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The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)

A review by Damian Cannon.
Copyright © Movie Reviews UK 1997

The story of the drifter who comes to town, causes trouble then leaves has been told a thousand times, but never with this much class and passion. Frank Chambers (John Garfield) is the layabout, with itchy feet, who chances upon a small gas-station/diner run by Nick Smith (Cecil Kellaway). Frank has brains but he hates commitment or responsibility, so much so that he probably won't stay here either -- that is until he sees Cora Smith (Lana Turner). Looking as stunning as ever Cora is "Beauty" compared to Nick's "The Beast".

Deciding to stay on as handyman the electricity between Frank and Cora builds to a climax, overpowering the respect she has for her marriage (rather than the love she doesn't feel for Nick). Confessing how much they love and need each other they decide that murder is their only option, having tried and failed to run away together. Nick seems oblivious to this plotting, even when the pair attempt to carry out their plan. That Nick survives is more due to luck than a sudden attack of conscience, although the accident draws the attention of the perceptive DA Kyle Sackett (Leon Ames). After a week in hospital Nick returns with Cora to find Frank gone, the only option from his point of view. However, inevitably, he is drawn back into the menage-a-trois of the diner.

This time around Nick still doesn't grasp the relationship between Frank and Cora, perhaps because he's got good news. In a lucky deal he's managed to sell his holdings, allowing him to retire and take Cora with him to his sisters' (for whom Cora can act as nurse!) in northern Canada. Thus the scene is set for a successful murder, except that Sackett arrests Cora and Frank ends up in hospital. With brilliant manipulation the DA turns the pair against each other, leaving Cora with an additional charge of attempted murder against Frank. Her attorney manages to get her off (to win a $100 bet with Sackett) but the stage is set for a showdown between Cora and Frank. The extended breakdown in their relationship is stunningly portrayed, right to the fitting finale.

The crux of this movie is the doomed romance between Cora and Frank; believe that and everything falls into place. Well, the chemistry between Turner and Garfield is just perfect -- relentless, overpowering and unforgiving. All of the performances ring true as the lovers plunge headlong towards their destiny, when everything could be saved if only one of them could leave. It's hard to feel sympathy for Frank though since he intentionally aimed to seduce Cora, who is as guilty in their affair. Equally outstanding is the atmosphere of tension which pervades the script, rising to several well-timed climaxes. This truly is an outstanding film.

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