• U.S.

The New Pictures, May 6, 1946

6 minute read
TIME

The Postman Always Rings Twice (M-G-M). When James M. Cain started writing his hard, high-strung little novels twelve years ago, it struck many screen-wise readers that he was putting on paper a kind of movie that Hollywood would never dare put on celluloid. Raymond Chandler and Billy Wilder sensationally proved how wrong that was, two years ago, with Double Indemnity, Ranald Mac-Dougall, Catherine Turney and Michael Curtiz followed up last year with Mildred Pierce, less expert yet crudely exciting. But the screen version of The Postman Always Rings Twice, the first, most ferocious and in some ways best of Cain’s novels, suggests that the vein is running out.

There is nothing wrong with the story that wasn’t wrong in the first place. The bum (John Garfield) still chances in at the roadside eatery, gets one good eyeful of the sex-starved wife (Lana Turner) of the lardy, trusting proprietor (Cecil Kellaway), who bought her underprivileged soul but not her overendowed body; and decides to settle down to serious work for a change.

Almost as amoral as zoo exhibits, they struggle feebly against temptation, maunder miserably into a plot to murder the man who stands in their way. They attempt their clumsy bathtub murder, bring off an equally clumsy auto murder, face sure conviction, and are rescued in one of the most reptilian bits of legal chicanery that ever made fiction look almost as strange as truth. They are hounded by blackmailers; they are tortured still more severely by their inability to trust each other; they come at last to a surprise ending which, in the novel, had much the force of a mule’s kick. Scripters Niven Busch and Harry Ruskin have had to tinker amazingly little with this hideous story.

The picture is directed by Tay Garnett, one of Hollywood’s surest and most honest handlers of melodrama (Bataan, The Cross of Lorraine). Its chief players, Garfield and Turner, are box-office naturals. The forlornly prosperous roadside menage is an excellent set and there is, throughout, an unusual feeling for mannerism, place and atmosphere. The supporting work of Hume Cronyn and Leon Ames as lawyers is so good it. knocks a hole right through the picture.

Lowering Cain. Indeed, it is hard to see quite what goes so dismally wrong, most of the time, but here are a few things that clearly do:

John Garfield is so familiar in the toughman role that his mere presence threatens the audience’s capacity for belief. Lana Turner is a very highly charged and appealing girl, but too much in this role is far beyond her experience, her understanding, even her sincerely overworked imagination; her only fine, authentic moments, barring one searing flare of jealous hatred, are casually domestic and flirtatious. Much of the Turner-Garfield dialogue, which needs the flickering intensity of adders’ tongues, is paced and keyed like an erotic discussion between a couple of cats. Finally, a kind of overall rigor artis of anxiety, sincerity and division of purpose chops the scenes badly apart—like oranges in a Christmas stocking.

This might have been the Cain to end Cains—and is more likely to do that in quite a different way. But not at the box office. There, considering the stars and the shock value, it ought to gross its weight in uranium.

Make Mine Music (Walt Disney-RKO Radio), which has been described by one wag as the poor man’s Fantasia, is a Technicolored musical blue-plate special, prepared for the 18-to-2 y-year-old age group which has heretofore proved least responsive to Disney films.

Most of the music—strictly popular—is well calculated to please that sort of audience. Much of the “art” is likely to please—or displease—audiences more diverse.

The hillbilly ballad The Martins and the Coys is a burlesque of backwoods feuding which will delight lovers of radio rurality and of Paul Webb’s mountaineer cartoons, and offend those who think such caricature as insulting as the hush-mah-mouf kind of comic contempt for Negroes. All the Cats Join In is a jukebox setting of Benny Goodman’s record, in which orgiastic hepcats and bobby-soxers, mad on chocolate malteds, tear all over the place, paced and sustained by the sketching of a deft, rapid pencil. It will satisfy the young and the benign, sicken those who suspect “healthy” tributes to button-eyed innocence.

“Pretty” numbers like Blue Bayou and a silhouetted ballet by Dancers Tatiana Riabouchinska and David Lichine aim for, and perfectly achieve, the qualities of dime-store and gift-shoppe art. As such they have great skill and a certain naive charm; but only genuine lovers of that kind of art can genuinely enjoy them. More likely to please everybody:

Some of the kidding of baseball mannerisms in Jerry Colonna’s recitation of Casey at the Bat.

Disney’s setting of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, featuring a wolf whose gullet looks like something out of Dante; a cat which, in a moment of terror, has an all-claws resemblance to a brier bush; and a cute little feeble-minded duck named Sonia.

A brisk, fanciful animation of the instruments in Benny Goodman’s Quartet. Johnny Fedora and Alice Bluebonnet, a love story about a couple of hats, sung with proper gentleness by the apparently muzzled Andrew Sisters, with some neat bits of emoting by Johnny.

Best number: The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met, a grand finale in which Nelson Eddy supplies what seem like several dozen voices and Willie, the whale with three epiglottises, panics the carriage trade as Tristan and Mephistopheles.

Even Walt Disney’s best films—barring his wonderful slapstick—have suffered from sticky taste; in this effort to be just plain folksy, that stickiness pretty thoroughly gums up the works. Disconcerting evidence of flagging inventiveness: the Gates of Heaven turn up in two numbers, and ghost-peopled clouds in a third. Yet Make Mine Music is supposed to be a variety show.

CURRENT & CHOICE

Toscanini: Hymn of the Nations.

Toscanini, conducting Verdi, makes a stunning film debut (TIME, April 29).

Joe Palooka, Champ. A must for kids and good for grownups, too (TIME, April 29).

Henry V. Shakespeare, Laurence Olivier and cinema give each other a new brilliance (TIME, April 8).

Ziegfeld Follies of 1946. Fred Astaire and others galvanize vaudeville (TIME, March 25).

The Sailor Takes a Wife but can’t find where to take her (TIME, March 11).

Vacation from Marriage. War rejuvenates Robert Donat and Deborah Kerr (TIME, Feb. 18).

Deadline at Dawn. No ordinary murder mystery—a nice Odets melodrama—involving Paul Lukas, Susan Hayward, Bill Williams (TIME, Feb. 18).

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