Jules Dassin’s Brute Force is a brutally, cruel, claustrophobic prison film that will turn your knuckles bloody to the skin. This was the director’s first venture into the world of film noir. It has a tough hard core texture, thanks to not only Dassin’s sharp direction, but the cinematography of William H. Daniels (The Naked City, Lured) and the music score of Miklós Rózsa (Ministry of Fear, Woman in Hiding). Continue reading
“The Arrangement” opened to mostly terrible reviews in November of 1969. Vincent Canby of the New York Times said, “The Arrangement” is Elia Kazan’s most romantic movie. It may also be his worst…” Later on Canby in the same review he says, “The Arrangement” reeks with slightly absurd movie chic but, unlike Douglas Sirk’s “Written on the Wind” or Vincente Minnelli’s “Two Weeks in Another Town,” it’s not only not much fun, but it’s a mess of borrowed styles.” Harsh words and while I am not going to claim that “The Arrangement” is a lost masterpiece or even a satisfying film that has grown better with time, the film is not the mess Mr. Canby seemed to think it was.
Based on Kazan’s successful novel (it was on the New York Times bestseller list for 37 weeks) which ran over 500 pages and had to be condensed down to a film slightly over two hours. It is the story of Evangelos Arness, a man who spent his life selling out, he even changed his name to Eddie Anderson. Eddie is a successful advertising executive married to Florence (Deborah Kerr), they live in a large house with servants. The marriage is affable, they seem to have it all, she seems content, Eddie we find out is not.
On his way to work Eddie cracks up, both figuratively and literally when he lets go of the wheel of his sports car and crashes into a truck in the next lane. Not able to not willing to speak he remains silent during his recovery drifting in and out of painful recollections of his childhood with a father who intimidated and dominated him and his mother. These memories are intermixed with visions of his affair with Gwen (Faye Dunaway), a sexy bright independent office associate who finds it painful that Eddie has sold out and how much he must hurt him to imagine what he could have been.
When Eddie physically recovers, his sanity is still in question. His father is taken ill, Eddie goes to New York to stay with the dying man but their time together only brings back the memories of his anguished childhood. He meets up with Gwen, who now has a child, she claims to not know who the father is. Gwen is living with another man, Charles, who asks nothing from her, even when she has affairs with other men, he is there for her.
Florence comes to New York, only to find Eddie back with Gwen (she literally finds them in bed together). Convinced that he is still unbalanced she make arrangements with the way too friendly family lawyer, Arthur (Hume Cronyn) to have him hospitalized. Eddie, who after a lifetime of being what everyone else wants only wants to be himself even if that means staying in a mental hospital. Gwen comes to get him out and they agree to make another go at a life together. When his father dies, at the cemetery Eddie is there with Gwen, Florence stands close to the family lawyer, her arm in his. They all seem to be okay with the arrangement.
Kazan wanted Marlon Brando for the role of Eddie, but Brando was reluctant to take on the role. Weather it was a fear of working with the man he did some of his greatest work with or it was too soon after the assassination of Martin Luther King, which Brando claimed, he turned Kazan down. The alternative choice was Kirk Douglas, which probably hurt the film. Nothing against Douglas but Brando would have brought a sensitivity and depth that Douglas lacks. Faye Dunaway, who first worked with Kazan in a Lincoln Center production of Arthur Miller’s “After the Fall”, gives a perfectly pitched performance as Gwen, a woman working in a man’s world, intelligent enough to rebel with wit and strength. She seems to have little respect for the men she worked with or for.
A criticism at the time of its release is the film was too choppy and Kazan could not find the key to slim down the massive book into a two hour cohesive film. What works for me is Dunaway’s performance, and by the way, she never looked better, plus a couple of other interesting scenes, one between Eddie and Florence at the boathouse and the scenes with Eddie and his father, Sam. “The Arrangement” is a hard film to recommend. It is slow in spots and I’ m sure some will find it disjointed and dull but if you look, you still see Kazan’s touch, the outsiders, in both Eddie and Gwen, a theme that he has used over the course of his brilliant career.
The first time John Garfield, and we the audience, see Lana Turner in “The Postman Always Rings Twice” she is exquisite looking, dressed all in white wearing a turban, a tight blouse with her bare mid-drift exposed, and a tight fitting pair of shorts containing the shapeliest pair of legs ever to stand in high heels. Garfield, kneeing down to pick up her lipstick case that rolled across the floor, is hooked from the moment he sees her. His eyes working their way up from her incredible legs to her full breasts to her superlative face. It remains today, more than fifty years later, one of the greatest screen entrances in film. For half the film, director Tay Garnett had Turner wear white, her turban, those fantastic short shorts, her jacket, her waitress outfit, even her hair is platinum blonde. Only after plans are set in motion to kill her husband do the outfits all turn to black, visually symbolizing the good and evil of her character. This visual imagery would be used almost fifteen years later by Alfred Hitchcock with Janet Leigh’s white and black bras and half-slips in “Psycho.”
In James M. Cain’s novel, Cora is not blonde nor is she beautiful. Frank Chambers narrates, “She had a sulky look to her and her lips stuck out in a way that made me want to mash them in for her.”
A few pages later, when they have their first chance to make love , Frank says, “I took her in my arms and mashed her mouth up against hers”
“….Bite me! Bite me!”
“I bit her. I sunk my teeth into her lips so deep I could feel the blood spurt into my mouth. It was running down her neck when I carried her upstairs.”
In Cain’s prose, passion and pain merge into an uncontrolled obsessive wild fire. In Garnett’s 1946 film the sadomasochistic passion runs at a lower flame, understandably since the production code would not allow such unbridled fervor. Still, Cain’s rough love comes through, the illicit lovers fight and love, trust and mistrust passionately, with Cora always the dominant partner and Frank the submissive male. The kind of traits so typical in film noir. Lana Turner, an actress of limited talent, does give us one of her finest performances, though she looks to have arrived from another world. The problem is she is too glamorous, too much the movie star, for a roadside diner wife making you wonder what is a gorgeous ruthless woman, with not one hair out of place, doing married to an old man in the middle of nowhere. She never convinces you that she ever waited on a table anywhere, not even at Schwab’s Drugstore. You never forget she is Lana Turner, movie star, subsequently this reduces the impact her character makes on the story, though visually she is stunning and knocks you out. Her movie star glamour becomes a distraction to the plot, a beautiful distraction but one nonetheless.
Garfield on the other hand is Frank Chambers, a drifter, a wanderer, going nowhere, seduced by a beautiful ambitious woman hell bent on going somewhere. From the beginning, you know Frank is doomed, signals are given as soon as you see the “Man Wanted” sign he tosses into the fire when he takes the job at the diner. He is hooked and together they plan their pathetic scheme to get rid of Nick, Cora’s husband (Cecil Kellaway), leads to their doomed destination. Unlike Turner, you believe Garfield as Frank, a role in some ways similar to so many he has played in the past. Additionally, Garfield came from a working class background, a troubled youth from the Lower East Side of New York. He had the credentials.
Despite the sexuality and violence, the film is a fairly faithful rendition of Cain’s steamy lust driven work. This was Cain’s first novel, published in 1934, after being rejected over ten times by various publishers. Originally titled “Bar-B-Q” publishers Alfred Knopf purchased the rights and changed the name to “The Postman Always Rings Twice.” The book was a hit and various movie studios were interested in acquiring the property for the screen. However, this was 1934 and the newly enforced Production Code turned thumbs down on Cain’s lurid work. In spite of a promise made by censor Joe Breen that the novel would never make it to the screen, MGM purchased the screen rights sitting on the property for twelve years.
By 1946, the novel had been filmed twice in Europe. In 1939, a French version “Le Demier Tournant” directed by Pierre Chenal and as “Ossessione” in 1942 by Italy’s Luchino Visconti, an unauthorized adaptation. The victory of World War II was still fresh in everyone’s minds still, there seemed to be a dark void in the American psyche and post war films began to reflect this in works like “The Maltese Falcon and “Stranger on the Third Floor.”
Two more Cain novels, “Double Indemnity” and “Mildred Pierce”, reached the screen in 1944 and 1945, respectively. Billy Wilder, along with Raymond Chandler figured out how to translate Cain’s sadistic sex and murder into sly allusions and insinuations to get passed the censors. In 1946, MGM felt they could now dust off Cain’s first big hit and put it on the screen. Of course, much of the novel’s, sado-sex and violence would still have to be toned down; censorship had relaxed somewhat but not too much. L.B. Mayer wanted Lana Turner for the role who at first did not want to do it fearing it would be bad for her image. Mayer convinced her that this would be a stretch to show off her talent. Warner Brothers loaned John Garfield to MGM in what would turn out to a good move for all concerned. Garfield gave one of his most subtle and moving performances, which soon led to a more mature style in films like “Body and Soul” and “Force of Evil.”
One of the major criticisms of the film is the ending with it’s, strangely enough, religious overtones including Frank asking the Priest about him and Cora being reunited in the afterlife. It is an odd ending, considering one of film noir’s traits is its anti-heroes existential viewpoint, which the film’s ending is at odds with, unlike say, Siodmak’s “The Killers”, made the same year where Ole “The Swede” Anderson takes responsibility for his situation by accepting the consequences of his past actions remaining in his room and refusing to run anymore. It is like the filmmakers, after all that came before, the murder, the duplicity still wanted a happy ending and Frank while not ecstatic seems to accept his doom with a contented look on his face. This is partially why the film has met with widely diversified responses, some considering it a classic film noir, others saying Cain’s classic pulp fiction was ruined by Hollywood. The truth may rest somewhere in the middle.
Directed by Tay Garnett with a screenplay by Harry Ruskin and Niven Busch, the film opened in May 1946 to critical applause and large audiences. Cain however, was not happy with the changes made though he was impressed with Lana Turner’s performance, so impressed that he gave her a signed leather bound copy of the book. Off screen, Garfield was also “impressed” with Turner, as was she with him, enough so they had a short lived romantic liaison. Apparently, the sparks that flew on screen did not translate off-screen and the affair was over quickly though they remained friends long after the filming ended. That said, Jane Ellen Wayne in her gossip filled thin biography of Lana Turner states that Tay Garnett said while Garfield and Turner were attracted to each other they did not have an affair. So what is the truth? We may never know, though it is well known that both Garfield and Turner had large sexual appetites and they were attracted to each other.
In addition to Garfield and Turner, there are some nice performances by Hume Cronyn as the deceitful slimy lawyer, Leon Ames as the D.A. and Cecil Kellaway as Cora’s husband Nick Smith. The changing of Cora and Nick’s last name to Smith from Papadikis was certainly another attempt to sanitize the novel. In the book Nick was sometime even called “The Greek.” Audrey Totter, as Madge, who Frank has an affair with is wasted in an early role.
The final verdict? Well, the film is not the extraordinary classic some folks say it is. It is not up there with the two previously made films based on Cain novels, “Mildred Pierce” and Billy Wilder’s masterpiece “Double Indemnity.” Of course, few films are on the same playing field as Wilder’s film. That said, if you put aside the fact Lana Turner is just too stunning, and too well lit, to be believable as a waitress at a pit stop diner, and ignore the unsatisfying un-noir like ending, “The Postman Always Rings Twice” remains a flawed yet significant portrayal of ill-fated passion, and a ground breaking work in adult film entertainment.
Sources: The Postman Always Rings Twice – James M. Cain
TCM Website Articles
Lana: The Life and Loves of Lana Turner – Jane Ellen Wayne
Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir – Eddie Muller