by John Farr
Movies set in diners.
The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)
Drifter Frank Chambers (John Garfield) rolls into a roadside diner and meets portly, good-natured owner Nick Smith (Cecil Kellaway), who offers him a job as a fix-it man. Frank’s not too interested until he gets a look at Nick’s white-hot wife, Cora (Lana Turner), a smoldering beauty trapped in a dead-end existence. Almost immediately, they become passionate, obsessive lovers, and matter-of-factly hatch a plan to get rid of Nick-for good.
WHY I LOVE IT:
Tay Garnett’s sizzling “Postman,” adapted from the pulp novel by James M. Cain, concerns fate, temptation, and the kind of irrational urges that drive people to murder. A gorgeous Lana Turner bewitches as the femme fatale, and enigmatic, underrated actor John Garfield plays the regular Joe who falls into her clutches. Garnett’s direction is solid and tantalizingly suggestive, as when Frank spots a lipstick rolling across the floor moments before he lays eyes on Cora. Garnett’s “Postman” delivers the goods.
Five Easy Pieces (1970)
Disaffected, hard-drinking oil rigger Bobby Dupea (Jack Nicholson) is not what he appears at first sight: Born into a patrician clan from Puget Sound, Bobby has turned his back on bourgeois comforts and a promising career as a classical pianist for life on the road with dim-witted girlfriend Rayette (Karen Black). Bobby’s drawn back into the family fold, however, when he learns his father Nicholas (William Challee) is dying.
WHY I LOVE IT:
One of the definitive, highly acclaimed films of the early-70’s New American Cinema, Bob Rafelson’s edgy, deep character study features complex and courageous performances from both Nicholson and Black. As an existentially pained outcast of upper-middle-class breeding, Jack’s pent-up Bobby is especially absorbing to watch, as he denigrates Rayette’s crass singing efforts or spars with a waitress over the vagaries of a chicken-salad sandwich. A moody portrait of alienation and unresolved pain, Rafelson’s Oscar-nominated “Pieces” will stick with you.
Levinson’s break-through movie takes us back to Baltimore, 1959, and into the lives of several high-school pals adjusting to young adulthood. The group includes Eddie (Steve Guttenberg), nervous about an upcoming marriage, Shrevie and Beth (Daniel Stern and Ellen Barkin), who’ve taken the plunge and are having a rough patch, Tim, a boozing rich kid (Kevin Bacon), and Boogie (Mickey Rourke), a sweet-natured guy with a gambling problem. The diner is their mainstay, the place they convene to break bread and discuss the issues of the day. Around this sanctuary we track their individual struggles, and with them, take comfort that whatever happens, there’s always the diner.
WHY I LOVE IT:
Levinson’s vivid, heartfelt ensemble comedy provided an outstanding showcase for up-and-comers Rourke, Stern, Guttenberg, Barkin, and Bacon. The script is funny and knowing, and the natural, often overlapping flow of dialogue gives off the authentic feel of improvisation. Levinson recreates the city of his youth with loving detail. A rich human comedy with a big heart.