Sex and death. Greed and selfishness. Crime and punishment. The film adaptation of James M. Cain’s novel, The Postman Always Rings Twice, is a dark allegory of amorality and its consequences. As a relentless cosmic avenger, fate ensures that the adulterous lovers who murder the woman’s husband, suffer definite and final retribution for their sins.
Lana Turner and John Garfield are great in the lead roles. Turner’s platinum beauty, and the smouldering animal sexuality of both Turner and Garfield dominate the mise-en-scene.
A theme of entrapment is played out in a roadside diner. Cora the beautiful and ambitious young wife is caged in a barren loveless marriage to a much older man, while Frank the drifter who works for them is ensnared in a demonic love for Cora. This scenario and the doomed fate of the protagonists is established deftly in the first few scenes with the help of an otherwise prosaic ‘Man Wanted’ sign. Director Tay Garnett and cinematographer Sidney Wagner use close-framed shots to express the suffocation of the two lovers, and panoramic elevated ocean beach scenes at dusk to portray the blooming of love and as the backdrop to idyllic respites from their doomed trajectory towards destruction. Their final visit to the beach has a dark foreboding.
As Mark T. Conrad wrote of the movie: “It has the feeling of disorientation, pessimism, and the rejection of traditional ideas about morality, what’s right and what’s wrong.” And there is no pity or remorse. A classic film noir.