Sunday, August 26, 2007

Two Takes on "The Postman Always Rings Twice"

According to one critic, there are no fewer than six film versions of James M. Cain’s novel The Postman Always Rings Twice (Yakir). This 1934 American roman noir was so influential, in fact, that the existentialist author Albert Camus penned his classic L’Etranger after reading Cain’s text. 

The novel tells the story of a drifter who goes to work for the owner of a roadside restaurant and gas-station and his younger and fatally attractive wife. Frank, the drifter, forms an obsessive attachment to this woman, Cora, and the two embark on a torrid affair that results in the murder of Cora’s husband, Nick. When the two are caught and taken to trial, however, they turn on each other, and the story spirals to a climax in which the lovers reap their own self-destruction. 

The novel’s shocking violence and unbridled sexuality has repeatedly caused scandal in its various adaptations to the silver screen. This paper will examine two of these versions, the 1946 film directed by Tay Garnett and starring John Garfield and Lana Turner, a classic film noir that relies heavily upon symbolic imagery to depict sex and violence; and, the 1981 film version adapted by David Mamet, directed by Bob Rafelson, and starring Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange, a “neo-noir” which reflects the relaxation of industry censorship in its graphic depiction of sex and violence. It would not be unusual to assume that the liberalization of Hollywood’s censorship codes would reflect a general liberalization of cultural attitudes, but as the following discussion will show, both film versions work to mediate their particular cultural concerns, and neither can be so easily classified as more liberal or progressive than the other. 

By investigating the filmic representations of concerns over sex and violence, gender roles, and race in these two films, it can be shown that despite a decreased censorship in the more contemporary filmmaking era, there are still many cultural issues and anxieties that are not made explicit but are symbolically present and problematized in the text of these films. Read More...

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