The Postman Always Rings Twice
James. M. Cain, 1934 (film)

The Postman Always Rings Twice was filmed twice in the USA (Dir. Tay Garnett, 1946) (Dir. Bob Raphelson, 1981). Of the two, the Garnett 1946 is the best known, featuring Lana Turner, John Garfield, Cecil Kellaway, Hume Cronnym, and Audrey Totter. It was directed by Tay Garnett, with a score written by George Bassman and Erich Zeisl (the latter uncredited). But the novel had been filmed had been filmed already in Europe as Le Dernier Tournant (The Last Turning) in France in 1939, and as Ossessione (Obsession) in Italy in 1942.

Both American versions stick fairly close to the plot of Cain's novel. The original is notable for the visceral attraction between Frank (John Garfield) and Cora (Lana Turner) since they communicated a desire then difficult to film due to censorship codes. MGM owned rights to make a movie adaptation of Cain's novel for 12 years, but it did not produce a project earlier because of fears that its themes of adultery and murder would run afoul of the Motion Picture Production Code that began to be rigorously enforcedjust as they had acquired the rights. After Paramount released its adaptation of Double Indemnity MGM decided to proceed with the film in 1944.

Though Indemnity included much the same moral taboo sand its then daring sexuality, it was more daring in its visual style. Postman's scenes are brightly lit and many are exteriors, but carefully crafted shadows unite and divide Garfield and Turner in the car-accident and mutual betrayal scenes.

Bosley Crowther, of The New York Times, was one of many crticis at the time who praised the film, its acting, and direction: "Too much cannot be said for the principals. Mr. Garfield reflects to the life the crude and confused young hobo who stumbles aimlessly into a fatal trap. And Miss Turner is remarkably effective as the cheap and uncertain blonde who has a pathetic ambition to 'be somebody' and a pitiful notion that she can realize it through crime. Cecil Kellaway is just a bit too cozy and clean as Miss Turner's middle-aged spouse. He is the only one not a Cain character, and throws a few scenes a shade out of key. But Hume Cronyn is slyly sharp and sleazy as an unscrupulous criminal lawyer, Leon Ames is tough as a district attorney and Alan Reed plays a gum-shoe role well."

The 1981 version was produced by Lorimar and originally released theatrically in North America by Paramount. Based on a screenplay by David Mamet and directed by Bob Rafelson, this Postman starred Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange in what have turned out to be strong roles in both their careers. The film was shot in Santa Barbara, California.

  • Jack Nicholson – Frank Chambers
  • Jessica Lange – Cora Smith
  • John Colicos – Nick Papadakis
  • Michael Lerner – Mr. Katz
  • John P. Ryan – Ezra Liam Kennedy
  • Anjelica Huston – Madge Gorland
  • William Traylor – Kyle Sackett
  • Ron Flagge – Shoeshine Man
  • William Newman – Man from Home Town
  • Albert Henderson – Art Beeman

The film is most famous for the love scene on a kitchen table, which was so intense that many[who?] believed that Lange and Nicholson were really having sex on screen. However, this was vigorously denied by all those involved. Michael L. Stephens wrote that the film was

"notable mainly for its more explicit sexuality and typically intense performance by Nicholson." 21


 References and Further Reading

Cain, James M.  (1934)  The Postman Always Rings Twice. New York: Knopf.

___________.  (1936)  Double Indemnity.  New York:  Knopf.

____________.  (1937)  Serenade.  New York: Knopf.

____________.  (1940)  The Embezzler. New York: Liberty magazine.

____________. (1941)  Mildred Pierce. New York: Knopf.

Hoopes, Roy.  (1982)   Cain: The Biography of James M. Cain . New York: Holt.

New York Times, May 3 – 10, 1927.

Madden, David. (1970)  James M. Cain.  Boston: Twayne.

____________.  (1977)  Tough Guy Writers of the Thirties. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP.

Marling, William. (1986)  Raymond Chandler. Boston: Twayne.

______________.  ( (1995). The American Roman Noir. Athens: U George P.

McShane,  Frank, ed. (1981) Selected Letters of Raymond Chandler New York: Columbia UP.

Oates,  Joyce Carol.  “Man Under Sentence of Death,” in Madden, Tough Guy Writers (111-12).

Sikov, Ed.  (1999)  On Sunset Boulevard: The Life and Times of Billy Wilder. Wilder London: Hyperion. 26.