James M. Cain’s 1934 crime novel The Postman Always Rings Twice has had numerous adaptations including Visconti’s Obsessione (1943) (recently adapted for the stage starring Jude Law) Tay Garnett’s 1946 version starring John Garfield and Lana Turner and Bob Rafelson’s 1981 version starring Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange with a script by the often intriguing David Mamet. I watched the 1946 version last night. John Garfield’s Frank Chambers falls to earth in this story a drifter in Southern California of whose past we know nothing. He is immediately offered a job at a rural diner by Nick (Cecil Kellaway) whereupon Frank meets Nick’s young wife Cora (Lana Turner). We immediately feel the sexual tension between Frank and Cora which only presence off-screen between Garfield and Turner. As Michel Chion noted in the recent English translation (by Claudia Gorbman) of his latest book Words on Screen Frank’s burning of the ‘man wanted’ in the outdoor fire is quite a literal signifier of his and Cora’s sexual charge.
The film is primarily set at the diner (a set on an MGM back lot) such claustrophobia makes understandable that it be suited for the stage. Within this space as often in noirs highly irrational decisions but not before the decent decision is reversed and practically stamped on as the aftermath shows us, just like another Cain novel adapted for the screen by Billy Wilder, Double Indemnity. Without irrationality these films would arguably have no place to go. Later a court case ensues led by Keats for the defence (Hume Cronyn) and Sackett (Leon Ames, who often played lawmen in films such as Meet Me in St. Louis and Angel Face). For our protagonists reality and their love for one each other are passing ships in the night.