Lana Turner, as Cora Smith, in one of her white outfits, a lovely keyhole dress with a narrow collar and a tie at the neckline and a pocket on just one side.
“Lana Turner already had platinum hair. She’d been that color. So we left it for the film. The white clothing was something that Carey (Wilson, the producer) and I thought of. At that time there was a great problem of getting a story with that much sex past the censors. We figured that dressing Lana in white somehow made everything she did seem less sensuous. It was also attractive as hell. And it somehow took a little of the stigma off of everything that she did,” said Tay Garnett, the director of the film The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), in the book Lana: The Public and Private Lives of Miss Turner, by Joe Morella and Edward Z. Epstein.
Indeed, Lana Turner, as Cora Smith, wears white almost exclusively in the film. And white is indeed an unusual colour to be worn by a femme fatale. Choosing white may have had the purpose intended by director and producer – getting the film past the censors, but what matters is its great impact on the Cora Smith character and on the plot. Dressed in immaculate white (costumes by Irene), Cora is making you doubt her dark, murderous impulses. She doesn’t seem to be evil and she showcases such a wide range of emotions throughout the film, that she almost manages to get us on her side.
I think the element of white (I was stricken by it the very first time I watched the movie) and Lana’s interpretation, with her icy looks, whitering glances and undeterred determination – “I want to be somebody”, are two of the movie’s strongest points. Lana’s presence, glamour, beauty and style made her one of the top film stars in Hollywood from the 1940s through the early 1960s. In The Postman Always Rings Twice, she is focal point of every scene.
With a great plot, cinematography (Sidney Wagner) and musical score (George Bassman), beautiful interpretations from all actors (although Lana remains the highlight of the movie), the right femme fatale and right ending, The Postman Always Rings Twice is among my favourite noir films – you can read our review here. And it leaves a mark right from the beginning. Lana Turner’s entrance remains, to this day, one of the most memorable character introductions in the history of cinema. A lipstick rolls across the floor, the camera pans back across the floor, until it stops and takes a glimpse at a pair of white open-toe shoes, pauses for a few seconds on the legs, and then goes back on Frank Chambers (John Garfield), offering us his point of view, as he picks up the lipstick and sees Cora. The camera takes a full shot of Lana dressed in high-waisted short pants, cropped top with a deep V-neckline, a turban and a pair of sandals reproduced by Tay Garnett after a pair of blue suede sandals made by Salvatore Ferragamo especially for her in 1939. It’s obvious that from now on, Frank won’t be able to take his eyes off of Cora. Pure cinema making.
photos: screen stills captured by me from this Blu-ray edition, except for the first one, which is a publicity still | Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer