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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981)

A transient (Jack Nicholson) hitchhiking his way to Los Angeles stops at a small roadside cafe and gas station run by an older Greek man (John Colicos) who offers him a job as a car mechanic. He's reluctant to accept until he sets his eyes on the Greek's sexy young wife (Jessica Lange). After they become lovers, it's only a matter of time before they conspire to kill him. The second American film version (it's also been made in France, Germany and Italy) of the James M. Cain novel, this is more accurate to Cain's novel than the 1946 Lana Turner/John Garfield MGM film. Restricted by the censorship dictates of the era, the Tay Garnett film could only suggest the sexual heat the two protagonists had for each other. I'm not trying to denigrate the 1946 film which is excellent and one of the important noir films of the 1940s, but the sexual aspect is key to the Cain novel. Handsomely shot by the great Bergman collaborater Sven Nykvist, the period detail is exquisite. I've never been a fan of David Mamet either as a playwright or screenwriter and his adaptation is troublesome. He seems to want to gut Cain's style which, despite it being cleaned up, the 1946 film managed to suggest. But if the 1976 KING KONG suggested that Lange was a star in the making, this film fulfills that promise. Disheveled and tense, Lange lets us see this woman's desperation and longing to break out. The film editor is Graeme Clifford who would direct Lange to an Oscar nomination in FRANCES the next year. Gracefully directed (perhaps too graceful) by Bob Rafelson with a beauty of a score by Michael Small. With Anjelica Huston, Michael Lerner, Christopher Lloyd and John P. Ryan.

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