In “Francine St. Claire’s Mail”, it takes a bit to stomach Norman Rutledge (John Lynch). He’s a numbers man (accountant) who works at a company that’s very close to its ancestors, such as “The Crowd” and “The Apartment”. His life is rigidly organized and you could say he’s a bit obsessive-compulsive as well. He takes mail out of his box with a pair of tweezers and cans of food are stacked as pyramids in his kitchen. In a way, you hope that this guy will change because his non-social tendencies really need to be smacked out of him.
Enter Francine St. Claire (Kristin Hatmaker), whose starting her first day of teaching and introduces herself to Norman who doesn’t handle this well and soon tells her that his radio program is starting and he rushes inside. The only thing he can handle well is numbers, not words, as evidenced by the failed conversation with Francine and even his radio program is stacked heavily with numbers. This ‘50s style noir-type short is good in its production design, using colors sparingly in Norman’s apartment and not making them intrusive or completely outrageous. Outrageous enough is the fact that Norman’s place is populated with female mannequins, wearing different types of dresses.
Soon however, Norman’s rigid adherence to numbers is shaken up badly when Francine is distressed by the fact that she has not received any letters from her fiancée, Ralph (Justin Ahrens), who has been shipped overseas to fight in the war. Little does she know that Norman has been intercepting those letters (though not out of mistaken delivery), and is really taken by the words he reads, as if it’s the first time he’s seen such letters, which wouldn’t be very surprising. His house is soon filled with Ralph’s letters and he analyzes each one very carefully, even going so far as to make a chart that tracks what the letters say and what it can lead to, whether Ralph will call off the engagement or not.
Writer/director Patrick Ford does right by having Norman as a character that takes some getting used to. He has certainly not made this in such a way that audiences can like Norman immediately. John Lynch walks a very fine line between believability and parody in this role, and luckily he walks from the tightrope unscathed, keeping Norman locked as tight in his own world as possible, until Francine comes along and introduces herself. And as for Kristin Hatmaker, wow. In her role as Francine, Hatmaker is so charming that it wouldn’t be uncommon to immediately begin yearning for her return appearance as soon as her first scene is over.
As a whole, “Francine St. Claire’s Mail” has its quirks and might leave you feeling like you need to head into the nearest bar just to dive right back into civilization after spending time with Norman. Even so, it manages to make a pretty good impression and more so curious about what director Ford might come up with next.
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