We’d already done a review of one film adaptation of James Cain’s seminal novel, The Postman Always Rings Twice, but that one had been in Italian. The Hollywood version was actually the third to appear, after the Italian version and one in French.
Why? Well, like much else that was wrong with cinema in the 1940s, the Hays Code was to blame. The self-righteous thought police was hard at work back then attempting to control what people did and thought (plus ça change…) with the effect that filmmakers were loathe to do anything that might offend the censors.
If you ever wondered why people who broke the law–even the romantic, sympathetic ones–never got away with it it was because one of the articles of the code expressly forbade that.
If you wondered why kisses never lasted more than three seconds… ditto.
The main question, of course, is: in the golden era of film noir–a genre whose success depends on the basest of human emotions: lust, betrayal, greed–did the limitations on the films make them less than they could have been or did they have the opposite effect and force the directors to go above and beyond to get around the limits? We’ll never know, but the films that have come to us make me think the second is more likely,
Eventually, however, the studio moguls decided that, though the book’s subject matter was quite sordid, it was no worse than much of the rest of the genre, so they went ahead and filmed it.
This one is, perhaps, a slightly more faithful adaptation of the book than Ossessione, but the two are, of course essentially the same. The main difference is in the visuals. For some reason, the sense that the Italian version gives is that most of the action takes place during the daytime, while the American one is much darker and more nocturnal, probably because that was the predominant aesthetic of the genre, or maybe it was a conscious effort to separate the two.
Whatever the cause, it works. The film is a moody take on an already dark subject.
There isn’t really much more to say about it without rehashing the plot or repeating what other critics have said. My own recommendation is to watch them both. I think the Italian version is better at creating believable sexual tension between the characters–and, unhindered by the Code, at showing it–while the American version shines in the legal aspects and nighttime scenes.
Both are worth a look.