Drama · Film Noir

Contrary to Popular Opinion: The Postman Should Cut & Run

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“I love you. Let’s go swimming.” Image: doctormacro.com

We knew this day would come.

We knew there would come a day when we would spill our darkest movie secret.

It’s this: We think the 1946 holy grail of film noir, the one that’s on everyone’s Top 10 List, is dreadfully overrated. In fact, we can hardly sit through it.

The Postman Always Rings Twice, in our opinion, is a muddled, overrated melodrama starring John Garfield and Lana Turner. It’s about a woman and her lover who plot to kill her husband (Cecil Kellaway). You can click HERE for the trailer, but we think a more enjoyable viewing choice is this vintage science documentary on atomic energy.

So what’s our big fat problem with The Postman Always Rings Twice? We’re glad you asked.

1. Some of the innuendo is a little too on the nose. For example, in one scene, Turner demands that Garfield paint all the chairs in the cafe:

Garfield: “Maybe I’ll look in the paper. Maybe I’ll find a sale on cheap paint.”
Turner: (icily) “You won’t find anything cheap around here.”

(Do you suppose they’re not actually talking about paint? Oh, those canny scriptwriters!)

2. Is Turner’s much-older husband really so bad? Is he really worth killing for a gas-station-slash-hamburger joint? Of course, his death is insured for $10,000, which would buy a lot of ground beef, so maybe we’re being too judgmental.

However, we can’t help but feel a little sorry for the husband. He’s a plain, unsophisticated fellow who knows Turner is too attractive for him. In one scene, the poor slob sings a song that is a mockery of his life:

I’m not much to look at
Nothing to see
Just glad I’m living
Lucky to be
I’ve got a woman crazy for me
She’s funny that way

He’s a dead man, Kellaway is, so to ensure we don’t gain too much sympathy for him, the scriptwriters make him suddenly decide to move to northern Canada so Turner can look after his paraplegic sister.

Turner does not take this news well. Northern Canada, after all, is the absolute worst place on earth. Here is a picture:

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The Yukon, in northern Canada. Image: Discover Canada

But it’s not a place where a gal can easily wear white shorts and heels, so we have to take that into consideration.

3. All the business about electricity (the neon sign, the unlucky cat tripping the breaker) is a deceitful use of foreshadowing. Electricity is a clever, ominous presence in the first half of the film, then it’s dropped like a tainted celebrity. It’s a cinematic rip-off.

4. How can a movie with so much promise so badly lose its way? The film starts with good tension and palpable chemistry between Turner and Garfield. But halfway through, it stumbles and never regains its footing. Before we know it, we’re slogging through dialogue like this:

Turner: “All the hate and revenge has left me, but is it all out of you?”
Garfield: “I’m trying to find some way I could prove it to you.”

Then they go swimming. Yes, swimming. The universal gesture of forgiveness.

Other choice lines include:

  • “Both of us hating each other, like poison.”
  • “I couldn’t have this baby, then have it find out that I sent its father into that poison gas chamber for murder.”

5. Turner and Garfield don’t think things through. They decide to run away together, but they don’t have a car. So they trudge alongside the hot, dry highway, suitcases in hand, unable to hitch a ride.

Um… these are people who are going to plan the Perfect Murder?

Even though our faves Hume Cronyn, Alan Reed and Leon Ames have supporting roles in this film, they can’t save it.

Our biggest problem with The Postman Always Rings Twice is it deserves to be more than it is, and for that we blame the script. The soap-opera dreck we’re left with at the conclusion is almost unbearable. The atomic energy documentary we referenced earlier has a much more satisfying ending.

(Whew! We are so relieved to unburden ourselves of this dark secret.)

The Postman Always Rings Twice: Lana Turner, John Garfield, Cecil Kellaway. Directed by Tay Garnett. Written by Harry Ruskin and Niven Busch. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp., 1946, B&W, 113 mins.

This post is part of the CONTRARY TO POPULAR OPINION Blogathon hosted by Sister Celluloid and Movies, Silently. Click HERE to read all the other contributions!

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49 thoughts on “Contrary to Popular Opinion: The Postman Should Cut & Run

  1. I agree with you. Think I need to watch that vintage science documentary!
    I always feel sorry for the cast when the script lets them down.

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  2. Bravo! I applaud your courage. I hate it when I have to admit that I dislike a “classic”. Your reasons here are valid and I will remember them whenever I revisit this film. It’s funny because although many consider this one of the great film noirs of all time, it just doesn’t seem to get regarded as a great film. I think there are many out there who would agree with you completely, and now thanks to this post they can all finally admit their true feelings!

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    1. Ha ha! Thanks, Paul. Yes, I took a deep breath before I hit “Publish” this time. I’ve just never understood why this movie is considered to be “one of the best”. But it is beautifully filmed, and all the stills from it are gorgeous.

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  3. dreadfully overrated

    I’m entirely with you, for most of the reasons you give and also because I think Turner’s performance — and the snazzy costumes, perfect makeup, etc., that she insisted upon — kills it. In the novel (which I like a lot) the character’s sexy, you bet, but she’s as cheap as the plastic furniture. That works. But the notion of having a sort of international supermodel married to the beat-up old owner of a beat-up old diner? Yeah, right . . .

    Among the remakes there’s a German one called Jerichow (2008) that’s well worth a quick look if you come across it.

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    1. Thanks for the recommendation re: Jerichow. I’ll look for it.

      Ha ha – love your phrase “cheap as the plastic furniture” – perfect! Yes, Turner is not believable in this role, especially with the (stunning) wardrobe & makeup. I don’t know anyone who has fresh-from-the-salon hair after flipping burgers all day…

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  4. A couple of good scenes, and Garfield’s smoulder, do not make up for the verbose and confused script. The first time I saw “The Postman Always Rings Twice” I went around singing “Is That All There Is?” for days afterward. I gave it a second look to see if it or I had improved. I had, but it hadn’t.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha ha – I like that you said you had improved, but the film hadn’t. I had the same reaction the first time I saw it: “That’s it? Really?” I can see why people would enjoy it; I’m just not one of them.

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  5. LOL, well, I like this movie in spite of some of its flaws, but still enjoyed reading your post.

    Though, honestly, I think the remake with Jessica Lange and Jack Nicholson is way, way worse.

    I think the best version is Visconti’s, Ossessione. Never heard of the German one–I’m going to check it out.

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    1. Ooh – thanks for the tip re “Ossessione”. I bet that would be worth it.

      I could never bring myself to watch the Jack Nicholson/Jessica Lange version, but it would be interesting to compare it to the original.

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  6. I loved this review. I laughed out loud at that comment about California. So funny. I enjoyed this film, mainly for Garfield, but I agree with all of your objections. I liked the book, and thought the movie captured enough of it for me to enjoy, but I had that superior version in my mind when I saw the film, and think I may have read more into it than was there. Leah

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  7. Hilarious critique, even though I disagree with it. However, my wife once sat with me and watched this movie and had a reaction similar to yours, so you’re not alone. In any case, very well-written!

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    1. I’m glad your wife had a reaction similar to mine. A lot of people really like this movie, and that is A-OK by me. It’s remained famous all these years later because so many enjoy it. Thanks for dropping by!

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  8. Well said! TPART *is* a hot mess, truly it is. I am interested in the difference between how people remember a movie and what’s actually in the movie—what people remember about It’s a Wonderful Life is almost exclusively that last hour, very little of the two hours that lead into it. A lot of people remember Easy Rider as a movie about a couple of cool hippies who are murdered by rednecks, when it’s actually a movie about a couple of hippie drug dealers on a cross-country drug run (who are murdered by rednecks).

    Lana Turner as Kellaway’s wife is truly one of the Hollywood lies I cannot suspend disbelief for. How the heck is that supposed to have happened? And she’d be hanging around waiting for some homeless laborer to come along and make all her dreams come true when L.A. wasn’t all that far away?—puh-leeze.

    Beautifully shot, which is a lot of its appeal, plus the smoldering. In the end, what people remember is the smoldering.

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  9. Ha ha – “a hot mess” is the perfect description. It is beautifully filmed, and there is a lot of smoldering going on, but there are a LOT of “as if’s” here – your mention of Lana Turner’s character waiting for a homeless drifter, being of one of them.

    Maybe I’d be more forgiving if I were a bigger John Garfield fan, or if I didn’t mind Turner’s distracting hair tossing. In the end, I just felt bad for the husband, the poor slob.

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  10. The first time I watched this I was seduced into liking, mostly by Turner’s wardrobe – which is unbelievable, yes, but oh-so covetable. But then I re-watched Double Indemnity and suddenly this didn’t seem so good. Turner and Garfield really do plan THE WORST murder, the script is appalling – everything is so staged it requires something beyond suspension of belief.

    And you know what? I’d never noticed the electricity foreshadowing before (too distracted by the shorts, perhaps) but now that you mention it… WHAT A LET DOWN!

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    1. Lana Turner’s wardrobe is fab-u-lous, to be sure! I love that she’s always dressed in white.

      Yes, the murder-plotting is nowhere near as clever as it is in “Double Indemnity” or in a lot of other films. And that would be OK, I suppose, if Lana Turner didn’t look like the carefully-coiffed MGM movie star she was, or maybe if she were an older femme fatale who only wanted to play with Garfield’s affections.

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  11. When I first saw this I thought Garfield and Turner were hotter than sunburn, but with discovering hotter couples in much better stories it’s slid down my rankings too. It’s another case of there being way more deserving pictures in the genre that can use a fraction of the attention TPART gets. This is great because people should never go along with the Emperor’s New Clothes or critical opinion, just like what you like and don’t be afraid to say so!

    P.S. I’m glad you included the picture of that horrible Canada place, or I never would’ve believed it existed. I mean who can stand to live there!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Re: Canada – I know! Who in their right mind would move there?

      I liked what you said on Twitter, about a lot of movies getting their “clocks cleaned” in this blogathon. Even GWTW got blasted! It’s fabulous that we can all let our hair down in this fashion, no?

      Yes, there are much better, and lesser-known, movies who deserve some of the attention Postman gets. It really is a shame…

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  12. Thank you!! I completely agree – I think that the best noirs sit perfectly on that knife edge between glorious melodrama and just melodrama, and The Postman Always Rings Twice falls right off the wrong end 😉

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  13. Thank you for unburdening yourself! Now it’s my turn: I couldn’t get past the first 15 minutes. I just couldn’t. Well, from your description, it doesn’t sound like I missed much. Enjoyed the humorous take on a classic. Or should I say “classic”?

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I agree… it takes courage and the knowledge that the villagers will be at your door with flaming torches for being contrary toward a classic. I truly thought I was the only one who didn’t feel the earth shake by this film. While I love Garfield and Turner did look fab, the story rubbed me the wrong way… and besides as you know by now I’m sworn off all films where a cat dies horribly. Great Blogathon!!!! Cheers Joey

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    1. Oh, that is a bad scene with the cat – poor thing.

      I was surprised by the number of people who don’t like or who are lukewarm towards this film. I thought I was the only one. But it’s been a fascinating blogathon for that reason. I was surprised at some of the films that were on the roster.

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      1. It’s funny I thought I was the only one and it’s often an unspoken violation to betray it’s memory in some people’s minds. Lord knows there’s a few others I could go off on, but I don’t need the hate mail… LOL such as in the words of Lou Grant…”You got spunk kid… I hate spunk…” It was a great piece and I even enjoyed the comments! See ya tomorrow when you kick off the Miriam Hopkins Blogathon!

        Liked by 1 person

  15. I have to share a dark secret: I’ve never seen the movie, yet I know what happens (I have the book). I’m usually “meh” about Lana Turner’s acting abilities, but I have to say that innuendo you described could only pass through dumb censors…
    Thanks for the kind comment!
    Kisses!

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    1. Ha ha! Thanks, Le. I’m “meh” about Lana Turner’s acting most of the time, too. She does look gorgeous in this film, though. I have yet to read the book, and it’ll be interesting to compare that to the film.

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  16. I have not seen this one, but sadly someone took me to see the Jessica Lange/Jack Nicholson version when I was much younger and didn’t realize I could say “No Thank You”. I couldn’t stand it, but sure did love your review of the older movie. I wish I’d known about the science documentary. I could have suggested we see that instead!:)

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  17. It’s not my favorite noir by any means, but I did enjoy it mostly because I am such a big fan of John Garfield. I can definitely relate to what it’s like to reveal your movie secrets though. I remember the day I decided to admit that I don’t like Bringing Up Baby. Very scary! 🙂 But thankfully most people are quite understanding knowing we all have different tastes in movies. I enjoyed reading your thoughts!

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    1. John Garfield is perfectly cast – he is so good in this role.

      Yes, it’s tough to hit “Publish” when you’re attacking a much-loved classic, isn’t it? But, like you said, that’s what makes for interesting film discussion.

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  18. I’ve always thought it unfortunate that the 1946 “Postman” was made at MGM, instead of a more noir-appropriate studio like RKO or Warners. I’m a big John Garfield fan, but, yes, Lana Turner was too glamorous for the role. I think Ida Lupino would’ve been great as Cora, especially since she and Garfield always had great chemistry together. Plus, Lupino already had experience in bumping off a husband in “They Drive by Night”!

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