Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Playsuit Always Rings Twice

When I think of film noir, I almost always think of The Postman Always Rings Twice or Double Indemnity, both based on novels by James Cain. While Postman is not my favorite film in the genre , there is one thing I absolutely love in this movie and that is Lana Turner's wardrobe. She is ironically clothed almost entirely in white. We are first introduced to her character by a rolling white tube of lipstick moving toward the camera. The camera follows along with John Garfield's hungry eyes back up toward Lana standing there head to toe in the white playsuit with that quirky turban and those to die for peeptoe platform pumps. She wears white when she sets out to murder her husband-- a white wool trench and matching beret. She wears white to the beach and on the day she dies, her character exiting with a lipstick rolling off camera. I love the iconic white keyhole dress and the dozen matching white waitress uniforms with "Twin Oaks stenciled on the sleeve. I love that one evening she sits while her husband plays the guitar and polishes her white workshoes, a nother pair of to die for white platform maryjanes. Pretty much I love everything about this movie that has to do with clothes.

The wardrobe works wonderfully, as irony but also to complement Turner's platinum locks which read as white on the silver screen. A further irony, her trademark hair makes make but rare appearances as she is often veiled, hatted, hair-netted or turbaned. At one point John Garfield spots a sexy red headed waitress and says "I'm going to try to work that blond out of my system." Appropriately the waitresses dress is isn't white. The subtle message by the filmakers here is that though their relationship is sordid and wrong their is a kind of purity in it. They do love one another. It's not all just about sex.

The only scene in the film where Turner isn't clad in white is the one in which she and Garfield face down a sleazy cop who tries to blackmail them. Though they aren't exactly sympathetic characters at this point, after all they just murdered a nice man who happened to be in the way of their ambition, they are almost victims of a corrupt authority. As their love affair begins to unravel under the inevitable suspicion and bad karma resultant from their crime, Lana remains in black.

She returns to white in the final scenes as the couple go to somewhat ridiculous lengths to regain their trust and in a way, purify their relationship. They go swimming. They just keep swimming until one of them is about to drown and needs the help of the the other to return to shore. I said at the beginning of my post that Postman isn't may favorite film noir. I think part of it has to do with this kind of nonsensical plot devlopment. It's not just a problem with the movie, but the genre as a whole. As a piece of symbolism, as an allegory about good and evil, Postman works and so does film noir. As a reflection of the way the world actually is, I think the genre is hopelessly muddled. In attempting to show the dark side of life in the paradigm of the Hayes code where evil always had to be punished, we get a very skewed version of reality. I'm much fonder of the 1970s versions of film noir Chinatown (1974), The Long Goodbye (1973) and Farewell My Lovely (1975) which are able to trade in ambiguous morality and remain entertaining detective stories. I hate the remake of Postman (1981) though because rather than address the moral ambiguities presented in the novel in a more honest way, it simply dumps a bucket of sex onto a story that really didn't need it. If there's one thing, besides wardrobe, that the original film really got right it was the chemistry between Garfield and Turner.


kittenbiscuits said...

I adore this movie. I love the little bit of camp and its sexiness. But I absolutely love John Garfield and think he is amazing in this. Lana Turner is so sexy and and over the top. Their chemistry? Amazing.

The first time I saw it, I didn't know how I felt about it. The next two times? Yeah, I was hooked.

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Anonymous said...

Super review, and a nice, exhaustive cataloging of Turner's outfits in the film, which were definitely a standout.

I found your blog while Googling "Lana Turner" and "playsuit," to find out if the outfit in which she first appears could properly be called a playsuit. I was surprised to see your blog name, since it's similar to mine (a coincidence, I swear!), which catalogs my obsessive project of watching classic films in the order they were released.

Anyway, I enjoyed your blog quite a bit, and look forward to reading more of it.

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