The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)

The Postman Always Rings Twice
Lana Turner Rocks a Turban, John Garfield Founds the Hollywood Canteen, & Goes Independent. From 1946, it's The Postman Always Rings Twice.
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The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) is one of the most stylish, sensual film noirs of all time.

Easily a classic, and most certainly the best remembered film in the careers of both John Garfield and Lana Turner, The Postman Always Rings Twice proves that even with the strict moral guidelines of the Production Code Administration, onscreen romances of Hollywood’s Golden Age could sizzle without explicitly showing a thing.

The Postman Always Rings Twice

The making of The Postman Always Rings Twice  wasn’t without complications.  But contrary to persistent rumors, it was an enjoyable experience for all involved, particularly the film’s two stars.  The influence of John Garfield and Lana Turner would be critical to both completing Postman, and to creating its unforgettable glamorous imagery.

The Postman Always Rings Twice and Beyond

Postman demonstrated that the glamorous Lana Turner was more than just a pretty face: Lana could act.  And she looked flawlessly beautiful while doing it.

For John Garfield, the film provided added motivation to finish out his seven year contract with Warner Bros., and go independent.  Not long after completing Postman, Julie would take his independence a step further, and become one of the first movie stars to form his own production company.

Let’s go through the plot, then behind the scenes of the film.

The Postman Always Rings Twice
Frank Chambers (John Garfield) accepts a job from Nick Smith (Cecil Kellaway) at the Twin Oaks.

The Plot

Frank Chambers (John Garfield) is a drifter, hitching rides just outside of Los Angeles.  As Frank puts it:

“My feet keep itching to go places.” 

Frank explains his restless disposition to District Attorney Kyle Sackett (Leon Ames), the latest Good Samaritan to give Frank a lift.  Sackett stops his car in front of the Twin Oaks, a roadside diner and gas station, where Frank sees a “Man Wanted” sign. 

It looks like Frank has found the next in his long line of temporary jobs.

Sackett wishes Frank luck and drives off as Nick Smith (Cecil Kellaway), the owner of the Twin Oaks, steps outside.  Noticing Frank’s youth and strength, Nick offers him the job.

And Frank accepts.

The Postman Always Rings Twice
Our first glance of Cora Smith (Lana Turner) in the film.

Meeting Cora

Frank has just barely accepted the job when Nick hears a customer arrive at the gas pumps.  He leaves Frank in the diner to flip burgers. 

Frank is alone for only a brief moment before he hears the drop of a small object on the floor.  Frank turns and sees a tube of lipstick rolling towards him.  As he raises his eyes, Frank takes in the gorgeous face and figure of Cora Smith (Lana Turner), the owner of the stray lipstick.

The beautiful Cora is also Nick’s much younger wife. 

She’s dressed all in white, from her high-heels to her turban. 

The Postman Always Rings Twice
The flawless Lana Turner as Cora Smith.

And no one ever made a turban look so good.

Frank is immediately engrossed in the beautiful image before him.  He’s so taken with Cora that he forgets about the burger on the stove.  It burns to an inedible crisp.

The burnt burger is obvious foreshadowing of what Cora Smith will do to Frank Chambers by the end of the film.

The Postman Always Rings Twice
Frank refuses to bring Cora her lipstick. She's miffed that she has to walk over to him.

Cora Resists

In the following days, Cora tries to resist Frank’s obvious come-ons.  She even asks Nick to give Frank a week’s pay, and let him go.  But Frank is a hard worker, and Nick is oblivious to the attraction between his wife and this drifter he’s welcomed into their lives. 

Nick tells Cora that Frank will stay.

The Postman Always Rings Twice
At first, Cora successfully resists Frank's obvious come-ons.

It’s only a matter of time before Frank and Cora get together.

And after a romantic late night swim, they do.

The Postman Always Rings Twice
Frank and Cora get together after a romantic evening at the beach.

Frank and Cora Run Away

The attraction, possibly even love, between Frank and Cora is so strong that they decide to run away together. They wait for an afternoon when Nick will be in town, and make their getaway.

Cora and Frank begin hitching rides in the hot Los Angeles sun.  But they don’t get very far before Cora begins second guessing this huge life decision.  Cora wants “to be somebody,” and foresees a life of poverty with Frank.  Cora concludes that she doesn’t want to leave the potentially lucrative Twin Oaks business behind, and tells Frank they must go back before Nick realizes they’ve gone.  They’ll have to find some other way to be together.

The Postman Always Rings Twice
Frank and Cora hitchhike, but they don't get very far before Cora decides to turn back...

Frank is angry that he still doesn’t have Cora all to himself.  But it’s Cora who comes up with the ultimate solution to their problems: the only way for Frank and Cora to be together, and keep the Twin Oaks, is to take Nick out of the picture.

And the only way to get Nick out of the picture is murder.

Cora asks Frank to assist her in murdering her husband.  And Frank reluctantly, but quickly, agrees.

The Postman Always Rings Twice
Cora frantically calls for a doctor after murder attempt number 1 doesn't work out.

Murder Attempt No. 1

Murder attempt number one doesn’t go smoothly. 

Thanks to an electrical outage caused by a fatally curious cat on a step ladder, Cora only manages to concuss Nick before the lights go out. 

Nick survives.  Luckily for Frank and Cora, he doesn’t remember how he got the concussion.  Further luck for Frank and Cora: the dead cat at the foot of the step ladder is the evidence District Attorney Sackett needs to believe it was all an accident, and that Nick merely slipped in the bathtub.

But Frank and Cora can’t leave well enough alone.

They decide to try to kill Nick one more time.

The Postman Always Rings Twice
Left: District Attorney Kyle Sackett (Leon Ames) is convinced Nick's injury didn't involve foul play, thanks to the dead cat that's still at the bottom of the step ladder.

There’s added motivation to get it done right this time.  After returning from the hospital, Nick announces that he’s just found a buyer for the Twin Oaks.  He and Cora will move to Kugluktuk, Canada immediately following the sale, where Cora will spend the rest of her days caring for Nick and his crippled sister.

Definitely not living the dream, as far as Cora is concerned.

The Postman Always Rings Twice
Frank prepares to give the drunken Nick a fatal blow...

Murder Attempt No. 2

Frank and Cora plan the second murder much more skillfully.

They lure a drunken Nick into the car one night on the pretense of a road trip to Santa Barbara, where the three of them will finalize the sale of the Twin Oaks.  Frank pretends to be drunk, and Cora chides the two men for their inebriated state so witnesses at the gas station—namely District Attorney Sackett—can observe how drunk Nick is.  Then, Cora drives the trio to Malibu Lake, where Frank fatally hits Nick on the back of the head.  He and Cora then push the car, with Nick still in it, off a cliff. 

It will look like a car accident that Frank and Cora just barely escape from, with the intoxicated Nick obviously not surviving.

The Postman Always Rings Twice
Frank and Cora know the car didn't fall far enough. So Frank climbs down, and ends up at the bottom of the cliff himself.

The plan goes smoothly until the car gets stuck halfway down the cliff.  It doesn’t look like a convincingly fatal fall, so Frank climbs down to the car and back into the driver’s seat to give the vehicle more momentum. 

But he doesn’t get out in time. 

Frank, trapped in the car, falls the rest of the way down the cliff. 

Cora is now genuinely afraid.  She climbs up to the street, screaming for help, only to find that District Attorney Sackett followed them the whole way. 

Sackett may not have concrete evidence to prove it just yet, but he’s seen enough to charge Cora for the murder of Nick Smith.

The Postman Always Rings Twice
Cora gives Frank the cold shoulder after his betrayal.

Frank's Betrayal and Cora's Revenge

Frank miraculously survives the fall.  Sackett then takes advantage of Frank’s weakened physical state to turn him against Cora. 

Sackett convinces Frank that Cora meant to murder both him and Nick in the car accident.  Scared and angry, Frank signs a paper that exonerates himself and incriminates Cora in Nick’s murder.

Later that day in court, Cora learns of Frank’s betrayal.  She’s shocked by his lack of loyalty.  But Cora is in for an even bigger shock when her attorney, Arthur Keats (Hume Cronyn), has her plead guilty to Nick’s murder.

The Postman Always Rings Twice
Cora can't believe her attorney, Arthur Keats (Hume Cronyn) has her plead guilty.

After court is dismissed for the day, Cora angrily tells Keats that she’s ready to make a full confession and incriminate Frank as revenge for his betrayal. 

Keats knows that Cora doesn’t really  want to confess and spend the rest of her life behind bars.  So he has his own guy take dictation while Cora tells all, only informing Cora afterwards that nothing she said went on the official court record.  So the trial moves forward.

The Postman Always Rings Twice
Cora confesses out of revenge to incriminate Frank, but nothing she says goes on the official court record.

The Postman Always Rings Twice: Escaping the First Ring

Through some fantastic lawyering in the courtroom, and an uncanny ability to expose all of Sackett’s assumptions and lack of evidence, Keats gets Cora off with nothing but probation.  She’ll serve zero jail time, and is free to return to normal life.

The Postman Always Rings Twice
Keats is too clever for Sackett in court, and Cora goes free.

It seems Frank and Cora have both escaped the proverbial postman’s first ring…

Back at the Twin Oaks, business booms as Cora benefits from the public fascination with her after the murder trial.  Though still bitter and uncivil towards Frank—who still works at the Twin Oaks—Keats convinces Cora that she must marry Frank.  As spouses, neither can testify against the other should Sackett succeed in bringing the case back to trial.

So Frank and Cora, still angry at each other, marry.

The Postman Always Rings Twice

A Rocky Start

The marriage, understandably, has a rocky start.  But when Cora returns to the Twin Oaks after going home for her mother’s funeral, things are different.  Frank and Cora go back to their roots of passion and love. 

Cora then shares that she’s pregnant.  She expresses hope that by creating this new life together, they can make up for the one they took.

To celebrate, Frank and Cora go to the beach for one of their swims.  Cora decides to test Frank’s loyalty and love for her.  She swims out far into the ocean; much farther than she has strength to swim back from.

Cora reasons that if Frank loves her, he’ll get her safely back to land.  

The Postman Always Rings Twice

And he does.

With their mutual love now securely proven, Frank and Cora happily drive back to the Twin Oaks. 

The Postman Always Rings Twice
Cora, just before the crash.

The Postman Always Rings Twice...

But the postman rings a second time for Cora.

Frank, distracted by Cora’s beauty, accidentally crashes the car.  Cora is dead on impact.

Now the postman rings a second time for Frank: Sackett takes him to court for Cora’s death.  Frank is found guilty of her murder.

The Postman Always Rings Twice
Frank is only at peace with his fate after evidence is found incriminating him for Nick's murder.

Sackett visits Frank on death row with new evidence that proves Frank’s involvement in Nick’s murder.  Frank finds peace in the knowledge that even if he appealed and was found innocent of murdering Cora, he’d still be right back on death row for Nick’s murder.  It’s a twisted piece of comfort for Frank that he’s really being punished for the one murder he did commit.

Frank can now meet his own death with tranquility.

And that’s the end of the film.

John Garfield HUAC

Before The Postman Always Rings Twice: Life at Warner Bros.

John Garfield became a star in his debut film role.  For his poignant performance as rebel Mickey Borden in Four Daughters (1938), Julie—as Garfield’s friends and family always called him—earned an academy award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

But the plum role wasn’t indicative of what Julie could always expect over the course of his seven year contract with Warner Bros.  For every enviable role and prestigious production Julie was a part of, he was just as often placed in “B” pictures with little to no plot line.

John Garfield

An Underutilized Actor

Overall, between 1939 and the end of his contract in 1945, it was clear that Warner Bros. underutilized Julie’s talents. 

Here’s a perfect example of the studio not recognizing just what a talented guy they had under contract:

Warners loaned Julie out to RKO for 1943’s gripping film noir, The Fallen Sparrow.  Steve Trilling, a Warners executive, watched the film, and was so impressed with the performance of this John Garfield fellow, he proceeded to write a memo to Jack Warner, exhorting Warner to get Garfield under contract fast, at whatever expense necessary:

“John Garfield was excellent in The Fallen Sparrow, and if at any time he is available, [I] would also like to make a deal for him at whatever terms…”

Clearly, Trilling didn’t know that Warner Bros. already had Julie under contract. 

For three more years, to be exact.

John Garfield

Finding Fullment Outside of the Movies

Warner Bros.’ failure to effectively use Julie, or allow him to branch out into more varied film roles, contributed to his desire to go independent.  John Garfield’s dream was to break from the studio system, and start his own production company.  And at the end of his seven year contract, Julie would do just that.

But for the time being, John Garfield continued giving his all to every role, regardless of the overall quality of the films Warner Bros. assigned him. 

It wasn’t the most artistically fulfilling period of Julie’s career.  But this lack of fulfillment on the career front was made up for by the great pride John Garfield felt in serving his country during WWII.

A 4-F classification for his weak heart kept Julie from active military service.  So he found other ways to serve.

According to Garfield biographer Larry Swindell [aff. link], John Garfield was the first major Hollywood movie star to entertain the troops during WWII.  In the fall of 1941, before Pearl Harbor and the official entry of the United States into the war, Julie began entertaining servicemen on US bases in the Caribbean.

John Garfield

A Relatable Guy

Unlike most of the stars who soon followed his lead, Julie didn’t sing or dance.  So, in his performances for the troops, he’d tell jokes, recite humorous monologues, or insert new comical lyrics into the music of popular songs.  It was a casual format that made Julie a favorite among servicemen in every place he entertained during the war years, including Italy, North Africa, and stateside. Julie’s informal entertaining style demonstrated that he was an approachable, everyday guy.  In Julie, servicemen recognized one of their own, someone they could relate to. 

Of his multiple tours across the world entertaining the troops, John Garfield would say that:

“You can’t image how wonderful those guys are until you see ‘em and live with ‘em.  I’m going out again as often as they’ll let me, because the boys there made a spiel as though they wanted us.  They even made me feel I was good.”

Julie cracks up as Red Skelton attempts to steal the cake at FDR's 1944 birthday party.

Meeting the President

In addition to entertaining, Julie contributed to the war effort by selling war bonds.  He bought $50,000 worth himself, and sold a staggering $5 million worth of war bonds throughout the US.  His sales even impressed President Roosevelt, who invited Julie to the White House, a humbling experience for the young man who’d survived the streets of New York.  As Julie said of the experience:

“There I was, a kid from the Bronx, meeting with the President.  That’s democracy—that’s wonderful.”

Despite these generous donations of time and money, John Garfield’s greatest contribution to the war effort was his founding of the Hollywood Canteen.

Julie asked Bette Davis to help him get the Hollywood Canteen going.

John Garfield and the Hollywood Canteen

It was during his tour selling war bonds on the east coast that Julie first had the idea to create a club in Hollywood where servicemen could go to forget about their troubles for an evening.  The Hollywood Canteen, as Julie called his vision, would be a nightclub run by movie stars.  Visiting servicemen could come to the Canteen to enjoy good food served by Spencer Tracy or Gary Cooper, before hitting the dance floor with Rita Hayworth or Betty Grable.

It was a genius, morale-boosting idea.  And Julie was smart enough to partner with a star he knew was good at getting things done.  Reportedly, when Julie presented his idea to Ms Bette Davis, asking if she’d like to get the Hollywood Canteen up and running with him, the Davis’ response was a resounding,  and excitedly shouted:

“YES!”

Jules Stein, Al Ybarra, Bette, and Julie working out the construction details of the Hollywood Canteen.

Together, Julie and Bette recruited stars to entertain, dance, and bus tables at the Canteen each night.  They convinced fourteen guilds and unions to donate labor and materials to turn The Old Barn restaurant on Cahuenga Blvd into the Hollywood Canteen.  Cary Grant donated a piano, and soon The Old Barn was the Hollywood Canteen, all dolled up to look like a Hollywood sound stage.

Julie entertaining at the Hollywood Canteen.
Bette Davis serves this soldier a piece of cake at the Hollywood Canteen.

The Hollywood Canteen Opens

Thanks to the hard work of John Garfield and Bette Davis, the Hollywood Canteen opened on October 3, 1942.  That first night, the Canteen earned an impressive $10,000 for veterans hospitals, the equivalent of about $160,000 today.  Julie felt strongly that the Canteen should be free, and exclusively for enlisted men.  As such, admission was only charged on opening night, which was also the only night that officers were permitted entry.  Between 1942 and the club’s closing in 1945, the Hollywood Canteen hosted an estimated 2,500 servicemen every evening.

And almost every evening during those war years, servicemen could count on John Garfield to be there, too.

Julie makes a speech to guests at the Hollywood Canteen's 1st year anniversary, November 3, 1943.

"We'll Go When We're Called"

John Garfield’s dedication to the Canteen, his impressive war bond sales, his several tours entertaining the troops, and his touching performances playing enlisted men in his films at the time, were all motivated by his desire to actually be one of the soldiers in the front lines.

In a 1942 interview, Julie praised James Stewart as the penultimate example of what other Hollywood stars should be doing to serve their country.  Julie lambasted the government and the big studios for trying to keep their stars from seeing active service:

“We’ll go when we’re called, just like everyone else.”

John Garfield believed these words with his entire being.  And he’d fight his 4-F classification for the duration of the war.

Julie entertained the troops while filming Air Force (1943).

John Garfield Tries to Enlist

In early 1942, Julie tried to enlist.  But the 29 year-old, who appeared so healthy and strong, was rejected.  Julie received a 4-F classification because a “strong heart murmur” was detected during his physical.

It was a huge embarrassment and disappointment for Julie to be deemed unfit for service.  So much so, that in 1944, he tried to enlist once more.

There are differing stories as to what happened next, but here’s what I find most plausible:

In the spring of 1944, Julie returned from a USO tour entertaining the troops in Italy and North Africa.  He successfully pulled some strings to get his 4-F classification changed to 1-A, making him eligible for service.  Passing his physical, Julie was then told he’d be inducted within ninety days.

But then his heart got in the way.

Julie spent most of his nights during the war years volunteering at the Hollywood Canteen.

Rejected Again

While entertaining the servicemen at the Hollywood Canteen in June of 1944, Julie became suddenly ill.  He was immediately sent to Cedars of Lebanon Hospital, where it was discovered that he had suffered a mild heart attack.

The press reported Julie’s “illness” as the flu.  But the US Armed Forces had access to the truth.

John Garfield found himself once again rejected from service. 

Not wanting the public to know about his weak heart, Julie would always say he had been officially inducted into the Navy, but was sent home later the same day because the war was winding down, and the Navy no longer needed men over thirty with families to support—men like Julie—enlisting.

The disappointment of this second rejection from military service hurt.  But it was nothing compared to the tragedy that soon struck Julie’s home life.

Julie with his oldest daughter, Katherine, who Robbe Garfield said was "the apple of her father's eye."

John Garfield's Greatest Tragedy

On March 18, 1945, Julie’s six-year-old daughter Katherine was rushed home from an outing with her nanny, barely able to breath. 

In her short life, Kathy had already experienced her share of breathing issues related to her asthma.  But whenever Kathy’s breathing was particularly labored, Robbe Garfield, with her mother’s intuition, always succeeded in bringing her daughter back to health.

But this time, not even Robbe could save her little girl.  Nor could the pediatrician.  Kathy died in her mother’s arms that day.  Her last words were reportedly about her father, who, rushing home, barely missed his daughter’s final breath.

Robbe Garfield always insisted that Kathy was the apple of her father’s eye.  After losing his little girl, John Garfield was never the same. 

Following Kathy’s unexpected death, Julie spent the rest of that tragic day in the backyard, shooting rounds of the German automatic machine gun he’d brought back from Europe, before aimlessly wandering the streets of the Garfields’ Beverly Hills neighborhood.

Julie returns home from a USO tour, and hugs Katherine, first thing.

Losing Kathy

Julie blamed himself for Kathy’s death.  His neighbor, director Vincent Sherman, remembered Julie voicing his guilt not long after Kathy passed:

“God did this to me, Vince.  He did this to me for all the bad things I’ve done.”

Sherman believed that losing Kathy permanently altered Julie’s outlook on life:

 “I think after that tragedy he became a much more serious person.  He behaved much differently in terms of his relationships with other people, and other women.”

Staying busy and concentrating on his work helped Julie come to terms with Kathy’s passing.  If ever there was a time John Garfield needed an engrossing role to occupy his mind, this was it.

The Postman Always Rings Twice provided Julie with such a role.

The Postman Always Rings Twice: 12 Years in the Making

The Postman Always Rings Twice was a scandalous 1934 novel written by James M. Cain.  Postman and Cain’s 1936 novel, Double Indemnity, both became successful film noirs.  Each book was inspired by the the real-life Ruth Snyder murder trial of 1927, in which Snyder and her boyfriend were charged with the murder of her husband after at least seven failed attempts to do away with him.

Though Cain wrote The Postman Always Rings Twice a full ten years before Double Indemnity, it took Hollywood a few years longer to make Postman into a film, due to the highly sensual relationship between Cora Smith and Frank Chambers in the book.

The Postman Always Rings Twice

Indeed, MGM purchased the screen rights to The Postman Always Rings Twice not long after Cain’s book was published in 1934.  But the studio did nothing with the story for twelve years, fearful that the Production Code Administration would never approve such a film.  

The PCA had said as much: according to the administration, Postman, with its themes of sex and murder, was too morally decrepit to be adapted for the big screen.

But the success of Paramount’s film adaptation of Double Indemnity in 1944 emboldened MGM to proceed with The Postman Always Rings Twice.  In May of 1945, filming began.  John Garfield—on loan from Warner Bros.—was cast in the Frank Chambers role.  The impossibly glamorous Lana Turner was cast as Cora Smith.

The Postman Always Rings Twice

Lana & Julie: Friends, Foes, or Lovers?

With two of the era’s hottest stars paired opposite each other in Postman, it was almost inevitable at the time, and over the ensuing years, that rumors would abound as to the exact nature of the relationship between Julie and Lana Turner.

One persistent rumor says that Julie and Lana hated each other on the Postman set, with Lana lamenting when she heard that John Garfield was her costar: 

“Couldn’t they at least hire someone attractive?”

It’s most likely that Lana never said these words.  The rumors that Lana and Julie hated each other are false.

Lana’s daughter, Cheryl Crane, has shared several times over the years that John Garfield and her mother were actually quite good friends.  According to Cheryl:

“I can dispel rumors that they didn’t like each other.  They socialized outside of work.  I remember him at my birthday parties.”

The Postman Always Rings Twice

Lana herself had nothing but complimentary things to say about Julie in tributes and television interviews of her later years.  She even ranked John Garfield among her favorite leading men.  At a 1973 film homage, Lana said of Julie that:

“He was shy, vibrant, and intelligent.  And so ahead of his time.  He had terrific magnetism.  The lines bounced back and forth between us.  It kept a girl on her toes.”  

Certainly not the words of a woman who hated her co-star.

The Postman Always Rings Twice

More Than Friends on The Postman Always Rings Twice?

There are just as many rumors stating that Lana and Julie were more than friends on the Postman set.

Director Vincent Sherman gave this rumor credibility, once offering that Julie and Lana had “a very hot and heavy thing” going during filming.

Julie himself told singer Margaret Whiting not long before his passing that he and Lana enjoyed one intimate night together that ended in laughter because of the lack of a spark between them.  

But it’s more than likely that Vincent Sherman was incorrect, and that Julie’s tale to Whiting was another one of his conquest embellishments, of which he was famous for.

The Postman Always Rings Twice

Onscreen Magic, & No More

Postman Director Tay Garnett, who witnessed the Garfield/Turner relationship on set, believed the two stars enjoyed nothing more than a fun, teasing friendship.  According to Garnett: 

“There was magic between them.  I don’t know if they had anything going on the side, but sometimes you root for it.  John had his fair share of girls, but he had a bad heart and that might have frightened Lana off.  John teased her about sex, which tends to make me believe nothing happened.  They sizzled on the screen though!”

The Postman Always Rings Twice

In her 2008 book about her mother [aff. link], Cheryl Crane confirms Garnett’s feelings that Julie and Lana were never an item:

“Rumors to the contrary have persisted since 1946, but there was absolutely no off-screen tension between Mother and John Garfield during filming.  What can be said is that the steaminess you see between them in the film did not exist in real life.  She simply wasn’t attracted to him romantically, but there was great affection between them until his death in 1952.”

The Postman Always Rings Twice

Toning Down The Postman Always Rings Twice

Lana and Julie were no more than friends off screen.  But as Tay Garnett and Cheryl Crane both point out, on screen Lana and Julie “sizzled.”  The on screen steaminess was so apparent, director Garnett had to find a way to tone it down for the censors.

He accomplished this in an ingenious way: by dressing his leading lady completely in white.

With the exception of three scenes—Cora wielding a knife in the kitchen, Cora and Frank at the train depot through Kennedy’s extortion attempt, and Cora calling a cab at the end of the film—Lana Turner is dressed in white for the entirety of The Postman Always Rings Twice.

Garnett’s reasoning was that everything Cora did would somehow appear more innocent, and therefore less threatening to the censors, if he dressed Lana in pure white.  And if the Production Code Administration was happy, Garnett knew he stood a better chance of not having to change anything in his masterpiece before it hit theaters.  As Garnett remembered:

The Postman Always Rings Twice
One of the few scenes in the film where Lana isn't wearing white.

“She already had platinum hair.  She’d been that color.  So we left it for the film.  The white clothing was something that Carey [the producer] and I thought of.  At that time there was a great problem of getting a story with that much sex past the censors. We figured that dressing Lana in white somehow made everything she did seem less sensuous.  It was also attractive as hell.  And it somehow took a little of the stigma off of everything that she did. They didn’t have ‘hot pants’ then, but you couldn’t tell it by looking at hers.”

The Postman Always Rings Twice
The introduction of Cora Smith is one of the most memorable ever put on film.

The Postman Always Rings Twice: Inspired Costuming

Garnett’s costuming idea was an inspiration.  Not only did the all white wardrobe downplay the nefariousness of Cora Smith’s actions, it also created one of the silver screen’s most legendary character introductions. 

We meet Cora Smith just minutes into the film.  The camera travels from her lipstick on the diner floor, to her spotless white high heels, all the way up to her exquisite face, framed by that white turban only Lana Turner could pull off.  It’s a scene viewers of the film aren’t likely to forget.

The Postman Always Rings Twice

The Postman Always Rings Twice & Lana's Flawless Look

Lana Turner’s flawless look in The Postman Always Rings Twice became the best-remembered of her career.  And it wasn’t just due to the all-white clothing.  Lana herself played a large role in creating her iconic look in the film.

As one of MGM’s biggest stars of the era, Lana Turner had her own glam squad, which remained largely consistent from film to film.  The MVP of the Lana Turner glam squad was Lana’s makeup man and good friend, Del Armstrong. 

From 1943 through the mid-1960’s, Del Armstrong did Lana Turner’s makeup.  It’s Del who created that perfect, always camera-ready look Lana was famous for.

The Postman Always Rings Twice
Lana, looking flawless as usual in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946).

Lana Does Her Own Makeup In The Postman Always Rings Twice

But just before the start of filming The Postman Always Rings Twice, Del was drafted into the Navy. 

Rather than entrust her face to someone else, Lana insisted on doing her own makeup for the film.  Del had taught her well, and Lana knew she could do it better than anyone else.  As Lana’s daughter Cheryl recalled:

The Postman Always Rings Twice

“He [Del] had taught her to do her makeup down to the last stroke of the eyebrow pencil, so no other artist would replace him in his absence.  Del said he was proud to see what a great job she did without him.”

Del Armstrong does Lana's makeup on the set of Marriage is a Private Affair (1944).

Lana often said that if she hadn’t been an actress, she’d have pursued a career in fashion.  But judging by her makeup in Postman, Lana Turner would have done quite well as a makeup artist.

The Postman Always Rings Twice
Tay Garnett, Lana, and Julie behind the scenes of The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946).

Struggles for The Postman Always Rings Twice

Despite the amicable atmosphere on the Postman set, filming wasn’t free of complications.  One scene that ultimately didn’t make it into the final film got complicated quickly.

The scene consisted of Julie and actress Audrey Totter standing in front of the tiger exhibit at the Los Angeles Zoo.  With the cameras rolling, the tiger lifted his leg, aimed directly at Julie and Audrey Totter, and relieved himself.

“Stunt check over here!”

Julie shouted as he and Audrey quickly relocated, narrowly (or not) missing the tiger’s spray.

The Postman Always Rings Twice
Julie and Lana take a lunch break on The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946).

Bad Weather

The other uncooperative element during filming of The Postman Always Rings Twice  was the weather.  Many of the film’s most romantic and crucial scenes were set on the beach, where weather conditions were outside of the studio’s control.

Unfortunately, the day the beach scenes were to be shot at Laguna, a heavy fog rolled in.  As Lana Turner remembered, each day they’d go down to the beach and sit in the mist, hoping for it to clear.  And when that didn’t happen:

“…we packed up and moved to San Clemente.  But we found ourselves socked in there, too.  Then we got a report that the weather was about clear at Laguna, so back we went to the starting point.  But the fog still hung over the beach for days and days, and costs kept mounting.  The studio’s budget people were frantic.  Tay Garnett kept begging for a little more time, but the fog didn’t lift and days stretched into weeks.  That’s when Tay fell off the wagon.”

The Postman Always Rings Twice
Lana and Julie behind the scenes, waiting for the fog to clear.

Garnett was a recovering alcoholic.  The stress of the uncooperative weather pushed him back into old habits.  It was thanks to the team work of Julie and Lana that Garnett wasn’t replaced with another director.

Julie and Lana took turns visiting Garnett, trying to convince him to seek treatment in Los Angeles before MGM assigned another director to take over the film.  Ultimately it was Lana—who Garnett realized he was guiding to the best performance of her career—who succeeded in helping the struggling director see reason.

Garnett sobered up at a Los Angeles clinic, and “dried out” in time to finish the film.

The Postman Always Rings Twice
Julie and Lana teamed up to keep Garnett on the film.

The Postman Always Rings Twice: A Smash Hit

MGM executives worried that The Postman Always Rings Twice, with its risqué plot line and unsympathetic characters, would damage the reputations of its stars, particularly Lana Turner. 

So the publicity department went into overdrive promoting Lana’s maternal side. 

Numerous pictures of Lana and two-year-old Cheryl were taken at the beach during filming breaks, just to remind the public that the real Lana Turner was not the murderous Cora Smith.

Lana with daughter Cheryl behind the scenes of The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946).

But MGM’s fears were unfounded. 

The Postman Always Rings Twice was a smash hit with the public and the critics, earning $3.7 million in the US and Canada, and quite uniformly positive reviews for its stars.  James M. Cain himself paid Lana Turner the ultimate compliment by calling her his ideal Cora, praising her performance in the film as perfection.

The Postman Always Rings Twice

The Postman Always Rings Twice & the PCA

The Postman Always Rings Twice  benefited from the moral guidelines enforced by the Production Code Administration.  These limitations ultimately created a more artistic, stylish, and sensual film. 

Viewers only see John Garfield and Lana Turner kiss a few times over the course of the film.  Yet we feel as if we’ve seen the hight of passion on screen.  This is accomplished through clever dialogue, beautiful cinematography, a mood-setting score, and a skilled director who brought out understated yet electric performances from his talented actors. 

The sheer glamour of the film makes it sexy.  It’s doubtful that The Postman Always Rings Twice would be the sensual, stylish film noir classic it is today had it been permissible to explicitly show the physical passion between Frank and Cora onscreen.  

Lana's Kitchen Table

The 1981 remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice underscores how the artistry of the original film largely resulted from these limitations.

The 1981 Postman had no Production Code Administration, or moral framework to adhere to.  As such, no creativity of dialogue, costuming, or acting was required—or used—to get the passion of Frank and Cora across.

 In the 1981 Postman, viewers must watch the passion of Frank and Cora in all its explicity.

The resulting film lacks style.  It’s drab, depressing, and boring.

Cheryl Crane best described the noticeable differences between the two versions of The Postman Always Rings Twice when she recounted Lana Turner’s reaction to the remake:

“Mother never saw the remake with Jessica Lange and Jack Nicholson, but she heard more about it than she ever wanted to hear.  Cora was her role.  Even James M. Cain said so.  The relationship between Frank and Cora in the original is a thousand times more subtle and yet much more powerful.  They sizzled without literally putting sex on the screen.  Mother’s reaction upon hearing about the love scenes in the remake was, ‘They did WHAT on my kitchen table??!”

I love Lana Turner.

The Postman Always Rings Twice

John Garfield Goes Independent

At the end of 1945, John Garfield’s seven year contract with Warner Bros. expired.  The studio offered Julie a lucrative new deal worth $1 million if he signed with them for another seven years. 

But Julie turned Warner Bros. down. 

The positive experience of making The Postman Always Rings Twice at MGM only strengthened John Garfield’s desire to not be tied to a single studio.  Julie wanted more control over the films he made and the roles he accepted.

The only way to accomplish this was to take a risk, and go independent.  As Julie told Mary Morris in an interview at the time:

John Garfield

“I could sign another long-term contract and be a rich, successful guy.  But I gotta look at myself in the mirror every morning.  So I stare at my rich, contented puss and my conscience says, ‘Okay kid, what have you been doing lately?’”

It was a question Julie sincerely asked himself.

And so in 1947, Julie decided to make his dream of producing his own films a reality.  John Garfield dared to enter the largely unexplored realm of independent films; a new way of filmmaking that, in the coming years, would change the way Hollywood functioned at its very roots.

The Postman Always Rings Twice

That's it for The Postman Always Rings Twice

That’s it for The Postman Always Rings Twice. 

Join me next time for all about 1951’s He Ran All the Way and John Garfield’s fatal fight against the House Un-American Activities Committee.

The Postman Always Rings Twice

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