What makes Hollywood in the 1940s so fascinating from my perspective is the way morally taboo subject matters are addressed without ever even hinting at them. The strict Hayes code was in full force at this point, which included not showing a man and woman in bed together and a single kiss not lasting any longer than three seconds. Yet the era was still ripe with sexual tension and often feels more authentic and palpable than the movies of today, especially in film noirs such as “Double Indemnity,” “The Big Sleep” and “The Postman Always Rings Twice” that serve as the backbone of the film noir genre.
“Postman” has a rather similar plot to “Double Indemnity” – a gullible naïve man falls for a beautiful blonde woman who convinces him that the only way they can be together is if he helps kill her husband. The difference in “Postman” is that this act of murder is more passionate and raw, done out of longing-ness for these two young lovers to be together, while “Double Indemnity” is done more with the money in mind, especially for the femme fatale.
Lana Turner plays Cora, a young woman who has had men chase her around her whole life and finally decides to settle down with a much older man who runs a diner in the middle of nowhere, Turner’s vibrant yet subtle acting hinting that these two are in a one-sided relationship. The moment another man, Frank Chambers (John Garfield), shows her any sort of affection and kindness, she’s ready to run off with him. Turner tows the line between seductive and alluring yet sympathetic and lonely, making her feel honest in her goal to be someone yet naïve enough to think that she’s in control of her damaged life.
And yet, through all of this sexual tension, “Postman” hardly ever hints that Cora and Frank are intimate, turning their relationship into more longing and pining for each other rather than a fire and ice romance or even the sharp, witty dialogue of “Double Indemnity.” Garfield and Turner create a relationship that seems to live in permanent limbo, both genuine in their affection but frustrated that it can’t be more. Garfield is confused and always on-edge, while Turner is pitiful and vain, making for alluring yet volatile chemistry.
Overall, “The Postman Always Rings Twice” is a staple of 1940s film noir and is captivating in how raw and emotional its journey of toxic love can get. The performances from Turner and Garfield are sizzling with sexual tension, while the atmosphere is as shady and dark as they come. If you’re looking for a similar experience to “Double Indemnity” but played more sympathetically, this is just as satisfying and savory.
Final Grade: A-