Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: The adultery-themed comedy The Other Woman has us thinking back on other films about infidelity.
The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)
Fate’s cruel hand dooms a drifter and the wife of a diner owner in Tay Garnett’s The Postman Always Rings Twice, a superb 1946 adaptation of James M. Cain’s hardboiled novel. Scoring a job at the roadside establishment of restaurateur Nick (Cecil Kellaway), itchy-footed wanderer Frank (John Garfield) takes one look at his employer’s younger wife, Cora (Lana Turner)—introduced in a camera shot that pans up from her dropped lipstick to her white high heels, which match her revealing bikini—and is hooked. Their subsequent affair is a thing of mad passion, quickly driving the greedy Cora to suggest to Frank that they murder Nick. The plot goes awry the first time, but they try again once Nick tells Cora that he plans to sell their business and turn her into the permanent nurse of his paralyzed Canadian sister.
Remade in 1981 with Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange, Garnett’s film is a prototypically shadowy affair; every softly lit close-up of the gorgeous Turner also oozes with malevolence and misfortune. As in so much film noir, Frank’s downfall is the nominal result of his infatuation with a woman, but is more fundamentally fueled by his efforts to be something he’s not—namely, a guy who sticks around and settles down. That’s true of Cora, too, whose fate can be chalked up to her criminal attempts to “be somebody” more than just a shop owner’s wife. An up-and-down affair in which characters’ affections for each other swing as wildly as their luck, The Postman Always Rings Twice generates its sweaty desperation from Garfield’s fury and determination, as well as Turner’s alternately loving and lethal charm. The film’s lasting impact, however, comes from its portrait of an unseemly world where everyone—be it no-name hobos, big-shot defense lawyers, or private gumshoes—is rolling around in the same selfish muck.
Availability: The Postman Always Rings Twice is available on DVD, which can be obtained through Netflix, and to rent or purchase through the major digital services.