James M. Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice was previously filmed with movie star panache by MGM with Lana Turner as the femme fatale and John Garfield as the dangerous simpleton she pulls a fast one on. Garfield was magnetic, electric, dangerous and super-charged with a sexual energy that MGM never let their own stable of stars possess, so they borrowed someone from Warner Brother's. That was a genius move on their part. In an otherwise dull film, Garfield made everything watchable and interesting. He even gave the limited Lana Turner a boost. It is hard to imagine Turner's sexuality and movie star charisma in that film without Garfield's rough counterbalance. A remake was totally unnecessary, as this version proves over and over again.
It feels like this story was retold just so they could show the violent sex scenes, which explode with a dangerous carnal energy that feels more like a Discovery Channel special than anything you'd see normally in an American film. The way that Jack Nicholson clears the counter, violently tosses around Jessica Lange - who first threatens him violence before matching his challenge with one of her own, and starts slamming her around expresses everything you need to know about these characters. Lange ends up on top, in charge, in the masculine postion. Nicholson loves it, even if he's not totally aware of it. If the rest of the film had matched this one scene's perfect combination of desire and violence we might have had something more. But the rest is just perfunctory, as if the director had the idea for the sex scene and then just decided to lazily build a generic noir around it.
Or maybe if they had attached the correct ending instead of just leaving it all hanging in the end. In the novel the characters do indeed get into a car accident, and, yes, Lange's character does die. But Nicholson's character gets arrested, tried for her murder, and executed. The ironic twist of an ending took a book that was otherwise bland and made it something close to great. The movie feels unfinished by the time its reached its ending.
And no matter how game the performers are in their roles, no matter how great their chemistry, there's something off about the whole enterprise. Could it be that Jack Nicholson being hired to play a dim bulb drifter just doesn't sit correctly with Nicholson, the actor? He always seems so smart, blessed with eyebrows that work wonders and the intellect of an artist. To see him play someone so dim is just...wrong. He seems miscast, even if Nicholson can just stand still and give off the perfect air of menace and sexual charisma. The film truly belongs to his character, and if the central performance doesn't totally work then the film cannot possibly work as a cohesive whole.
But Jessica Lange practically secrets a sexual odor. Sometimes when she barely glances at the camera, she threatens to burn the film up. Her siren's call is not so much in her looks or voice, but in the fact that if anyone got too close to her they'd start to feel a pheromone reaction. Something would inflame their senses, they would become her willing love slave and partner. As long as she had a need for them, that is. The fact that she looks so fragile, neurotic and suburban only heightens her erotic allure. Girls like her aren't supposed to know or do these kinds of things.
Never thought that I'd say this before, but Postman needed more vulgarity to make it more memorable for something other than that sex scene. But what a sex scene it is! If only the rest of the film would of have the good taste to be so vulgar.