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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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Mr. Garfield's entrance puts himself on a defensive panorama. He starts with a voice-over narration about his situation, and soon after the policeman talks to the man at the car, he is just abrupt interrupted by the man of law. After that the bar's owner have to get away his hambuger because of a new event, and finally he faces Lana Turner glamurously standing in front of him. He doesn not control any of these elements, being almost a eternal fugitive on the first minutes of the projection. Lana Turner is the quintessential femme fatale: beautiful, sexy, provocative, mysterious and almost a threat. Few words, but she didn't need to talk much anyway.

 

The elements pointed above are just some of noir key ingredients, but we can atest at least one more: the camera movement that reveals Mrs. Turner. We see a lot of diagonal shadows on the ground, something that was not the type of production that immortalized MGM as a studio. The 'house of the stars' is best known for his production status, his size and his glamourous sets. And they're all here to be seen.

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Frank bursts on the screen with a zooming car.  Police are right behind them, is he wanted?  That was my first thought.  But no, just a regular stop.  I love how Frank says he has itchy feet.  To me, this says if things don't go his way, he leaves.  Enter Cora, she also bursts onto the scene, just in a different way with a rolling lipstick.  She gives him the look that says I am beautiful, you must do my bidding.  He picks it up but holds it out, this is a power struggle of sorts.  He lets her know that he is not such a pushover just because she is beautiful.  Then when she applies the lipstick she is saying you can look but don't touch.  She is very much in control of the situation.  

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From the very beginning there is a strong contrast between Frank and Cora. We learn quite a bit about Frank...... As others have said, he's set up practically from the beginning to be used as a pawn.

 

....we learn nothing about Cora, no idea who this woman is. From her entrance, she is already starting to manipulate Frank. Throwing her lipstick down, causing him to look over and up..... Once she leaves, practically slamming the door in his face, he takes care of the burnt food, throwing it away because he found something he desires more

 

A strong & deliberate contrast, not only between Frank & Cora but Cora and her environment (N.B. another 'Nighthawks-like' diner, a place of poterntial danger & intrigue, despite full daylight!)

 

Rather than 'nothing', I'd say we learn Cora is dangerous, manipulative, and not as ernest or open as Frank or her husband seem to be. Certainly not the same 'biographical' information delivered through voiceover and dialogue but plently using film language and drawing heavily on emerging noir conventions, as many others have noted. 

 

The over cooked hamburger could be read as being discarded in favour of something more appealing, however it may also be that something that seems desirable or palatable can quickly 'go wrong' and one end up 'getting burnt' as we suspect Frank will by staying around Cora. I feel it's potentially a rather dark symbol and at risk of 'over reading', I wonder if it's a too modern reading to think of it a a sinister element connotating 'fresh meat'.... man wanted. For what?

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Like many of the other daily doses of darkness, this one seems to be in flashback. Garfield says over the voice over that he had hitch-hiked a ride. When he gets out, he seems to be a polite, cheerful, idealistic young man, eager to find where he really belongs in the world. He also seems to be rather enjoying the journey. Turner's entrance however, beginning with her feet suggests that she is going to a larger than life, even otherworldly figure. The first shot of her we see is of her feet, implying she will walk all over and overshadow someone, possibly Garfield. Right away we see how Garfield is taken with Turner, and we know that this drifter may have found what he has been looking for.

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The entrances of John and Lana are staged to appear as if fate has brought them together. Their love is bitter-sweet and powerful. It is the kind of love that will destroy anyone and anything that dare to tear them apart; fate has brought them together and only fate can separate them or destroy them. There are a lot of devices placed about that suggest a romantic relationship is brewing. For example,a 'Man Wanted' sign;An 'Oil Sign' close to it(subliminal sexual suggestion);John's reaction to Lana when he meets her and hers' to him;John speaking of his new beginning,just to name a few.

 

John's entrance reveals that he's a nice guy who hasn't had a lot of lucky breaks in life. He is distrustful, opportunistic,a 'real' man and he's no fool.His facade is that of a man who thinks that he is strong,but in many ways he is weak...when it comes to a woman, is motivated subconsciously by suggestions,very prideful and is lustful for a better life. Another take on the hard-boiled character template we've been learning about.

 

Lana's entrance reveals the femme fatale who only thinks about herself,a user who will use anyone, particularly a man to get what she wants (i.e. sex,charm,or intelligence), even if it means hurting someone.She is lusty for 'the better life'.

 

Some of the noir elements depicted in this seen are, voice-over narrative and flashback;hard-boiled and femme fatale characters;diner scene (from Hopper's "Nighthawks" painting);dark lighting; location/environmental shot(s);shadows and music, and a mirror (Lana's compact).

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John Garfield enters as a hitchhiker to an unknown destination with an open spot for employment by the seaside. He doesn’t belong anywhere, doesn’t stay anyplace very long, or carry very many belongings outside of one suitcase. Lana Turner’s entrance is brought to attention from the sound of a dropped and rolling lipstick. When Garfield turns around, the rolling lipstick leads his eyes to the legs and eventually the entirety of Turner. 

Entranced by what he sees, Garfield gets up and picks up the lipstick. After Turner sees that he picks it up, she immediately turns her eyes to a compact mirror, while still keeping her attention on him. After Garfield enquires about the lipstick, Turner nonchalantly confirms about the dropped cosmetic, only giving him a brief looking before putting her hand out, and setting her eyes back on her reflection in the compact.

 

Interestingly, Garfield doesn’t seem offended or even surprised (hinting at plenty of experiences with the opposite sex and how to gain their attention). Rather, he mirrors (the compact may or may not be symbolic of Garfield being Turner's male reflection of herself and her desires)  her nonchalance with an open defiance by leaning back and inviting her to take the lipstick back from him.

 

Unlike Garfield, Turner is surprised, signifying that this is a break in habit for her (unlike Garfield, who is getting the usual "routine"), as she is accustomed to being pursued and indulged. However, she immediately recovers, drops the ladylike mask, and becomes equally defiant. Turner begins her transformation to a femme fatale by accepting Garfield’s challenge, discards her habit of being the desired object, and takes the proactive approach in getting what she wants- an approach that she will continue for the rest of the movie.

 

Noir elements include the ominous “man wanted” sign, serving as both an omen, as well as, a very obvious double entendre. Another popular noir element is narration by the protagonist, recounting his story. He’s not necessarily “down on his luck” like the usual noir protagonist, since by his own admission he is a wanderer who doesn’t stay put long. But, still without a background, family, wealth, material possessions to tie him down- he will have to break his way out of obscurity like many noir protagonists. The way Lana Turner tries to seduce Garfield is very much in a femme fatale fashion. While, Garfield doesn’t play into her hand (yet), he is still very much desires her and the burned hamburger (which he promised to keep an eye on) is indicative that she will be his downfall.   

 

MGM’s famous “house” elements, which romanticize their movies visually, set this noir apart from its contemporaries- making a “glamorous” noir (if you will). First off, the location at first looks barren except for some signs and a rundown burger house, which would’ve kept faithful the existential noir setting, but expanded shots eventually open up to reveal trees and a lovely seaside view that take away from the initial desolation. Secondly, unlike other noirs, which are seeped in shadows and dark lighting (usually due to budget constraints) throughout the movie, this movie has much brighter lighting; particularly when it comes to lighting Lana’s beautiful face.

 

Turner’s entrance alone, capitalizing her famous legs and gorgeous form epitomize the famous “house” style. Other noir address the loveliness of their  and Garfield’s good looks only add to the beauty and visual appeal of the movie, elements that are not a requirement for other noir heroes and anti-heroes, otherwise Humphrey Bogart, Richard Widmark, Dick Powell, etc. wouldn’t have flourished in the genre. MGM did pride itself on its multitude of beautiful stars after all; doing anything to contradict their mantra would’ve been sacrilege.

 

 

 

 

Note: I originally posted this June 25 on the canvas website, but forgot to post this on the TCM website. Better npw than never. xD 

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