Noirvember 2020, Episode 23: Ossessione (1943)
Directed by Luchino Visconti
Screenplay by Luchino Visconti, Mario Alicata, Guiseppe De Santis, Gianni Puccini
Based on the novel The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain
Cinematography by Domenico Scala, Aldo Tonti
Edited by Mario Serandrei
Music by Giuseppe Rosati
Industrie Cinematografiche Italiane
(2:05) Noir City International, AFI Silver, streaming
You know the story: a good-looking drifter, a bored wife, an offensive, overweight slob of a husband; uncontrollable desire between the first two characters with an even greater desire to get rid of the third character. You’re probably familiar with the concept from the original film adaptation of The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) or the remake from 1981. Like those two films, this version, Ossessione (1943), is based on the famous 1934 James M. Cain novel (although neither the book’s title nor author are mentioned anywhere in the film’s credits). Ossessione is also the best film version of the novel.
A drifter named Gino (Massimo Girotti) is discovered as a stowaway on a livery truck at a small, off-road station, where the driver kicks him out. It doesn’t take long for Gino to become disgusted by the station’s owner Bragana (Juan de Landa), nor does it take him more than a microsecond to discern that Bragana’s wife, the hot, tired, and overworked Giovanna (Clara Calamai), feels the same way. There’s serious electricity here.
Regardless of whether you’ve read the novel or seen the other versions of the film, any movie fan who’s seen at least a handful of film noir titles will know what’s about to unfold here. What separates this version from the other film adaptations is the sense of gritty realism and despair. The 1946 film starring John Garfield and Lana Turner tries to get down and dirty, but simply has too much of the MGM gloss to be as effective as the Visconti version. Yes, there’s more melodrama here, but there’s also more of an effort to make the film operatically tragic.
Another element that the MGM version could never have done (which would’ve sent Louis B. Mayer into a fit of apoplexy, from which he could never return) is to introduce a gay subplot when Gino meets a Spanish street entertainer (Elio Marcuzzo). The meeting of the two men becomes something of a turning point in the film, causing Gino to rethink things. It’s an interesting subplot that introduces the first of many complications in the film, the rest of which I will not disclose here.
In Eddie Muller’s Noir City International introduction to the film, he mentions that this was Visconti’s feature debut, which is almost unbelievable. Visconti was given a copy of the novel by Jean Renoir and was off to the races. The result is more than impressive.
Fans of the novel, the 1946 Hollywood version, or both should seek out Ossessione. You can find it at the Noir City International virtual film festival right now.