The Postman Always Rings Twice
Jack Nicholson | Jessica FUCKING Lange
Bob Rafelson | 1981
Sven Nykvist | Cinematography
Next month, the infamous and controversial remake of Tay Garnett’s 1946 Film Noir classic will be issued on Blu-Ray.
In 1981 I was I was 14 when my father took me to see Bob Rafelson’s gritty and darkly erotic take on an Old-School Hollywood movie. I was fascinated by the film. I remember thinking I would be bored, but it drew me like a moth to a flame. I remember thinking that I had never seen an actress so charged as Nicholson took her on that dirty kitchen table. And, I remember thinking it odd that I found myself rooting for the drifter and the sultry wife as they attempted to get away with murdering her immigrant husband. And, I recall being so shocked when Nicholson’s character beat Jessica Lange up to aid in their “cover” for the murder. I also remember feeling conflicted about the way the film ended.
At the time, I had never seen the original 1946 movie. But it wasn’t too long after I saw Rafelson’s take on it that I caught it on that “thing” we used to call “The Late Show” —
— and I was so very bored and disinterested with it. John Garfield seemed kind of gay to me and I thought Lana Turner looked sort of like a drag queen. There was a lot of style to it as this was classic Hollywood Film Noir, but it just bored me. There was no heat. And, I know I felt that it didn’t have that interesting look that, as I became older, realized was the style of Sven Nykvist. The lighting and the camera angles were so interesting to me at 14. Nykvist’s work still fascinates me. The difference is that now I understand why. I think I even told a friend that the old movie seemed flat and that everything about the lust or desire seemed like a bad play. Where was the passion? Where was the heat? Where was the frenzied obsession?
Years later, I attended an Art House Cinema screening of the Tay Garnett movie when I lived in Boston. Seeing the film in my late 20’s was an entirely different experience. It still felt fake, but the style of the camera work and the lighting was amazing. Garfield and Turner were beautiful to me. But I was still unable to “buy” in on their supposed erotic attraction. It felt as fake as the backdrops. The glam of it all seemed to get in the way of the story.
I saw this screening with a pal of mine at the time and mentioned the remake I had seen with my father. He was about ten years older than me and had seen it when it came out as well. However, he saw it with the eyes of a newly graduated college dude. He told me that he liked the remake but found it transgressive and borderline soft-porn. I didn’t remember it like that. He laughed and told me I was a kid when I saw it and then led me into a discussion about why would a father take his 14 year old son to see a movie like that. Blah, blah, blah…
I have not seen the Bob Rafelson remake since I was 14. I’m quite curious to see if it lives up to my memories of the carnal obsession and lust I seemed to literally feel. I wonder if I will, as middle aged man, believe the desire gushing from Jessica Lange. Or, will it feel fake? Will it feel like a movie trying to be edgy as cinema moved out of the free-range 1970’s into the more controlled and restrained 1980’s?
Will it feel as staged and phony as the 1946 movie? Will it be as cinematically beautiful as the 1946 original film? Will late 1970’s cinematography trump 1940’s Hollywood Film Noir?
I don’t know. But, I can’t wait to secure a copy of that Blu-Ray and find out!