Jessica Lange, The Postman Always Rings Twice

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Friday, April 08, 2005

Stephen Schiff

“… [T]he only thing I didn't get too much of -- didn't get enough of, rally -- was Jessica Lange. Lange has suffered her share of razzing over the years: she had the Faye Wray role in 1976's spoofy remake of King Kong (frankly, I thought she was the best thing in it), and then the thankless role of lusty Lady Death in All That Jazz. In Postman, she exudes a spacy, dangerous intelligence that reminds me of Tuesday Weld, and like Weld, she has a horsy, toothy, expressive mouth that can seduce someone one minute and hiss at him the next (whenever she kisses Jack Nicholson, you wait to see whether the kiss will turn into a bite.) Lange's sultriness is tremulous and a little scary; in her, violence and sensuality mingle with an eerie ease. She may carry herself with a model's casual grace -- her head erect, so that one can see the perfect line of her jaw -- but you sense a tension running through her like a live wire. In one scene, she threatens Nicholson, and the corners of her mouth begin twitching the way Humphrey Bogart's used to do--except that Lange's tic is fast and spasmodic and unplanned, as if a jagged energy were pouring out of her unbidden. Watching Lange's performance, one realizes that Cora is smarter and more complex than Frank, and nobler, too--that it is she who turns him into a monster and she who can save his soul. Jessica Lange is one of the few actresses around who can play virgin and whore at the same time; Postman makes me think she can play everything in between as well.”

Stephen Schiff
Boston Phoenix, March 24, 1981

David Thomson

“…. For the first time, Rafelson has a woman as the central character; and to that end he has opened our eyes to an actress written off for mere prettiness. Jessica Lange's Cora is really a "debut" as striking as Faye Dunaway's in Bonnie and Clyde….

“…. The movie is as erotic as it is not because of the flesh shown or the orgasms displayed, but because of the unerring awareness that two disconsolate people have found a happiness that transcends their traps and their own limits, and makes the act of murder seem unavoidable. Indeed, the central imperative has the effect of turning the Greek husband, Nick 9John Colicos), into a stooge overlooked in the awarding of motive.

“Cora is so much less voluptuous than Lana Turner in the earlier film, and so much more humane. Perhaps Jessia Lange is still one touch too thoroughbred. There doesn't seem quite enough reason for her to be sequestered in a back-road diner. Cain used her as something like narrative bait, and the movies are still far from the abandonment of a class system of glamour when looking at women. But the actress gives Cora an untidy, pressing inarticulacy that is dispelled whenever she can make love.

“Rafelson and Lange--and the deepening respect that the music and Nicholson's Frank bestow on her--have produced a movie about a woman's sexual desire that has no trace of male paranoia or hostility. Voyeurism gives way to intimacy and abandon. With the dropping of Cain's first-person narrative, the observing presence of the film makes Cora the most sentient creature: a core of passion canceling out the sleaziness of the melodrama….”

David Thomson
Film Comment, date ?
Get whole review!

“In the early 1980s, it was easy to make a case for Jessica Lnage as the most exciting and dangerous young actress in America. (Debra Winger was her closest rival, which may be a way of seeing how harsh America is on threatening young women.) In one year, Lange won the best supporting actress Oscar for Tootsie… and a best actress nomination for Frances… Moreover, having had a child by Mikhail Baryshnikov, Lange was in the process of winning away Sam Shepard from wife and family note he doesn't admire greatly Tootsie or Frances]. There was such ability and authority, yet still she had the wild-eyed, untidy manner of a young hitchhiker in Arkansas or Oklahoma. It was possible to believe in her unusual upbringing: intense devotion to the northern Midwest; time in Paris as a musician and dancer, before modeling in New York, and then the stunning aplomb that pulled off King Kong (76, John Guillermin) and supplied the comedy of that unfairly berated remake.

“…. Her breakthrough had come as a Cora worthy of James M. Cain in The Postman Always Rings Twice… , where she easily handled the neediness, the spite, and the lunging desperation of a woman who deserved more than roadside kitchens. This is still, arguably, her most complete and disturbing performance….”

Thomson
A Biographical Dictionary of Film
Third Edition (1994), p 420

David Denby

“Encased in white turbans and tops, Lana Turner's Cora was movie-queen sluttish--all studied poses of petulance, desire, repressed fury. Turner's motif was the lipstick that teasingly rolled out of her hand toward Garfield in the opening scene. One can't imagine Jessica Lange's Cora using much lipstick. She is meant to be not an eroticized image but an actual woman in heat, with blond hair falling on a dampened face and legs held apart, revealing strong white thighs. Jessica Lange, the ex-model who was the only good thing in the King Kong remake, uses her dreamy voice and her thin, slightly twisted upper lip, drawn back from her teeth, to suggest an inexhaustible erotic ravenousness. Lange might have had a triumph in this movie if she had been given some better lines and a handsome, vibrant young actor to work with. Mamet has dropped the vulgarities and the pulpy animal-woman talk that Cain wrote for Cora, but he hasn't put anything in their place. She's hungry, and that's about all she is; one gets a little tired of that mouth hanging open. When this Cora is matched with Nicholson's Frank there's no wild romantic tension: He's a squalid, aging failure, and when he dominates her, Cain's meaning gets reversed; she can't "destroy" a man who is already finished.”

David Denby
New York, March 30, 1981

Pauline Kael

“Jessica Lange has a beautiful camera face that is still relatively new to the public; she has been in only three pictures--King Kong, How to Beat the High Cost of Living, and All That Jazz, where she was swathed in gauze. (She seemed to be playing Our Lady of the Oxygen Tent.) Rafelson and Mamet don't develop Cora's character--they put her through changes instead. And, whether it's lack of training or of feeling, there are times when you can almost read in Jessica Lange's eyes, "Am I getting by with this? Is it all right?" But she's still the best reason for seeing this Postman. She has a great, expressive body. Though she seemed slender and willowy in King Kong and The High Cost of Living, here she looks good-sized--muscular but rounded, and with strong flanks. She stands and walks with her rump out proudly, and it dominates the movie. You have no trouble believing that Frank has to grab her. With her short, curly blond hair, a Japanese silk wrapper pulled tight, and a lewd, speculative smile, she's both seraphic and steamy. Her closeups are sometimes unusually revealing when she's almost still, but she also has startling moments--like her agonized expression when she hears the crunch of Nick's skull. Rafelson directs Jessica Lange very skillfully in many scenes; she's wonderful when she tries to fight off Frank's first assault and then snarls, "All right, c'mon," challenging him to show her what he can do. If there's something missing--if she never quite catches fire--it's probably because of the way the film has been distanced….”

Pauline Kael
The New Yorker, April 6, 1981
Taking It All In, p 180
["Shepardize" Kael]

Andrew Sarris

“…. There was neither romance nor electricity with Garfield and Turner, whereas with Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange there is genuine eroticism, though of a nonromantic kind. Lange, particularly, is a revelation as she suggests a '30s beauty like Frances Farmer unhobbled by censorship, or a softer Dorothy comingore unafflicted by Welles's misogyny in Citizen Kane. Rafelson is at his best, vis-a-vis his predecessors, with the sex scenes….

“Unfortunately, Rafelson, Mamet, Nicholson, Lange, and Company have made the sex so good that it overwhelms Cain's very skimpy melodramatic plot. Almost everything in this new production is utlimately stretched out of shape because of the tendency to allow the detail to overwhlem the design….”

Andrew Sarris
Village Voice, March 25-31, 1981
[last part out of context?]

David Ansen

“…. Why make it again? When Jack Nicholson and Jessican Lnage have their first sexual encounter--a no-holds barred mating on the kitchen table--it seems director Rafelson… and playwright David Mamet want ot do directly to the core of Cain's sadomasochistic sexuality with a freedom earlier filmmakers were denied. Sex and violence--and how they merge--will be the subject itself.

“If that was their intention, they haven't pulled it off….

“…. [Nicholson's] too innately sly an actor to be playing a victim of passion. Jessica Lange, however, shows that she might turn into an actress of some range. Her pale, thin-lipped beauty catches glimpses of the haunted, hungry Midwestern girl Cain had in mind, though her part is underdeveloped….”

David Ansen
Newsweek, March 23, 1981

Hal Hinson

“…. Streep doesn't inhabit her body in the way that an actress like Jessica lange or Debra Winger or even a beginner like Cher does.

“Jessica Lange is physically present on screen in a way that few movie actresses have ever been--Anna Magnani and Sophia Loren and, perhaps in a different way, Marilyn Monroe. In The Postman Always Rings Twice she anchors the character of Cora directly in her body: we can feel the suppressed rage and desire in her muscular neck and shoulders, and in the powerful curve of her back. One look at her and you know that this woman is no pushover. And from the way she cocks her head and narrows her eyes at Frank it's clear that there's not much in life that she hasn't seen before, particularly when it comes to men. In Postman, Lange makes no attempt to hold herself in physically, and her solidity on the screen is a kind of a challenge. It says, "Go ahead. Try to knock me over. Give it your best shot."….

“In Frances, Lange isn't as boldly sexual as she was in Postman, but she gives the character a primal vitality that is sexual in a more subtle way….”

Hal Hinson
Boston Phoenix, October 2, 1984
title ?
[left out little gen comments after Frances]

Stanley Kauffmann

“Cloning may be new in science, but it's old in Hollywood. Got a successful star? Clone him/her. Sigourney Weaver is patently being groomed to be another Jane Fonda. You don't have to adore everything Fonda has done to be mild about Weaver's chances. Now comes Jessica Lange, first noted in the remake of King Kong, whom some apparently see as a new Faye Dunaway. Lange can wear clingy cheap clothes provocatively, she has blunt sensual features, so in her new film she is put through a lot of sweat and sultriness to remind us of the early Bonnie in Bonnie and Clyde. But Dunaway--sometimes, anyway--is an actress of sustained power. No hint of that yet from Lange.”

Stanley Kauffmann
The New Republic, April 11, 1981

Monday, January 10, 2005


(originally posted 1/10/06)