Friday, August 22, 2008

Cecil Kellaway, 1893-1973

August 22 marks the 115th anniversary of the birth of actor Cecil Kellaway. A nice way to celebrate it would be to watch him in what is probably his best movie, The Postman Always Rings Twice.

Kellaway isn't the star; indeed, he spent most of his career playing supporting roles. Here, the stars are John Garfield, playing drifter Frank Chambers, a man who's got hot feet and can't stay in one place very long. At the beginning of the movie, he's hitchhiking, and gets dropped off at a roadside gas station/diner that's looking for help. Frank takes the job, and quickly finds that there's trouble brewing. That trouble is in the form of a blonde, the steamy Cora Smith, played by Lana Turner at her hottest. Frank and Cora immediately fall in love (otherwise, we wouldn't have a movie), but have a slight problem: Cora is married. The two come up with the brilliant idea of killing her husband Nick (played by Kellaway), and trying to make it look like an accident. Obviously, they were too busy to watch Double Indemnity, or they would have realized what a stupid idea this was.

Eventually, the two do kill poor Nick, but as Edward G. Robinson would have told them from Double Indemnity, Frank and Cora are stuck together, all the way to the end of the line. There's a trial, at which the two amazingly get off, although they -- and their attorney's investigators -- know that they're actually guilty. They can never run away from that guilt, either, and try as they may, it eventually winds up doing them both in. Crime really doesn't pay, at least under the Production Code.

The Postman Always Rings Twice was based on a novel by James M. Cain. The references above to Double Indemnity are intentional; Cain also wrote the novel on which that movie was based. Tay Garnett directed, and does an excellent job doing so, making Frank and Cora's sexual tension sparkle despite the restrictions that the Production Code placed on filming such stories. He was, however, certainly helped by the fact that he had an excellent cast. Garfield and Turner sizzle when they're on screen together, and Kellaway is excellent as the friendly, but rather naïve diner owner. Amongst the supporting cast, Hume Cronyn plays Turner's lawyer during the trial, and is quite good, too.

The Postman Always Rings Twice, being a major motion picture, is naturally available on DVD, so you don't have to wait for TCM to show it.

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