Sunday, August 18, 2019

On Dangerous Ground: The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), Pushover (1954)

The Postman Always Rings Twice (Tay Garnett, 1946)

Lana’s lipstick rolls into the future, past 
Garfield, into a land where we forever grow 
bold, then punished for our pains. Where 
luscious legs and white shorts, suggest a 
sleazy tennis queen, rather than a bored hash-
slinger. Where instructions are such that not
even a postman can comprehend. An indelible 
mark in a city where door-bells are essential, but 
ill-used, whether twice, thrice or, if not, Ice. 
Where loose change clinks payment in kind, 
and firewater seeks its own Production Code. 
Chiming noblese oblige: the customary 
murder, a hint of sado-masochism, maladroit 
lawyers and insouciant insurance investigators. 
Living in a less than wholesome world, a sad 
universe ruled by sleight of hand, swerving 
whiffle balls and working stiffs. Where
cynical private replaces that indifferent insurance 
investigator, where Frank and Cora are guilty 
as sin, sentenced to tear each other apart. That's 
the American way, insisting the world be set to 
rights, but not caring about the consequences. 
To counter unfavorable publicity, Lana is 
photographed on the set with two-year-old Cheryl
Twelve years later, the blood seeps from Lana's
big dong gangster-boyfriend, the stains forming 
question marks of suspicion. Laughter at a post-
shoot party Lana presents Garnett with a fur-lined 
jock-strap, while the ambivalent Cain inscribes 
faint praise in a leather-bound copy of his novel: 
"For my dear Lana, thank you for a performance 
even finer than I expected." Though he had never
expected much. Surely, when the doorbell rings, 
hints of honesty disappears through the letter-box; 
with no special delivery, to assuage the weak,
second-class ignorant, or recalcitrant hoi-polloi.

Pushover (Robert Quine, 1954)

You don't have to be a sleaze-bag to carry a
torch for Kim, twenty-five years Fred's junior,
strutting that June-bugged street where you 
live. A cop with a hard-on, so why wouldn't
she keep him on a short lead, playing him for 
far more than he's worth. Anything to off her 
crooked boyfriend, grab the cash and fade like 
bad surf. With the line: “Money isn’t dirty, just 
people.” Yeah, but,  if it isn't dirty, why bother 
to launder it? Reeling him in, the bait and 
switcheroo, forget the dosh, it's really love. 
That might play in Azusa, but it's a sucker-punch 
on the demeaning streets of Burbank, a push-over,
knowing it's only money through which  he can 
possess- I mean, own- her. That story has been 
rehashed so often it might as well arrive with 
its own breakfast menu. Looking up at her, 
the wounded Fred says: “We really didn’t need 
the money, did we?" Kim scoffs, would that be
rhetorical, or you just happy to see me. Stopping 
short of stupidity, not quite laughing, much less
spitting, in his face. A scene straight out of 
The Indiscreet Charms of the Petit-Bourgeoisie. 
But, wait, one mustn't ignore the sub-plot: Dorothy 
Malone, stalked and spied upon by another cop, 
the weird Phil Carey, who works overtime to turn 
Dorothy into a suburban homemaker. No wonder 
it's not to him, but her hostage taker, the wounded 
MacMurray,  to whom she scurries. As though 
Stockholm Syndrome has become a cultural 
necessity. A revealing moment, but no more so than 
Kim’s dress, an ideal commodity for scum-sucking 
purveyors of public decency, or those who seek 
clean surfaces,  in a Pat and Mamie kind of way.