Mail on 'Postman' and 'Queen': No Stamp of Approval

I probably ought to quit mucking around in old movies and get into something up to date, like the essential innocence of Madonna, but I keep tripping myself up and have to go back and tidy up.

In recalling the movie "The Postman Always Rings Twice," I said that Lana Turner is drowned in the surf and that John Garfield, though innocent, is convicted of her murder.

Jim Beaver wrote that Turner dies in an automobile accident, not in the surf. He is right. I have reviewed not only the movie (in video) but also the James M. Cain novel from which it was adapted, and in each the heroine (if she can be called that) is killed in an automobile accident.

Garfield's conviction is a dramatic irony, because he and Turner did murder her husband but got off through a deal between their lawyer and the district attorney. But Garfield does not escape the postman's second ring.

Actually Garfield's conviction (the jury took only five minutes) is the movie's weakest point. Both his attorney and the D.A. know he was guilty of the husband's murder, but how could he be convicted of murdering his wife in a head-on automobile collision--an accident that he could not have expected to survive himself?

I understand how I could have remembered that Turner drowned. In both the book and the movie she insists that she and Garfield go far out in the water--so far, she says, she'll be too weak to swim back. She is afraid he wants to kill her and is putting him to the test. When she tires and begins gasping, he pulls her in to the beach. She realizes he loves her after all. In the book he is driving her to a hospital when the accident happens (she's pregnant); in the movie he's driving her home. The collision occurs when he bends over to kiss her.

I hope that clears up any misunderstanding about "The Postman Always Rings Twice."

The most remarkable thing about the movie is that it was made during the era of Hays Office censorship. The lovers' animal passion is merely suggested with kisses, meaningful looks and fade-outs. And, of course, Garfield's ultimate retribution probably satisfied the censors.

A far more embarrassing lapse is pointed out by Adele Krasner of Northridge. She observes that in responding to a complaint made by Dallas Williams, I completely missed his point.

Williams referred to a scene in "The African Queen" in which Katharine Hepburn's performance, which I called inspired, suggested that she had spent the night in the arms of Humphrey Bogart, the dissolute captain. Bogart merely opens one eye to see what she is doing and pretends to go back to sleep.

"OK," Williams wrote, "but it appears that the feminists have cowed you again, Jack, else why didn't you credit what must have been an inspired performance by Allnut (Bogart)?"

I pointed out to Williams that although Bogart's performance was excellent throughout, this one scene made no great demands on his talent.

"I don't want to insult your intelligence by explaining it to you, Jack," Krasner added, "so please read it over carefully until it dawns on you. Hint: Dal wasn't referring to Academy-Award performances."

As I say, I am embarrassed. I do not often miss a double-entendre and especially not when it has sexual implications. As any schoolboy would have known, Williams was referring to Allnut's performance as a lover (which was not shown) and not his acting.

As long as the door is open, I might as well give another word to one or two readers in the debate over censorship of movies.

"Your examples are curious," writes Robert D. Coleman of Ridgecrest. "For 'Casablanca' and 'The African Queen' are the finest possible proof that explicit sex is entirely unnecessary to make a great movie."

Good point.

Dorrin Navarro of Glendale argues: "The thing to remember is that those films (like 'Casablanca' and 'The African Queen') weren't about sex, really. They were about love. A more palatable subject for many, I guess, but no more artistically valid."

(I have never been able to figure out where sex ends and love begins, or vice versa.)

"Out from under the sword of the Hays Code, though," Navarro adds, "screenwriters have come up with 'Midnight Cowboy,' 'Last Tango in Paris,' 'Annie Hall' etc. These kinds of films were simply unfilmable prior to the 1960s."

I agree that many excellent movies were made under censorship; also that the lifting of censorship allowed the production of many movies with adult themes and explicit scenes.

That good movies can be made under censorship does not justify it. Censorship is simply not American.

In the long run, the ultimate authority--the public--will determine what kind of movies Hollywood makes.

Anyway, I knew that Hepburn didn't drown in the lake.

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