Posted by B.J. Burrow on Mar 13, 2013 in Apex Publications Blog: Matters of SF, Fantasy, and Horror | 0 comments
I wanted that woman so bad I couldn’t even keep anything on my stomach.
The Postman Always Rings Twice, pg. 9
James M. Cain
And we’re off, hurtling down a back road through a lattice work of shadow branches cast by a fat-man of a moon. We’re only hitchhiking, so relax, nothing bad ever happens to hitchhikers or travelers.
But go ahead and cinch your seat belt tight, for the 128 pages of A Postman Always Rings Twice flies and doesn’t slow for the hairpin curves.
What, no seat belt?
Better grab onto something.
Named to “Modern American Libraries 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century,” The Postman Always Rings Twice is the black in the ‘Noir Painting Starter Kit.’
At the heart of Postman—at most all noir—the anti-hero must choose between the easy way out or doing things the hard way, the ‘morally good’ way. (Note: some anti-heroes have made their choices before the novel or film begins, but the choice has been made, rest assured).
Frank’s choice: how badly does he want Nick Papadakis’s wife.
Lesley Conner does a great riff listing the ‘noir cliches that aren’t cliches‘ and number 2 on her list is: Dialogue.
Let me tell you, James M. Cain can write some dialogue:
Cora: We’re down here together. But we’re not up high any more. Our
beautiful mountain is gone.
Frank: Well what the hell? We’re together, ain’t we?
A slim, powerful novel, The Postman Always Rings Twice haunts.
When I began thinking about this blog entry, my thoughts turned first to Cain’s wonderfully dark novel (and I double dog dare you to read it in color). Second, I turned to Tom Piccirilli’s new noir novel, What Makes You Die. Mr. Piccirilli’s novel is about a screenwriter trying to claw his way back into ‘Hollywood,’ which dovetailed my thinking nicely into the life of John Garfield, the lead of the 1946 movie version of The Postman Always Rings Twice. Garfield’s life resembles a noir work—he is the anti-hero of his own life.
David Thompson refers to John Garfield as, “rugged, half-ugly, and belligerent.”
Garfield’s career peaked in the 40′s, coincidentally the time noir was reaching its peak of popularity (a peak that might be attainable again with the help of a growing interest in the genre, with movies like Drive and novels like Tom Piccirilli’s).
Things went sideways for John Garfield when the House Committee on Un-American Activities knocked on his front door. HUAC created a mafia style pressure for Garfield to Name Names:
Are you a fellow traveller?
We’re all friends here.
Who do you know that’s a commie?
(And I double dog dare you to think of this dark history in our collective past in color).
The choice for Garfield could not have been clearer or simpler: name names or lose your livelihood, your possessions, and your loved ones.
To not name names was the hard way—a thankless stand that many didn’t understand.
As producer Fred Loe said to Robert Authur:
“Right on this phone we will call the newspapers and summon a press conference for tomorrow. I will let you use this office, and you can tell the reporters exactly what’s going on. At the end of the conference I will roll a carpet from here to the elevator and I will have photographers lining both sides taking your picture as you leave… you will then get into the elevator… the doors will close and you’ll never come back… but you’ll be a big hero.”
Naming Names, pg 146-147
Many named names.
John Garfield did not.
A decision that effectively ended his movie career.
John Garfield did some plays (including Clifford Odets The Big Knife, based partly on Garfield’s own ordeals), but he couldn’t get ‘Hollywood’ out of his blood. He staged a comeback with director Michael Curtiz, doing an adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not entitled The Breaking Point.
The Breaking Point more closely resembles Hemingway’s story than Howard Hawks To Have and Have Not, but Garfield falls short of Humphrey Bogarts easy confidence.
As Eddie Muller, head of the non-profit Noir Film Foundation, recently pointed out on Turner Classic Movies, at this point in his career, John Garfield and the character of Harry Morgan closely resemble each others.
Garfield is a desperate man, close to his own breaking point and he infuses the character of Harry Morgan with a degree of pathos that leaves the audience squirming uncomfortably.
Garfield could now relate to noir in a way that he couldn’t when filming Postman–there is a raw honesty and anguish in Garfield’s Harry Morgan that makes one want to turn away.
The Breaking Point concludes with a powerful, surprising final shot that will linger on your soul like a stain.
The impact of John Garfield and his trials did not end with The Breaking Point. The Odet’s play, The Big Knife, was adapted for the big screen and premiered five years later, completing the awful cycle of life imitating art imitating life imitating art.
It is fitting that John Garfield inspired this bleak film noir and it is also an angry scream made by his friends against the injustice of all that are bullied and harassed.
Jack Palance landed the lead in the movie adaptation, for while Garfield played the lead on stage, before the movie could be filmed, John Garfield died of heart failure, aged 39.
Chris is an ordinary guy with a boring job, a perfect fiancé, and plans for a happy, if predictable, future. But when the dead stop dying and become, instead, simply “changed,” ordinary isn’t so comforting anymore. Wandering stray animals suddenly develop a taste for flesh and brains, and while most of the human zombies might be harmless, can anyone really be sure?
With the help of a morning show shock-jock who has recently turned into a zombie and the burnt-out walking remains of a businessman, Chris becomes the backbone of a fight for undead rights among the fear, prejudice, and uncertainty dividing the living and the not quite dead.
BJ Burrow co-wrote the screenplay to the SyFy movie The Monster Hunter (starring David Carradine). His first novel, The Changed, was released by Apex Publications. He lives in Austin, TX, with his wife Melissa and two daughters. Visit him on the web at www.bjburrow.net. He is proud of winning his fantasy football league four out of ten times. He is currently working on his second novel.