Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Bellamy and the Postman always rings twice

http://www.frankbellamy.co.uk/unseen.htmChandler, Hammett.and James M. Cain. 'Who?' you ask. The third name is not often quoted as being among the founders of the hard-boiled detective novel of the American early 20th century. These authors of noir classics inspired a decade of MGM and Warner Bros. lone detective stories. Femme fatales, heroes who are no good but who take the consequences of their actions when the time comes and so on. Cain's other works made into films include Mildred Pierce (starring Joan Crawford) and my favourite, directed by Billy Wilder 'Double Indemnity' starring Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck.




But I want to concentrate on "The Postman Always Rings Twice" the 1934 novel which was thought to be inspired by the Ruth Snyder case in America. Frank Chambers (John Garfield, in the original film) is a drifter who stops at a rural diner for a meal, and ends up working there. The diner is operated by a beautiful young woman, Cora Smith (Lana Turner), and her much older husband, Nick (Cecil Kellaway). It soons transpires that the appearance of the young brutal drifter inspires Cora to chase her dream of being free of her disappointing life and together they plot her husband's murder.



The steamy opening to the film begins with the line "It was on a side road outside of Los Angeles. I was hitchhiking from San Francisco down to San Diego, I guess. A half hour earlier I thumbed a ride..." We see a man with itchy feet enter a gas station. He tears down the "Man wanted" notice, enters the diner and sits - being served a hamburger by the friendly owner. Nick, the owner has to leave him to watch the burger, as he goes out to serve a customer that has just arrived at the pumps. Suddenly in the quiet cafe, a noise is heard and the camera follows a lipstick rolling across the floor. The camera, acting as the narrator's eyes pans along the path the lipstick took and hesitates on Lana Turner's feet, and travels partway up her legs. We then see her full figure in a two piece with 40s shoulder pads and hot pants. The lighting is pure film noir shadow, but not obscuring the beautiful 'sweater girl' as she was known.



Steve Holland very kindly sent me scans of a postcard used to advertise a 1980s exhibition of Bellamy's work - more on that later. Bellamy has chosen to compose an illustration showing Cora, a self-possessed woman looking at the guy peeping through the cafe door. The other elements are a circular barstool and a glass display stand with sloping front used in cafes to display their wares. Bellamy's use of shadow here must have come from his work on cinema hoardings and cut-outs that we know he produced while at Blamire's Studio in Kettering in his early life before heading to London and his later comic strip work. The work also shows his earlier signature - more cursive than the later one - and puts the piece firmly in the pre-1950s. But after that we have no idea of where the piece is now. It was shown (the reverse of the postcard is below) at the exhibition "Unseen Bellamy" at the Basement Gallery, Brixton, London between the 15th of July and 3rd of September 1989, 13 years after Bellamy’s death. Several of the pieces that were sold have been tracked down and the corresponding catalogue (see the website for details)  which was published illustrates this very piece. But I'm grateful to Steve for this version as it's much clearer and in monochrome colour. The rear adds a bit of information I didn't know - there was a private pre exhibition viewing. I would have loved to have been there. I would guess among the invited would be the late Bob Monkhouse who collected many of Bellamy's works.



I have added the larger scans to the website just follow the 'note' link on the Unseen Bellamy page  to view Catalogue entry number 3 "The Postman always rings twice" by Frank bellamy....and needless tro say if you bought the original at the event I'd love to hear about your experience.


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