Title: The Postman Always Rings Twice
Genre: Crime, Film-Noir, Romance
Director: Tay Garnett
James M. Cain
Music: George Bassman
Cinematography: Sidney Wagner
Original Title: Ossessione
Genre: Crime,Drama, Romance
Director: Luchino Visconti
Giuseppe De Santis
James M. Cain
Music: Giuseppe Rosati
Cinematography: Domenico Scala & Aldo Tonti
Juan de Landa
A double-bill of two vintage films adapted from James M. Cain’s 1934 novel THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RING TWICE, 1946’s Hollywood B&W version and Visconti’s groundbreaking debut in 1943, while intentionally evading the less-fêted 1981 remake with Nicholson and Lange.
The 1946 film, directed by the prolific journeyman Tay Garnett, is a less riveting Film-Noir compared to Billy Wilder’s DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944), virulently extends the mismatch of the married couple Cora and Nick by casting the stunning beauty Lana Turner and the nondescript good fellow Cecil Kellaway, bar the gaping age difference, they don’t belong together in any universe. The interloper is the shifty-looking drifter Frank (John Garfield), the unscrupulousness is all on his face, and driven by lust he falls for her at the first sight. But as the code of this specific genre, the evil thrust is almost inclusively kick-started by the femme fatale, “I wanna be somebody!”, as Cora contests, she is stuck in a miasma and Frank is the last straw.
As the title suggests, there are two attempts of murder (poor Nick), after a botched first one, in order to facilitate the second one, the film hastily piles up all the stimulus, including a horrid one when Nick decides to wrap up their business and move back to his hometown in Canada and wait for the worst part, Cora will be coerced to attend to Nick’s bed-ridden sister. Nick must die, there is just no other way around. It is a cheap shot.
After a fine touch with echoes, Nick is dispatched successfully, then the film spirals with its poorly contrived script including the cringe-making mediation of the justice system and the worst double-cross scam from the DA Mr. Sackett (Ames), who has been ominously introduced in the very beginning of the film. Yet, we must buy it and the two get away with the murder. (An honorable mention to Hume Cronyn’s remarkable impersonation as the vile attorney).
But wrongdoers can never be spared in the mainstream media at then, unexpectedly, one almost steps into the trap of a bolder and more wicked twist when they return to the beach and swim to their strength’s extremity, however, it is only a bluff, the ending is more self-righteous and insignificantly self-serving.
Right near the opening scenes, the glaring fake backgrounds almost haul me out of the context, some oldies are simply can not be taken too seriously with today’s standards, thankfully, Lana Turner can pacify the sketchy slackness with her engrossing portrait of a woman at the end of her tether, she is good, but not in the same league as Stanwyck’s excellence.
By comparison, OBSESSION, made 3 years before the Hollywood version, is an audacious maiden work which injects tremendous pathos into its two main roles with strenuous character-dissections assisted by onerous fieldwork. Visconti ditched its original title and transposed the story in a village near Ancona with authentic settings, an accepted trailblazer of Neorealismo movement and a tour-de-force of chiaroscuro finesse.
A thirty-some Giovanna (Calamai) is the wife of a trattoria owner Giuseppe (the opera chanting Juan de Landa), distressed by Giuseppe’s negligence and ill-treatment and disgusted by his obesity, her passion is instantaneously ignited when she meets Gino (a masculine-built and smouldering hot Girotti), a diddling young tramp in his 20s, they sleep together the very afternoon of the day, with a ballsy nuance, the advances are in fact instigated from the female part.
For Gino, a mature and attractive woman is like an oasis in the desert, but he is much wiser (and more sensible) than Frank, when Giovanna bails on their elopement, he has the balls to leave her for good, gets going on with his fellow itinerant Lo Spagnolo “The Spanish” (a prematurely-deceased Elio Marcuzzo), this interlude is not in the novel, but Visconti never miss a chance to enhance the ambiguous rapport between men, and here, it has been teased out brilliantly with the side-by-side sitting which will appear again with a different undercurrent.
But destiny has its own plans, Gino reunites with Giuseppe and Giovanna during a festival, and this time he has no strength to resist the temptation, after the festive cacophony, including a jolly episode of Giuseppe contests in a singing competition, en route to their trattoria, out of an act of passion, they fake a road accident and Giuseppe is killed.
After that, without the distracting offshoots of courtroom drama and the conceited detectives or snooty lawyers, the film fixates on the aftermath where they have to live on with the consequences of their unforgivable deeds, especially for Gino, he is not the type of person who can hatch a murder scheme, he is seductive but never lethal. Yet, his love for Giovanna is too intense and it overpowers his soundness of judgement, Girotti proves he is not just a burly stallion, unlike Garfield, Gino’s psychological fluctuations are potently presented, and his fling with a plain-looking prostitute Anita (Cristiani) indicates his unsophisticated nature.
As for Giovanna, she is an ordinary wife who needs to break out her mundane life with a man she doesn’t love, at the same time, she is afraid of uncertainty, especially under the WWII backwater, she should be content but she couldn’t, especially when lust presides. Calamai is less glamorous but more impressive to exert her conversion from a sulky, manipulative housewife to a vulnerable and pitiful captive for the man she wholeheartedly loves. Their reconciliation is genuinely touching and the abrupt ending is much more plaintive and sob-inducing.
There is always a mixed feeling after a double bill because you cannot love or hate them equally, revealingly, Visconti’s debut would not be so exceptional if I had not watched the Hollywood adaptation beforehand, peer comparison does have its direct effect, one should try it more often.