The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)
February 12, 2021 | by Shannon
Lana Turner Rocks a Turban and Hot Pants, John Garfield is the First Major Star to Entertain the Troops, Bette Davis Says YES, and Lana and Julie Really Are Just Friends. From 1946, it’s The Postman Always Rings Twice.
Be sure to listen to my Classic Hollywood podcast, Vanguard of Hollywood. Episode 43 is all about Lana Turner, John Garfield, and The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946). Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you like to listen to podcasts!
The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) is one of the most stylish, sensual film noirs ever made. Easily a classic, and most certainly the best remembered film of both John Garfield’s and Lana Turner’s careers, The Postman Always Rings Twice is proof that even with the strict moral guidelines of the Production Code Administration, onscreen romances of the era could literally sizzle without explicitly showing a thing.
The making of the film wouldn’t be without complications, but it was an enjoyable experience for all involved, despite persistent rumors to the contrary. The influence of John Garfield and Lana Turner would be critical to both completing the film, and to creating the glamorous imagery that anyone who’s seen The Postman Always Rings Twice [aff. link] is sure to remember.
The Postman Always Rings Twice and Beyond
Postman demonstrated that the glamorous Lana Turner was more than just a pretty face: Lana could act. And she looked flawlessly beautiful while doing it.
For John Garfield, the film provided added motivation to finish out his seven year contract with Warner Bros., and go independent. And not long after completing Postman, Julie would take his independence a step further, becoming one of the first stars to form his own production company.
Let’s go through the plot, then I want to tell you a little about John Garfield’s amazing contributions to the war effort: Julie’s heart murmur and 4-F classification may have kept him from enlisting, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t going to find other admirable ways to serve his country. Then we’ll touch on the greatest tragedy of Julie’s life before going behind the scenes of The Postman Always Rings Twice.
Frank Chambers (John Garfield) is a drifter whose “feet keep itching for him to go places.” And he finds himself hitching for rides just outside of Los Angeles.
Frank explains his restless disposition to District Attorney Kyle Sackett (Leon Ames), the latest Good Samaritan to give Frank a lift. Sackett stops his car in front of the Twin Oaks, a roadside diner and gas station, where Frank sees a “Man Wanted” sign. It looks like he’s found the next in his long line of temporary jobs.
Sackett wishes Frank luck and drives off as Nick Smith (Cecil Kellaway), the owner of the Twin Oaks, comes out and, noticing Frank’s youth and strength, offers him the job.
Frank has just barely accepted the job when Nick hears a customer arrive at the gas pumps, and he leaves Frank in the diner to flip burgers. But he’s alone for only a brief moment before he hears the drop of a small object on the floor. Frank turns and sees a tube of lipstick rolling towards him. As he raises his eyes, Frank takes in the gorgeous face and figure of Cora Smith (Lana Turner), the owner of the stray lipstick, and Nick’s much younger wife. She’s dressed all in white, from her high-heels to her hot pants to her turban.
And no one ever made a turban look so good.
Frank is immediately engrossed in the beautiful image before him. He’s so taken with Cora that he forgets about the burger on the stove. It burns to an inedible crisp.
Obvious foreshadowing of what Cora Smith will do to Frank Chambers by the end of the film.
In the coming days, Cora tries to resist Frank’s obvious come-ons. She even asks Nick to give Frank a week’s pay, and let him go. But Frank is a hard worker, and Nick is oblivious to the attraction between his wife and this drifter he’s welcomed into their lives. Nick tells Cora that Frank will stay.
Now we know for certain that it’s only a matter of time before Frank and Cora get together.
And after a romantic late night swim, they do.
Frank and Cora Run Away
The attraction, possibly even love, between Frank and Cora is so strong that they decide to run away together one afternoon while Nick goes into town.
But Cora and Frank don’t get very far hitching rides in the hot Los Angeles sun before Cora begins second guessing this huge life decision. She wants “to be somebody,” and foresees a life of poverty with Frank. Ultimately concluding that she doesn’t want to leave the potentially lucrative Twin Oaks business behind, Cora tells Frank they must go back before Nick realizes they’ve gone, and find some other way to be together.
Frank is angry that he still doesn’t have Cora for himself. But it’s Cora who comes up with the ultimate solution to their problems: the only way for Frank and Cora to be together and keep the Twin Oaks is to take Nick out of the picture.
And the only way to get Nick out of the picture is murder.
Cora asks Frank to assist her in murdering her husband. And Frank reluctantly, but quickly, agrees.
Murder Attempt No. 1
Murder attempt number one doesn’t go smoothly. Thanks to an electrical outage caused by a fatally curious cat on a step ladder, Cora only manages to concuss Nick before the lights go out.
Nick survives, but luckily for Frank and Cora, he doesn’t remember how he got the concussion. Further luck for Frank and Cora: the dead cat at the foot of the step ladder is the evidence District Attorney Sackett needs to believe it was all an accident, and that Nick merely slipped in the bathtub.
But Frank and Cora can’t leave well enough alone.
And they decided to try to kill Nick one more time.
There’s added motivation to get it done right this time: After returning from the hospital, Nick announces that he’s just found a buyer for the Twin Oaks. He and Cora will move to Kugluktuk, Canada immediately following the sale, where Cora will spend the rest of her days caring for Nick and his crippled sister.
Definitely not living the dream, as far as Cora is concerned.
Murder Attempt No. 2
So Frank and Cora plan the second murder much more skillfully: they lure a drunken Nick into the car one night on the pretense of a road trip to Santa Barbara, where the three of them will finalize the sale of the Twin Oaks. Frank pretends to be drunk, and Cora chides the two men for their inebriated state so witnesses at the gas station—namely District Attorney Sackett—can observe how out of it Nick is. Then, Cora drives the trio to Malibu Lake, where Frank fatally hits Nick on the back of the head before he and Cora casually push the car off a cliff. It will look like a car accident that Frank and Cora just barely escape from, with the intoxicated Nick obviously not surviving.
The plan goes smoothly until the car gets stuck halfway down the cliff. It doesn’t look like a convincingly fatal fall, so Frank climbs down to the car and back into the driver’s seat to give the vehicle more momentum. But he doesn’t get out in time. Frank, trapped in the car, falls the rest of the way down the cliff.
Cora is now genuinely afraid and climbs up to the street screaming for help, only to find that District Attorney Sackett followed them the whole way. Sackett may not have concrete evidence to prove it just yet, but he’s seen enough to charge Cora for the murder of Nick Smith.
Frank's Betrayal and Cora's Revenge
Frank miraculously survives the fall, and Sackett takes advantage of his weakened physical state to turn him against Cora. Sackett convinces Frank that Cora meant to murder both him and Nick in the car accident. Scared and angry, Frank signs a paper that exonerates himself and incriminates Cora in Nick’s murder.
Later that day in court, Cora learns of Frank’s betrayal. She’s shocked by his lack of loyalty. But Cora is in for an even bigger shock when her attorney, Arthur Keats (Hume Cronyn), has her plead guilty to Nick’s murder.
After court is dismissed for the day, Cora angrily tells Keats she’s ready to make a full confession and incriminate Frank as revenge for his betrayal. Keats knows Cora doesn’t really want to confess and spend the rest of her life behind bars, so he has his own guy take dictation while Cora tells all, only informing Cora afterwards that nothing she said went on the official court record. So the trial moves forward.
The Postman Always Rings Twice: Escaping the First Ring
Through some fantastic lawyering in the courtroom and an uncanny ability to expose all of Sackett’s assumptions and lack of evidence, Keats gets Cora off with nothing but probation. She’ll serve zero jail time, and is free to return to normal life.
It seems Frank and Cora have both escaped the proverbial postman’s first ring…
Back at the Twin Oaks, business booms as Cora benefits from the public fascination with her after the murder trial. Though still bitter and uncivil towards Frank—who still works at the Twin Oaks by the way—Keats convinces Cora that she must marry Frank: as spouses, neither can testify against the other should Sackett succeed in bringing the case back to trial.
So Frank and Cora, still angry at each other, marry.
A Rocky Start
It’s a rocky start to the marriage, but when Cora returns to the Twin Oaks after going home for her mother’s funeral, things are different. Frank and Cora go back to their roots of passion and love. Cora then shares that she’s pregnant, and hopes that by creating this new life together, they can make up for the one they took.
To celebrate, Frank and Cora go to the beach for one of their swims, where Cora decides to test Frank’s loyalty and love for her. She swims out further into the ocean than she has strength to return from. If Frank loves her, Cora reasons, he’ll get her safely back to land.
And he does.
With their mutual love now securely proven, Frank and Cora happily drive back to the Twin Oaks.
The Postman Always Rings Twice...
But the postman rings a second time for Cora when Frank, distracted by her beauty, accidentally crashes the car. Cora is dead on impact.
Now the postman rings a second time for Frank: Sackett takes him to court for Cora’s death, and Frank is found guilty of her murder.
Sackett visits Frank on death row with new evidence that proves Frank’s involvement in Nick’s murder. Frank finds peace in the knowledge that even if he appealed and was found innocent of murdering Cora, he’d still be right back on death row for Nick’s murder. Feeling that he’s really being punished for the one murder he did commit proves a twisted piece of comfort for Frank. He can now meet his own death with tranquility.
And that’s the end of the film.
Before The Postman Always Rings Twice: Life at Warner Bros.
If you remember from my introduction post on John Garfield, Julie—as friends and family always called him—became a star with his very first screen role, as rebel Mickey Borden in Four Daughters (1938). Julie even earned an academy award nomination as Best Supporting Actor for his poignant performance in the film.
But the plum role and successful film weren’t indicative of the quality of movies John Garfield could expect from Warner Bros. during his seven year contract with the studio. Julie enjoyed enviable roles in prestigious Warner productions, including The Sea Wolf (1940), but it seemed that just as often, he was placed in “B” pictures, with little to no plot line, such as the super catchily titled Flowing Gold (1940), that only work because of the charisma and superb acting of John Garfield.
An Underutilized Actor
Overall, between 1939 and the end of his contract in 1945, it was clear that Warner Bros. underutilized Julie’s talents. Here’s a hilarious example of the studio not recognizing just what a talented guy they had under contract:
Warners loaned Julie out to RKO for 1943’s gripping film noir, The Fallen Sparrow. Steve Trilling, a Warners executive, watched the film, and was so impressed with the performance of this John Garfield fellow, he proceeded to write a memo to Jack Warner, exhorting Warner to get Garfield under contract fast, at whatever expense necessary:
“John Garfield was excellent in The Fallen Sparrow, and if at any time he is available, [I] would also like to make a deal for him at whatever terms…”
Oh the irony! Clearly, Trilling didn’t know that Warner Bros. already had Julie under contract. For three more years, to be exact.
Finding Fullment Outside of the Movies
Warner Bros.’ failure to effectively use Julie, or let him branch out into more varied film roles, contributed to his desire to go independent from the studio system, and start his own production company. And at the end of his seven year contract, Julie would do just that.
But for the time being, John Garfield continued giving his all to every role, regardless of the overall quality of the films Warner Bros. assigned him. And any fulfillment his film career lacked at this time was made up by Julie’s commitment to serving his country during WWII.
According to Garfield biographer Larry Swindell [aff. link], John Garfield was the first major Hollywood movie star to entertain the troops during WWII, dedicating his time and energy even before another early entertainer to the troops, the lovable Joe E. Brown. In the fall of 1941, before Pearl Harbor and the official entry of the United States into the war, Julie began entertaining servicemen on US bases in the Caribbean.
How awesome it that???
A Relatable Guy
Unlike most of the stars who soon followed his lead in entertaining the troops, Julie didn’t sing or dance. So he’d tell jokes, recite humorous monologues, or insert new comical lyrics into the music of popular songs. It was a casual format that made him a favorite among servicemen in every place he entertained during the war years, including Italy, North Africa, and stateside. Julie’s informal entertaining style demonstrated that he was an approachable, everyday guy. In Julie, servicemen recognized one of their own, someone they could relate to.
Of his multiple tours across the world entertaining the troops, John Garfield would say that:
“You can’t image how wonderful those guys are until you see ‘em and live with ‘em. I’m going out again as often as they’ll let me, because the boys there made a spiel as though they wanted us. They even made me feel I was good.”
Meeting the President
In addition to entertaining, Julie contributed to the war effort by selling war bonds. He bought $50,000 worth himself, and sold a staggering $5 million worth of war bonds throughout the US. His sales even impressed President Roosevelt, who invited Julie to the White House, a humbling experience for the young man who’d survived the streets of New York. As Julie said of the experience:
“There I was, a kid from the Bronx, meeting with the President. That’s democracy—that’s wonderful.”
But John Garfield’s greatest contribution to the war effort was probably his founding of the Hollywood Canteen.
Julie Founds The Hollywood Canteen
It was during his tour selling war bonds on the east coast that Julie first had the idea to create a club in Hollywood where servicemen could forget about their troubles for an evening. The Hollywood Canteen, as Julie called his vision, would be a nightclub run by movie stars. Visiting servicemen could come to the Canteen to enjoy good food served by Spencer Tracy or Gary Cooper, before hitting the dance floor with Rita Hayworth or Betty Grable.
It was a genius, morale-boosting idea. And Julie was smart enough to partner with a star he knew was good at getting things done. Reportedly, when Julie presented his idea to Ms Bette Davis, asking if she’d like to get the Hollywood Canteen up and running with him, the Davis’ response was a resounding, and excitedly shouted
Together, Julie and Bette recruited stars to entertain, dance, and bus tables at the Canteen each night. They convinced fourteen guilds and unions to donate labor and materials to turn The Old Barn restaurant on Cahuenga Blvd into the Hollywood Canteen. Cary Grant donated a piano, and soon The Old Barn was the Hollywood Canteen, all dolled up to look like a Hollywood sound stage.
The Hollywood Canteen Opens
Thanks to the hard work of John Garfield and Bette Davis, the Hollywood Canteen opened on October 3, 1942, earning $10,000 that first night for veterans hospitals, the equivalent of about $160,000 today. Julie felt strongly that the Canteen should be free, and exclusively for enlisted men. As such, admission was only charged on opening night, which was also the only night that officers were permitted entry. Between 1942 and the club’s closing in 1945, the Hollywood Canteen hosted an estimated 2,500 servicemen every evening.
And almost every evening during those war years, you could count on John Garfield to be there too.
I absolutely love that Julie not only started the Hollywood Canteen, he also stuck with it, and ensured the club remained open and full of movie stars for the servicemen to mingle with for the duration of the war.
"We'll Go When We're Called"
John Garfield’s dedication to the Canteen, his impressive war bond sales, his several tours entertaining the troops, and the touching performances he gave playing enlisted men in his films at the time, were all motivated by his desire to actually be one of the soldiers in the front lines.
In a 1942 interview, Julie praised James Stewart as the penultimate example of what other Hollywood stars should be doing to serve their country. Julie lambasted the government and the big studios for trying to keep their stars from seeing active service:
“We’ll go when we’re called, just like everyone else.”
So, did John Garfield himself see combat as a soldier during the war?
Well, no. But it wasn’t for lack of trying.
John Garfield Tries to Enlist
In early 1942, Julie tried to enlist. But the 29 year-old, who appeared so healthy and strong, was rejected. Julie received a 4-F classification because a “strong heart murmur” was detected during his physical.
It was a huge embarrassment and disappointment for Julie to be deemed unfit for service. So much so, that in 1944, he tried to enlist once more.
There are differing stories as to what happened next, but here’s what I find most plausible:
In the spring of 1944, Julie returned from a USO tour entertaining the troops in Italy and North Africa. He successfully pulled some strings to get his 4-F classification changed to 1-A, making him eligible for service. Passing his physical, Julie was then told he’d be inducted within ninety days.
But then his heart got in the way.
While entertaining the servicemen at the Hollywood Canteen in June of 1944, Julie became suddenly ill. He was immediately sent to Cedars of Lebanon Hospital, where it was discovered that he had suffered a mild heart attack.
The press reported Julie’s “illness” as the flu, but the US Armed Forces had access to the truth, and John Garfield found himself once again rejected from service. Not wanting the public to know about his weak heart, Julie would always say he had been officially inducted into the Navy, but was sent home later the same day because the war was winding down, and the Navy no longer needed men over thirty with families to support—men like Julie—enlisting.
Unfortunately, the disappointment of this second rejection from military service was just a precursor to what Julie would view as the greatest tragedy of his life.
John Garfield's Greatest Tragedy
On March 18, 1945, Julie’s six-year-old daughter Katherine was rushed home from an outing with her nanny, barely able to breath. In her short life, Kathy had already experienced her share of breathing issues relating to her asthma. But whenever Kathy’s breathing was particularly labored, Robbe Garfield, with her mother’s intuition, always succeeded in bringing her daughter back to health.
But this time, not even Robbe could save her little girl. Nor could the pediatrician. Kathy died in her mother’s arms that day. Her last words were reportedly about her father, who, rushing home, barely missed his daughter’s final breath.
Robbe Garfield always insisted that Kathy was the apple of her father’s eye. And after losing his little girl, John Garfield was never the same. He spent the day Kathy died in the backyard, shooting rounds of the German automatic machine gun he’d brought back from Europe, before aimlessly wandering the streets of the Garfields’ Beverly Hills neighborhood.
Julie blamed himself for Kathy’s death. His neighbor, director Vincent Sherman, remembered Julie sharing his guilt not long after Kathy passed:
“God did this to me, Vince. He did this to me for all the bad things I’ve done.”
Sherman believed that losing Kathy permanently altered Julie’s outlook on life:
“I think after that tragedy he became a much more serious person. He behaved much differently in terms of his relationships with other people, and other women.”
Staying busy and concentrating on his work helped Julie come to terms with Kathy’s passing. If ever there was a time John Garfield needed an engrossing role to occupy his mind, this was it. And The Postman Always Rings Twice was a film that did just that.
The Postman Always Rings Twice: 12 Years in the Making
The Postman Always Rings Twice was a scandalous 1934 novel written by James M. Cain. If Cain’s name sounds familiar, it’s probably because he penned another controversial novel that also became a successful film noir, 1944’s Double Indemnity. Both stories were inspired by the the real-life Ruth Snyder murder trial of 1927, in which Snyder and her boyfriend were charged with the murder of her husband after at least seven failed attempts at doing away with him. Though Cain wrote The Postman Always Rings Twice a full ten years before Double Indemnity, it would take Hollywood a few years longer to make Postman into a film, due to the highly sensual relationship between Cora and Frank in the book.
In fact, MGM purchased the screen rights to The Postman Always Rings Twice not long after Cain’s book was published in 1934. Then MGM sat on the story for twelve years, thanks to threats from the Production Code Administration that a film of Postman, with its themes of sex and murder, would never get the PCA’s moral stamp of approval to move forward.
But the success of Paramount’s film adaptation of Double Indemnity in 1944 emboldened MGM to proceed with The Postman Always Rings Twice. And in May of 1945, filming began, with John Garfield—on loan from Warner Bros.—cast in the Frank Chambers role, and the impossibly glamorous Lana Turner as Cora Smith.
Lana & Julie: Friends, Foes, or Lovers?
With two of the era’s hottest stars paired opposite each other in Postman, it was almost inevitable at the time, and over the ensuing years, that rumors would abound as to the exact nature of the relationship between Julie and Lana Turner.
One persistent rumor says that Julie and Lana absolutely hated each other on the Postman set, with Lana reportedly lamenting when she heard John Garfield was her costar:
“Couldn’t they at least hire someone attractive?”
Personally, I don’t think Lana ever said that. Lana’s daughter, Cheryl Crane, has shared many times over the years that John Garfield and her mother were actually quite good friends. According to Cheryl,
“I can dispel rumors that they didn’t like each other. They socialized outside of work. I remember him at my birthday parties.”
Lana herself had nothing but complimentary things to say about Julie in tributes and television interviews of her later years. She even ranked John Garfield among her favorite leading men. At a 1973 film homage, Lana said of Julie that:
“He was shy, vibrant, and intelligent. And so ahead of his time. He had terrific magnetism. The lines bounced back and forth between us. It kept a girl on her toes.”
Certainly doesn’t sound like the words of a woman who hated her co-star.
More Than Friends on The Postman Always Rings Twice?
So now we come to the next Garfield/Turner rumor from the Postman set: were they more than friends.
Director Vincent Sherman certainly thought so, confidently stating that Julie and Lana had “a very hot and heavy thing” going during filming.
Julie himself told singer Margaret Whiting not long before his passing that he and Lana did enjoy one intimate night together. But afterwards, according to Julie, they realized there were absolutely no fireworks between them, so they laughed the evening off as a one night stand.
Personally, I don’t think Vincent Sherman knew what he was talking about. And the story Julie told Margaret Whiting? Probably one of his amorous embellishments, which he was evidently prone to. And let’s be honest: what guy wouldn’t want to tell people that Lana Turner was a notch on his belt?
Onscreen Magic, But That's It!
Director Tay Garnett, who was actually there and witnessed the Garfield/Turner relationship on set, believed the two stars enjoyed nothing more than a fun, teasing friendship. According to Garnett,
“There was magic between them. I don’t know if they had anything going on the side, but sometimes you root for it. John had his fair share of girls, but he had a bad heart and that might have frightened Lana off. John teased her about sex, which tends to make me believe nothing happened. They sizzled on the screen though!”
In her lovely 2008 book about her mother [aff. link], Cheryl Crane confirms Garnett’s feelings that Julie and Lana were never an item:
“Rumors to the contrary have persisted since 1946, but there was absolutely no off-screen tension between Mother and John Garfield during filming. What can be said is that the steaminess you see between them in the film did not exist in real life. She simply wasn’t attracted to him romantically, but there was great affection between them until his death in 1952.”
So there you have it. Good evidence from solid sources that Julie and Lana were friends, but nothing more.
Toning Down The Postman Always Rings Twice
But that onscreen steaminess both Tay Garnett and Cheryl Crane speak of is certainly there. It was so apparent in fact, that Garnett had to find a way to tone it down for the censors. And he did so in an ingenious way: by dressing his leading lady completely in white.
With the exception of three scenes (Cora wielding a knife in the kitchen, Cora and Frank at the train depot through Kennedy’s extortion attempt, and Cora calling a cab at the end of the film), Lana Turner is dressed in white for the entirety of The Postman Always Rings Twice. Garnett’s reasoning was that everything Lana’s Cora did would somehow appear more innocent, and therefore less threatening to the censors, if she wore pure white. And if the Production Code Administration was happy, Garnett knew he stood a better chance of not having to change anything in his masterpiece before the film hit theaters. As Garnett remembered:
“She already had platinum hair. She’d been that color. So we left it for the film. The white clothing was something that Carey [the producer] and I thought of. At that time there was a great problem of getting a story with that much sex past the censors. We figured that dressing Lana in white somehow made everything she did seem less sensuous. It was also attractive as hell. And it somehow took a little of the stigma off of everything that she did. They didn’t have ‘hot pants’ then, but you couldn’t tell it by looking at hers.”
The Postman Always Rings Twice: Inspired Costuming
Garnett’s costuming idea was truly an inspiration. Not only did the all white wardrobe downplay the nefariousness of Cora Smith’s actions, it also created one of the silver screen’s most legendary character introductions. We meet Lana’s Cora Smith just minutes into the film, as the camera travels from her lipstick on the diner floor, to her spotless white high heels and all the way up to Lana’s exquisite face, framed by that white turban I’m sure only Lana Turner could pull off. It’s a scene no one who’s seen the film is likely forget.
The Postman Always Rings Twice & Lana's Flawless Look
Lana Turner’s flawless look in The Postman Always Rings Twice became the best-remembered of her career. And it wasn’t just due to the all-white clothing. In fact, Lana herself had a large role in creating her iconic look in the film.
As one of MGM’s biggest stars of the era, Lana Turner had her own glam squad, which remained largely consistent from film to film. Undoubtedly, the most important member of the Lana Turner glam squad was her makeup man and good friend, Del Armstrong. From 1943 until the mid-1960’s, Del Armstrong did Lana Turner’s makeup, and it’s Del who can be credited with creating that perfect, always camera-ready look Lana was famous for.
Lana Does Her Own Makeup In The Postman Always Rings Twice
But just before the start of The Postman Always Rings Twice filming, Del was drafted into the Navy. Rather than entrust her face to someone else, Lana insisted on doing her own makeup for the film. Del had taught her well, and Lana knew she could do it better than anyone else. As Lana’s daughter Cheryl recalled,
“He [Del] had taught her to do her makeup down to the last stroke of the eyebrow pencil, so no other artist would replace him in his absence. Del said he was proud to see what a great job she did without him.”
How cool is that? Lana often said if she hadn’t been an actress, she’d have been a fashion designer. But judging by the beautiful makeup she applied in Postman, I’d venture to guess Lana could have enjoyed an equally successful career as a makeup artist in Hollywood.
Struggles for The Postman Always Rings Twice
Despite the amicable atmosphere on the Postman set, filming wasn’t completely free of complications. One scene that ultimately didn’t make it into the final film consisted of Julie and actress Audrey Totter standing in front of the tiger exhibit at the Los Angeles Zoo.
The reason this scene didn’t make it into the final cut?
The tiger, perhaps feeling the need to remind the cast and crew that this was his territory, lifted his leg during filming and promptly relieved himself, aiming directly at Julie and Audrey Totter.
“Stunt check over here!”
Julie jokingly shouted as he and Audrey quickly relocated, narrowly, or not, missing the tiger’s spray.
The other uncooperative element of filming The Postman Always Rings Twice was the weather. With some of the film’s most romantic and crucial scenes taking place at the beach, cast and crew were dependent on good weather.
And unfortunately, the day the beach scenes were to be shot at Laguna, a heavy fog rolled in. As Lana Turner remembered, each day they’d go down to the beach and sit in the mist, hoping for it to clear. And when that didn’t happen,
“…we packed up and moved to San Clemente. But we found ourselves socked in there, too. Then we got a report that the weather was about clear at Laguna, so back we went to the starting point. But the fog still hung over the beach for days and days, and costs kept mounting. The studio’s budget people were frantic. Tay Garnett kept begging for a little more time, but the fog didn’t lift and days stretched into weeks. That’s when Tay fell off the wagon.”
Garnett was a recovering alcoholic, and the stress of the uncooperative weather pushed him back into old habits. It was thanks to the team work of Julie and Lana that Garnett wasn’t replaced with another director.
Julie and Lana took turns visiting Garnett, trying to convince him to seek treatment in Los Angeles before another director took over the film. Lana, who Garnett realized he was helping turn in the best performance of her career, was the one who finally succeeded in helping the struggling director see reason. Garnett sobered up at a Los Angeles clinic, and “dried out” in time to finish the film.
The Postman Always Rings Twice: A Smash Hit
MGM executives worried that The Postman Always Rings Twice, with its risqué plot line and unsympathetic characters, would damage the reputations of its stars, particularly Lana Turner. So the publicity department went into overdrive promoting Lana’s maternal side. Numerous pictures of Lana and two-year-old Cheryl were taken at the beach during filming breaks, just to remind the public that the real Lana Turner was not the murderous Cora Smith.
But MGM’s fears were unfounded. The Postman Always Rings Twice was a smash hit with the public and the critics, earning $3.7 million in the US and Canada, and quite uniformly positive reviews for its stars. James M. Cain himself paid Lana Turner the ultimate compliment by calling her his ideal Cora, and praising her performance in the film as absolute perfection.
The Postman Always Rings Twice & the PCA
The Postman Always Rings Twice is a prime example of how the limitations enforced by the Production Code Administration actually worked to create a more artistic, stylish, and sensual film. We only see John Garfield and Lana Turner kiss a couple of times in the movie, and yet we feel as if we’ve seen the hight of passion on screen. This is accomplished through clever dialogue, beautiful cinematography, mood-setting music, and a skilled director who brought out understated yet electric performances from his talented actors. The sheer glamour of the film makes it sexy. It’s doubtful that The Postman Always Rings Twice would be the sensual and stylish film noir classic it is today had it been permissible to explicitly show the physical passion between Frank and Cora onscreen.
Lana's Kitchen Table
The 1981 remake of the film is case in point: despite not having the strict moral framework of the Production Code Administration to adhere to, the 1981 Postman doesn’t hold a candle to the original. In all its explicity, the remake lacks style. It’s drab, depressing, and even boring in comparison to the original.
I think Cheryl Crane describes the noticeable differences between the two versions of The Postman Always Rings Twice best when she mentioned Lana’s reaction to the remake:
“Mother never saw the remake with Jessica Lange and Jack Nicholson, but she heard more about it than she ever wanted to hear. Cora was her role. Even James M. Cain said so. The relationship between Frank and Cora in the original is a thousand times more subtle and yet much more powerful. They sizzled without literally putting sex on the screen. Mother’s reaction upon hearing about the love scenes in the remake was, ‘They did WHAT on my kitchen table??!”
I love Lana Turner.
John Garfield Goes Independent
At the end of 1945, John Garfield’s seven year contract with Warner Bros. expired. The studio offered him a lucrative new deal worth $1 million if he signed with them for another seven years. But Julie turned Warner Bros. down. The positive experience of making The Postman Always Rings Twice at MGM had only strengthened his desire not to be tied to a single studio. Julie wanted more control over the films he made and the roles he accepted. And the only way to do that was to stretch out of the comfort zone of long-term contract and go independent. As Julie told Mary Morris in an interview at the time:
“I could sign another long-term contract and be a rich, successful guy. But I gotta look at myself in the mirror every morning. So I stare at my rich, contented puss and my conscience says, ‘Okay kid, what have you been doing lately?’”
The answer was dreaming about producing his own films. And in 1947, Julie would do just that, daring to enter, and succeed, in the new and largely unexplored realm of independent films produced outside of the big studio system. It was a new way of making movies, which in the coming years, would change the way Hollywood functioned at its very roots.
That's it for The Postman Always Rings Twice!
And that’s it for The Postman Always Rings Twice. Be sure to join me next time for our last week with John Garfield as I cover 1951’s He Ran All the Way, Julie’s very last film, produced by his own company and co-starring a recent addition to my list of favorite stars who you can always count on to make things interesting, the spunky Shelley Winters.