in 1940s Hollywood movies the action can seem painfully contrived. That is true in this scene. For instance, it is a bit too convenient that a motorcycle cop rolls up on the district attorney right as Frank is standing there watching -- and then the cop admits to some hitchhiker with a suitcase that he let the D.A. go because of who he is. Would that really happen? It's doubtful. Still, the compelling elements in the scene, capped by the entrance of Cora Smith, overcome these credibility issues and keep viewers hooked.    

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Garfield's entrance is an instant transparent voice over narrative of a personable drifter. He exposes his philosophy of undesirable jobs to the driver (district attorney) and to his future boss. The viewer is given a hint of a foreboding story in just one sequence when Garfield points to the "man wanted" sign. It has has a double meaning; worker and partner or lover in crime.At first he is hesitant "suppose I try it for a couple of days? Next, he is interrupted by a lipstick rolling on the floor. The camera follows the lipstick's origin across the shadowy floor and stops at a pair of shapely legs in white heels belonging to the exquisite Lana Turner. She is wearing white shorts, white midriff blouse and white turban Perhaps implying a distorted sort of purity at  this time. The contrast of her skin against that outfit is breathtaking! The expression on Garfield's face alerts us that there is an immediate sexual attraction toward this woman who lives in the house behind the diner.There's also a hint of her being a femme fatale in her defiant stare toward him when she waits for him to give her the lipstick. but he doesn't budge. Garfield's animal magnetism forces her to walk over and retrieve it.Pure noir!

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The entrance of the two main characters in "The Postman Always Rings Twice" tells us a lot about them in myriad ways.

 

Frank, first heard in voice over sounding wearier than he does in the flashback we see, so we can tell something's going to beat him down (I can't recall how much the scene before this reveals). He's hitch hiking - from nowhere, going nowhere - but he might stop here. The first thing we hear once he's left at this location is a police siren - a portent of trouble with the law to come? He easily assumes that the cop took a bribe, because he lives in an immoral world, accepting that that's the way it is. He seems to have come for the job (his "future?") but as it's offered to him he already wants to get away. Nonetheless, he goes in and the window light throws a pattern behind him reminiscent of a chain link fence - does he feel fenced in already?

 

Cora, rolling out the lipstick tube as if she were casting bait. Standing there perfectly posed and framed, and knowing it, knowing exactly what she's doing and the effect she's having until she makes her perfectly staged exit.

 

After that "sizzling" meeting, we learn the hamburger Nick was proudly preparing as symbol of how good life would be there is ruined and must be thrown out, because Cora distracted Frank. Frank seems to see the danger and looks to be getting out of there as the clip ends. Too bad he didn't follow through.

 

Overall, this scene could have been from a Warner Bros. picture, it would fit at the studio, down to having borrowed John Garfield. But then Lana Turner enters and she is an important MGM star and this is one of MGM's A-list productions, so she's going to get the full glamour treatment (part of the house style) and that may be the reason why some modern viewers find her appearance jarring or even laughable. I don't think audiences of the time would have had that reaction.

 

It's interesting (if perhaps unfair) to compare her first appearance with that of Barbara Stanwyck in "Double Indemnity." Stanwyck is attractive, but just cheap and gaudy enough in her blonde wig to feel instantly dangerous (she also gets some wonderful dialogue and, hey, she's Stanwyck).

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The MGM style is illustrated in the detailed set, full open view of the screen and most notably the misty closeup of Lana Turner's face.

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Disclaimer: I'm not familiar with films noir from MGM enough to comment on a 'house style' - so this is just an uneducated observation...

 

 

That said -- what we have here is clearly a more 'sanitized' visual texture than in the the majority of 'Daily Doses'. Contrast the diner from 'The Killers' with the one we enter here in 'Postman'. The interior seems so much more "art-directed" - it doesn't seem particularly 'lived in'. The exterior too is manicured - so much so that I wondered if it was actually a sound stage with an expensive set. The soundtrack is curiously empty  - which suggests that this is not a 'location', particularly as we see that the diner sits on a road above the ocean. Is the ocean a back-projection?

 

If MGM's house style veers towards the 'mainstream', and aimed towards an audience quite comfortable with "sound-stage reality", then it seems that the studio wasn't interested in too much grit in their 'noir' and preferred to keep their glamorous stars safely on the back lot. I'll be very interested to watch out for other MGM films noir and see if this observation holds true.

 

Visconti made a version of 'Postman' several years earlier (Ossessione) - which makes a fascinating comparison in terms of the visual 'reality'. To exercise, hopefully correctly, recently learned terminology -  the Visconti version is brutally 'realist' while MGM's 'Postman' is carefully 'formalist'.

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