Film Review: The Postman Always Rings Twice
In 1946, Tay Garnett released The Postman Always Rings Twice, based off 1934 the novel of the same name by James M. Cain. Starring Lana Turner, John Garfield, Cecil Kellaway, Hume Cronyn, Leon Ames, Audrey Totter, Alan Reed, and Jeff York, the film grossed $5.09 million at the box office. The third filmed version of the novel, it was the first to use the original title.
After Frank Chambers drifts into a California town looking for a good meal, he winds up finding that, a job, and a woman named Cora with whom he has a passionate affair. Wanting to start over and live a new life, but not lose the diner she and her husband own, she and Frank decide to murder her husband Nick. But then there’s the consequences of their actions and how they must deal with them.
Though possibly dated by it's name, due to mail carriers no longer ringing or making tenants known of their presence as they drop off mail, The Postman Always Rings Twice is a pretty compelling film. Told from the perspective of Nick as he's telling the story to a priest before his execution, it's possible that his recollections of the film's events are unreliable in order to make himself look better. The biggest example is in how he makes Cora out to be. In his recollection, she’s a femme fatale who ensnares and seduces him before getting him to help her kill her husband so she can start over with him. Now, there’s no doubt that Frank and Cora killed Nick, Frank’s not unreliable there. However, he may be trying to make himself come off as having been roped into doing it and instead, the whole affair, plan to kill Nick and running off with Cora could have been all his idea. Though there’s no real incentive for him to spin a version of events to the priest, it’s interesting to think about.
On the other hand, the above interpretation could also be very well off base because while Nick is telling the priest the whole story, we do see his initial meeting with Cora. Her introduction begins with Frank noticing Cora’s attractiveness with the camera starting at her feet, lingering on her legs and then cutting to show her wearing revealing shorts and a top that bares her midriff. What’s more is that it’s established that she simply married Nick because she wanted everyone else in town to stop hitting on her. Someone tired of all the attention and thus marrying someone not out of love, but out of a desire to be rid of all those eyes will undoubtedly have a mind crafty enough to figure out a plan for getting out of the marriage when a person they actually do think they'll love comes along.
As stated above, it's entirely possible that the film is possibly dated just from it's name. What's interesting about this is that the original novel never gave an explanation of why it had that name, causing people to finish with questions about why it was called that only to make up their own theories. The film doesn't do this and fascinatingly diverges from the source to present its own solution to the name. The film has Frank commenting about getting off for murdering Nick, but when Cora died accidentally, he’s getting the death penalty for the crime he didn’t commit, but he still sees himself as being punished for one he did. He explains it that the postman rang the first time, but getting off without a sentence, he wasn’t there to answer. However, he notes the postman will always return and the second time, he’s always heard. It’s a compelling way to give the film some extra symbolism where the book didn’t have it.
Also notable is whether or not Cora trapped Frank with her feminine wiles, he's still prevented from coming out on top because of the false conviction of her murder from the car accident. Being kept from getting out of jail living the rest of his life rather than undergoing an execution is an intriguing way to lead Nick to come up with the explanation of the film's title.
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