The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)
seen @ Landmark Loew's Jersey Theatre, Jersey City, NJ
Okay, so even if you're not a hardcore cinephile, chances are you've heard the story of how Lana Turner was discovered. Maybe you never quite believed it. Maybe you thought it was just Hollywood legend, an exaggeration of the truth. I mean, after all, how many actresses get discovered simply sitting around in a malt shop in LA at age sixteen?
Can you imagine trying something like that today - just plucking someone off the street and making them a movie (or TV) star based on looks alone? Actually, these days, where stardom is much less of a thing than it used to be, it might be more possible, but I think shows like American Idol and their ilk have conditioned audiences to expect unknown wanna-bes to at least have a modicum of measurable talent that we can see, along with the looks.
When I wrote about MGM uber-producer Louis B. Mayer months ago, I talked about the star-making system he established in which movie stars were carefully manufactured. Once Turner came over to MGM in 1937 after initially signing with Warner Brothers, she, too, was subject to the Mayer system, making movies with the likes of Clark Gable and earning fame as a World War 2 pin-up girl.
The way Turner was able to achieve stardom sounds so simple in retrospect. Granted, she did indeed have the looks, and that obviously went a long way, but how many young ingenues were lured to Tinseltown believing they could get in the pictures as easily as she did? There's something almost insidious about the Old Hollywood star system in terms of its consistency, but then, its success relied on the audience's eagerness to buy into the myth of stardom, that these glamorous men and women were somehow larger than life when they were up there on that screen. Today it's about computer-generated spectacle - stars incidental. Quite different.
The Postman Always Rings Twice is probably Turner's best known film. I had seen it during my video store days, of course, not that I remembered anything of it in the years since, so seeing it on the big screen at the Loews Jersey City was bound to leave an impression. The only other Turner movie I've seen was the remake of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, so I've never had a firm impression of her as an actress. I never regarded her as part of the pantheon of superstars - Hepburn, Davis, Stanwyck, Crawford, etc. - but I never disliked her either. I just never had an opinion of her either way.
She surprised me. I thought she got better the deeper the film went. Postman, naturally, is a noir classic, and she seemed much more convincing as a femme fatale as the complicated plot got more involved and her character got better defined. It's basically a lovers-conspire-to-kill-the-unsuspecting-husband story which, in my mind, invited comparisons to Double Indemnity (as in that movie, the actual murder takes place in a car, perpetrated by the male lead from the back seat). Much more happens after the murder, though, including a courtroom drama and a few more twists and turns.
On the whole, Postman isn't bad, though parts of it come across really silly now (that highway cop really had a thing for cats, didn't he?) and I thought Turner and John Garfield took way too long to go through with the murder. Seeing it on the big screen, once again, made the difference; it held my interest in a way that it might not have if I were watching it on TV. As a result, I was able to better appreciate, for example, Hume Cronyn's sleazy lawyer in the second half of the film.
It was nice to be back at the Loew's JC. Hadn't been there in months. And guess who I saw there...
Yep, Aurora was there too, who I also hadn't seen in awhile. And it so happens that the two of us have something special planned in the coming weeks. Check back here in a few days for an announcement...