She Kills Her Husband Once but THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE, 1946

The postman always rings twice doesn’t refer to a mail carrier’s methodology of delivery in this 1946 film noir directed by Tay Garnett, starring John Garfield and Lana Turner. This is film noir, friends, so we are addressing the subject of dark and dirty crime. Not just any crime but murder. Mariticide, to be exact.

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Mariticide is the act of killing one’s husband. Not exactly a new concept in film noir. As a matter of fact, many parallels can be drawn between this film and Billy Wilder’s DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944). In THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (1946), the title alludes (spoilers ahead!) not to the beginning fiery heat of two lovers, not to the detailed steps of planning the murder of a spouse, but moreso to the aftermath and ironic justice in how this ill-fated romance ends.

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Many crime stories and film noirs focus on the tension, motivation and players that lead up to or explain the crime. While THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (1946) does a marvelous job in that arena, a good chunk of the story focuses on good ole karma that comes along not on the first ring, but on that second ding. I’ll save those scrumptious details for you to savor when you watch the film.

Before I get ahead of myself, let’s start at the beginning and chat about the sparks that brought this doomed couple of criminal lovers together. John Garfield as Frank Chambers is perfection as the casual drifter who floats in to the Twin Oaks roadside diner on a breeze. Actually, he wanders in via hitchhiking with the local district attorney (who lives closeby and will become a key factor in his undoing) and is soon greeted by the local motorcycle cop who is often witness in rather inconvenient ways.

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He soon meets Nick Smith (Cecil Kellaway), owner of the cafe, and they quickly conduct a job interview via on-the-spot character reads. Note: we will discover later that Nick fails miserably at both job interviews and character assessments. After Frank confidently and casually pushes his loosely tied commitment for the position, Nick dashes off to greet a gas customer outside as Frank is introduced to his platinum blonde doom aka Mrs. Smith inside. We meet Lana Turner as Cora Smith in a memorable character debut where the camera follows her from her ‘accidental’ lipstick drop and roll to the slow pan up her legs to her petite frame in iconic ivory shorts, crop top and turbin.

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The heat and tension is palatable from the very first exchange. Frank wastes no time in making his move. But first, and what plays out as a very interesting foreshadowing, is the power struggle gauntlet is thrown down upon their very initial exchange- over lipstick, no doubt. Before their first first kiss, which Frank plants boldly and rather assumedly, Frank issues the challenge of who is in charge. Cora plays her best game of sexy meets coy to lure Frank close to the flame via handing her the fiery red lipstick. But watch Frank pause, lean back and challenge Cora to come to him. She succumbs allowing Frank to think this was his game. But is it? This initial exchange was the true precursor and warning for them both.

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Through a botched attempt to run away, Cora symbolically morphs from pristine and crisp white to dirty, sweaty, and dusty hitchhiker as she has a change of heart. This is not how she planned. They go back. Narrowly escaping Nick’s discovery, Frank has an opening to leave. But as countless film noir anti-heroes eventually do, he ignores any instinct to do the right thing. Frank: “Right then, I shoulda walked outta that place… She had me licked and she knew it.”

After initial and seeming resistence, we later learn that she was actually the one strategically in charge all along. And he acted helpless in acting better on his own behalf. Once the hooks were firmly embedded deep, even the red flag of ‘if you truly love me, you’ll murder for me’ couldn’t stop her quest to fulfill her ambitious needs to “be somebody.” Cora challenges Frank: “Do you love me? Do you love me so much that nothing else matters?”

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Watching this trainwreck of an excuse for love unfold, as the audience we see the red flags, the road signs of dangerous curves up ahead… everywhere. From our lofty tower of wisdom, we see the mistakes, the grave errors in judgement. While this film spends a good chunk of time and detail serving justice post-mariticide in an ironic twist of fate for these two with a one-two punch, the fascinating components remain the motivations and evolutions of behavior.

Why this film remains a classic, besides enjoying the sexual tension sizzle off the screen and the nail-biting moments of thrills and suspense, what keeps us riveted as the voyeurs to this obsessive, dysfunctional romance is the undercurrent of self questioning, playing out in our own hearts and heads of how obsession can turn oneself against their own morality. Where is that line drawn? What does it take to push someone over the edge? This film ultimately begs the question: if a smart, non-commitment, non-romantic type like Frank can fall into such a deep, tragic trap, could something like this happen to anyone? Yes, perhaps even you?

I think that is what is at the heart of THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (1946). Even the sharpest cynic can blunder and fall prey. Not that murder is a very likely result, but I wager to guess that a significant number of people have experienced a type of obsessive love that has altered their judgement in morality, which was not in their own best interests. So, let that mail courier ring your doorbell twice, even three times. But watch out for the Lana Turner cunning beauties of the roadside cafes. More importantly, watch out for the little voice in your heart and head whenever you hear it crying out “NO!!” – sometimes it’s important to listen.

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This post was my contribution to the ‘Til Death Us Do Part Blogathon on CineMaven’s Essays From The Couch. As this is sure to be a rousing assembly of blog posts of spouse-murdering twist and turns, I encourage you to read all the other contributors!

 

 

 

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The Black Pools of Noir in MURDER, MY SWEET 1944

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It’s dark. Too dark to see without assistance from a handy flashlight to confirm the time on his watch. Private dick Philip Marlowe is scouting out the meeting place in a densely wooded area, just off the road. He walks cautiously as dense, smoky fog crawls along the ground, in his tipped fedora and buttoned up trench coat. He hears the snap of a twig underfoot, close range, and turns abruptly only to see a deer.

He heads back to his parked car. Leaning against the large, open top convertible and without looking down, he tells the man hiding in the back of his car- the same man who just hired him to go into those dark woods to help him buy back a stolen jade necklace- that they’re likely being watched and tested for obedience, for this mysterious exchange. Unexpectantly, Marlowe is suddenly struck from behind on the head. Hard.

As he slumps to the ground we hear him narrate in a raspy-smooth voice, “I caught the blackjack right behind my ear. A black pool opened up at my feet and I dived in. It had no bottom. I felt pretty good… like an amputated leg.” Visually we see black edges closing in on his unconsciousness body until total darkness fills the screen.

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This is just one scene from Edward Dmytryk’s MURDER, MY SWEET (1944) which perfectly evokes the many hallmarks of a signature film noir. Even before I completed the TCM/Ball State University course in Film Noir last summer, I had seen this film prior and knew this was what film noir is supposed to be.

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All the beautiful shades of shadows and light are glowing on the screen. Dick Powell as Philip Marlowe drops bitter and sarcastic cynacism in descriptive lingo that his profession as a hard-nosed private investigator affords. From time to time, he narrates to us. Often with uniquely descriptive metaphors. He’s no hero charging in wearing a ten gallon white hat, but he’s not exactly the villainous anti-hero either. Ultimately he does the right thing, but not out of conformity to society rules. He’s in business for himself.

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He fully appreciates a pretty dame- good or bad. And speaking of bad dames, a good film noir isn’t complete without a beautiful and cunning femme fatale. Enter Claire Trevor. He doesn’t fool easily, although he sometimes likes to lead on as though he does. And a typical film noir is based on a crime drama. The crime is presented via a missing girlfriend and jade necklace. But were they ever missing/stolen or merely borrowed? And why are so many people interested in hiring Marlowe to find- or bury -the truth? Time will reveal all as Marlowe finds himself a very popular dick for hire.

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And what about those black pools? Another calling card of a film noir is a dream sequence. The more trippier, the better. Marlowe swims in that black pool more than once and it gets saturated wet in trippy.

Now that we’ve laid out all the evidence why MURDER, MY SWEET (1944) qualifies as   a definitive film noir, let’s discuss why it’s also one of my favorites of this genre (and perhaps should be yours too):

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Dick Powell. Dick Powell has always been one of my favorites of the silver screen. But like so many, we were introduced to him through Pre-Codes. In the thirties, he shined as the upbeat, charming crooner of those terrific Busby Berkley musicals and other classics. He was usually the guy singing and smiling his way into the hearts of the sweet girl next door or sassy sidekick (like cuties Ruby Keeler and Joan Blondell). But for the first time in his career, MURDER, MY SWEET took a dramatic turn of character for Powell. His role as Philip Marlowe was a major risk that paid off successfully and launched him into the noir world and other dramatic roles. Not all actors can boast such a successful breaking of typecasting and transition so effectively into the changing times of the big screen. He would transition again post-noir as a producer and director.

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Because of his prior roles in the thirties and his natural skills in comedy, I’ll admit there were times in viewing this film for the first time that I expected him to go more campy. Especially considering the dialogue, one could easily play it as dark humor and break character. But he delivers with a five o’clock shave, a heavy-smoky voice and candidly acerbic tone that a gumshoe Marlowe demands.

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Claire Trevor. This role came right between her big roles as Dallas, a woman of ill-repute and good intentions, in STAGECOACH (1939) and Gaye Dawn, the complex mess of a lush in KEY LARGO (1948). The deeper I look into these roles, the more I’m convinced Claire Trevor is a highly underappreciated actor. The variety and nuances across these three roles are a testiment to her range. Here in MURDER, MY SWEET she plays the femme fatale very well, with sophisticated beauty masking her street-wise naughtiness as Helen Grayle.

Anne Shirley is another underrated actor. Her portrayal as Ann Grayle keeps you guessing sometimes to see if she plays the sinner or the saint, but the good girl emerges ultimately to give great contrast to Trevor. The role is not quite as meaty as it could be, so Trevor tends to steal the scenes.

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The love/hate dynamic between Marlowe and Moose Malloy. Mike Mazurki appealingly plays the big thug with a broken heart who possesses more brawn than brains. Malloy is more than a typical hired heavy. He’s an unexpected romantic yet also like a big, dumb animal that can’t figure out if he wants to play with his food. Unfortunately for Marlowe, he’s often on the dinner menu. But I like the way that, no matter how many times he gets hurt, there’s a part of Marlowe that looks upon Moose like a big puppy that somehow just doesn’t know any better.

Dialogue. Oh the writing in this film is priceless!

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In introducing Marlowe, he narrates, setting up a scene with visual artistry and coarse flair, as the camera cuts a path through images of the city at night with all the neon flashing landscape:

“It was seven o’clock. Anyway it was dark. I’m a homing pigeon. I always come back to the stinking coop no matter how late it is. I’d been out peeking under Sunday sections looking for an old barber named Dominic, whose wife wanted him back. I forget why. Only reason I took the job is because my bank account was trying to crawl under a duck. And I never found him.  I just found out all over just how big this city is. My feet hurt and my mind felt like a plumber’s handkerchief. The office bottle hadn’t sparked me up, so I’d taken out my little black book and decided to go grouse hunting. Nothing like soft shoulders to improve my morale. The soft shoulders had a date, thought she could do something about, was going to check right back. There’s something about the dead silence of an office building at night. Not quite real. The traffic down below was something that didn’t have anything to do with me.”  

What a fascinating way to introduce a character. It’s so quintessentially noir. Thanks to the stylistic writings of Raymond Chandler (novel) and John Paxton (screenplay), it strongly influenced an entire genre and style of film. Here are some more lines that make me smile…

On women:

“She was cute as lace pants.” (Moose Mallory)

“She was a charming middle-aged lady with a face like a bucket of mud. I gave her a drink. She was a gal who’d take a drink, if she had to knock you down to get the bottle.”

On love and such romantic notions:

“I tried to picture him in love with somebody, but it didn’t work.” (Marlowe on Malloy)

“He’s in love and in a big hurry. He’ll get over that.” 

Helen Grayle: “I find men *very* attractive.”
Philip Marlowe: “I imagine they meet you halfway.”

On being roughed up or drugged up:

“My throat felt sore, but the fingers feeling it didn’t feel anything. They were just a bunch of bananas that looked like fingers.”

“‘Okay Marlowe,’ I said to myself. ‘You’re a tough guy. You’ve been sapped twice, choked, beaten silly with a gun, shot in the arm until you’re crazy as a couple of waltzing mice. Now let’s see you do something really tough – like putting your pants on.'”

And these lines gave me a chuckle:

“He died in the middle of a glass of beer. His wife Jessie finished it for him.”

“It was a nice little front yard. Cozy, okay for the average family. Only you’d need a compass to go to the mailbox. The house was all right, too, but it wasn’t as big as Buckingham Palace.”


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This post was my contribution to the Film Noir Blogathon, hosted by Quiggy of The Midnite Drive-In, Aug. 12-14. And kudos to Connie of Silver Scenes for the fabulous banners. With a tremendous list of participants, I encourage you to read these noir knock-outs.

CLASSIC FILM FALL REPORT: Fly in to ‘Fly Over States’

Fields of sunflowers with their friendly faces reaching up to the sky, as rumbles of enormous dark storm clouds approach rapidly. This scene was played out just a couple of days ago in my town and is pretty typical here in the heartland, as we transition from the long, hot days of late summer into cool Autumn. But what may be less known about this part of the country, is the surprising storm of classic film events swiftly advancing in the next few weeks.

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In a fun mix of both silent greats and film noir dark delights, classic film fans can appreciate the multiple offerings in northeastern Kansas and Kansas City metro area.

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FOOTPRINTS presents METROPOLIS:

  • Sunday, 9/20 at 7:30pm
  • Alloy Orchestra live musical accompaniment
  • Lawrence Arts Center, Lawrence, KS
  • cost: $19 + tax
  • Tickets and more info: FOOTPRINTS site

Mick Ranney has been the owner of FOOTPRINTS shoe store for over 35 years, operating out of an old limestone storefront, originally built as a grocery store in the 1870s. Now a successful business with a heavy focus on all things Birkenstock (plus a few other lines to boot), Mick has turned his strong ties to the community combined with his passion of classic film to bring spectacular classic film events to this enchanting small town.

For several years now, he has brought silent masterpieces and recently restored gems such as NOSFERATU (1922), BLACK MAIL (1929), BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN (1925) and the restored classic THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (part of his WW2 Film Festival, which at that time was recently restored and only being shown in 2 venues across the country – the Film Forum in NYC and little Lawrence, KS). Always presented with live musical accompaniment (usually the famous Alloy Orchestra or Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra) in the intimate setting of the 300 seat capacity Lawrence Arts Center. You can find tickets online here, but you may want to hurry before it sells out.

*Mick’s creative skills are playfully expressed in his video clips to promote his screenings. I highly recommend not only attending in person, but also ‘liking’ the Footprints FaceBook page to check out his fun video clips.

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BUSTER KEATON CELEBRATION:

This year’s theme is Buster Keaton & The Marx Brothers: Celebrating American Laughter.  Andy Marx, Groucho’s grandson was originally scheduled to appear but canceled last month. No worries, a great line-up of guest speakers and artists are firmly on board with a full schedule of silver screen comedy treats.

Hosting this annual event since 1993, Iola is short hop from Piqua (pronounced “PICKway”), Buster Keaton’s birthplace. Recent presenters and speakers have included: members of the Keaton and Talmadge family, Oscar and Emmy winning director/producer/silent film extraordinaire Kevin Brownlow, actor and close friend of Buster’s James Karen, comedy legend Steve Allen, film critic Leonard Maltin, film preservationist David Shepard, Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, and many more.

This is a must for Buster aficionados, comedy and silent film fans, and frankly anyone up for great Autumnal weekend in this quant little town.

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NOIR CITY Kansas City:

  • Friday, 10/2, Saturday 10/3, Sunday 10/4
  • Alamo Drafthouse Mainstreet, Kansas City, MO
  • cost: $75 for a passport to all 10 screenings plus nightclub party
  • all the info: NoirCityKC.com 
"Czar of Noir" Eddie Muller, president and founder of the Film Noir Foundation

“Czar of Noir” Eddie Muller, president and founder of the Film Noir Foundation is a modern-day renaissance man of multi talents

Just over the state line on the Missouri side, this is the 2nd annual installment of the Kansas City Film Noir Festival. Presented in part by the Film Noir Foundation, the “Czar of Noir” Eddie Muller’s ‘baby,’ ushers in 3 days and nights of 10 noir gems. The schedule of films include two 35mm restorations and two 35mm preservations! (Three of these four are fresh from FNF!) A total of ten dark delectables to savor including, of course, The Kansas City Confidential.

Individual screenings are very affordable starting $7 per show. Full beverage and food service is offered at these shows. The Nightclub event gets swinging Friday night, 9pm-2am. With three noir acts to set the retro KC mood with sexy, jazzy and even burlesque tones, Laura Ellis, Evie Lovelle, The Latenight Callers will perform at The Chesterfield.  [NOIR CITY KC TIP: save that Alamo Drafthouse movie tix stub for a $2 drink discount.] Tickets: $10 in advance.

The best Noir City KC tip I can offer is to purchase the passport. It’s a steal for $75 smackers to get into all 10 screenings, the Nightclub and speedier, shorter lines for best seating. For directions and parking options, click HERE.

As you can see, you don’t have to fly out to one of the coasts to experience some amazing classic film events. If you’re not familiar with the Kansas/Missouri/Kansas City area, feel free to contact me for details on logistics and good places to stay and eat. Hope to see you there! Who knows. This might just change your definition of ‘the flyover states.’

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KICKS OFF THIS WEEKEND! Summer Sizzles in Cool Noir on TCM- plus more!

Boy howdy, is there a fun summer in store for you, film fans! In case you haven’t heard, Turner Classic Movies network has packed your summer with everything you need to keep those hot, sizzling days nice and cool. Whether you’re up for family fun flicks or dark noir, TCM has the ultimate silver screen soiree scheduled for everyone… all summer long.

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Eddie Muller~ President of the Noir Film Foundation, film preservationist, celebrated author, friend to TCM and undisputed film noir expert (looks nice in a fedora, to boot!) Photo credit: TCM

Starting June 5th, the home of the classics will become the home of noir with their breakthrough programming event, “Summer Of Darkness.” Hosted by Eddie Muller, over two hundred delectably dark films that shaped an entire genre will air on TCM for a full twenty-four hours every Friday, throughout June and July.

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Richard L. Edwards, Ph.D. Executive Director iLearn Research at Ball State University and noir scholar

As if that wasn’t enough, TCM has teamed up with Ball State University for a film noir course offering, “Into The Darkness: Investigating Film Noir.” It’s not too late to sign up for this FREE online multimedia class. Whether you’re a noir aficionado or a noir newbie, this is the event not to be missed! Everyone is welcome and its easily self-paced to accommodate any schedule. You don’t even have to be subscribed to TCM network (they’ll provide links) to complete the class- but following along to Eddie Muller’s Summer Of Darkness is definitely the ideal way to enjoy the experience.

The coursework includes social media components so it’s a great way to connect with fellow film fans. Twitter hashtag for both the course and simply watching along on Fridays… #NoirSummer. You can skip the trench coat and fedora if so inclined (but I’m rather inclined myself), then just click HERE for all the details!

But wait, there’s more. You can enter sweepstakes for a chance at nabbing some cool stuff at the noir shop! (I’ll take the fedora, or the martini shaker, or the $50k 1941 Lincoln Continental, thank you very much.) Just sign up for the class, then enter for your chance to win HERE.

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Ready for something on the lighter side of the dark shadows? How about the TCM Movie Camp! In what used to be the Essentials, Jr. past timeslot on Sunday evenings hosted by the hilarious and talented Bill Hader, the good folks at TCM are bringing us an updated format with new hosts. Movie Camp will look at flicks for all ages but with a fun twist starting this weekend.

William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg get animated this summer

William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg get animated this summer

From Moonbot Studios, Oscar-winning hosts William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg will serve as our camp counselors, introducing classics with an appeal for younger audiences. And no need for bug spray or suncreen! With a new animated intro, they’ll show us the fascinating behind-the-scenes tidbits to engage the curious minds of young and old alike.

If you have a summer vacation planned, I’d recommend pushing it off ’til August. And if you can’t budget the beach destination this year, no problem. This is the summer to “staycation” with TCM. Your June and July months are now booked solid in sizzling style. As the ‘Noir Ninja’ himself Eddie Muller says, noir is “suffering with style.” I’m looking forward to earning my certification via this noir course, to animated Sunday evenings, and to spending my summer discovering exactly what he means by that description. After all, if film noir is suffering in style, I’ll willingly – and fashionably – retreat into those shadows.

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