The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981) Poster

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Underrated, but still not entirely realized
Dennis Littrell10 July 2002
This remake of the 1946 film which starred Lana Turner and John Garfield is significantly better than its reputation. The script, adapted from James M. Cain's first novel, is by the award-winning playwright David Mamet, while the interesting and focused cinematography is by Sven Nykvist, who did so much exquisite work for Swedish director Ingmar Bergman. An excellent cast is led by Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange, whose cute animal magnetism is well displayed. Bob Rafelson, who has to his directorial credit the acclaimed Five Easy Pieces (1970) and The King of Marvin Gardens (1972), both also starring Jack Nicholson, captures the raw animal sex that made Cain's novel so appealing (and shocking) to a depression-era readership and brings it up to date. Hollywood movies have gotten more violent and scatological since 1981, but they haven't gotten any sexier. This phenomenon is in part due to fears occasioned by the rise of AIDS encouraged by the usual blue stocking people. Don't see this movie if sex offends you.

Lange is indeed sexy and more closely fits the part of a lower-middle class woman who married an older man, a café owner, for security than the stunning blonde bombshell Lana Turner, who was frankly a little too gorgeous for the part. John Colicos plays the café owner, Nick Papadakis, with clear fidelity to Cain's conception. In the 1946 production, the part was played by Cecil Kellaway, who was decidedly English; indeed they changed the character's name to Smith. Also changed in that production was the name of the lawyer Katz (to Keats). One wonders why. My guess is that in those days they were afraid of offending Greeks, on the one hand, and Jews on the other. Here Katz is played by Michael Lerner who really brings the character to life.

Jack Nicholson's interpretation of Cain's antihero, an ex-con who beat up on the hated railway dicks while chasing any skirt that came his way, the kind of guy who acts out his basic desires in an amoral, animalistic way, was not entirely convincing, perhaps because Nicholson seems a little too sophisticated for the part. Yet, his performance may be the sort better judged by a later generation. I have seen him in so many films that I don't feel I can trust my judgment. My sense is that he's done better work, particularly in the two films mentioned above and also in Chinatown (1974), One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) and such later works as The Shining (1980) and Terms of Endearment (1983).

The problem with bringing Postman successfully to the screen is two-fold. One, the underlying psychology, which so strongly appealed to Cain's depression-era readership, is not merely animalistic. More than that it reflects the economic conflict between the established haves, as represented by the greedy lawyers, the well-heeled insurance companies, the implacable court system and the simple-minded cops, and to a lesser degree by property owner Nick Papadakis himself, and the out of work victims of the depression, the have-nots, represented by Frank and Cora (who had to marry for security). Two--and this is where both cinematic productions failed--the film must be extremely fast-paced, almost exaggeratedly so, to properly capture the spirit and sense of the Cain novel. Frank and Cora are rushing headlong into tragedy and oblivion, and the pace of the film must reflect that. A true to the spirit adaptation would require a terse, stream-lined directorial style with an emphasis on blind passions unconsciously acted out, something novelist Cormac McCarthy might accomplish if he directed film. I think that Christopher Nolan, who directed the strikingly original Memento (2000) could do it.

For further background on the novel and some speculation on why it was called "The Postman Always Rings Twice" (Cain's original, apt title was "Bar-B-Que") see my review at

(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon!)
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Postman is right, the second time around
jeffcoat23 January 2004
Twice is nice. Hollywood had to try twice to get this story right. Lana Turner was beautiful in the 1946 version, but Jessica Lange was something to kill for opposite Jack Nicholson.

Such raw sensuality would easily persuade a man to lose his very soul. Nicholson's part is certainly unscrupulous to begin with, but in Jessica Lange he finds a confederate with even less scruples. The legal loose ends that dangled in the earlier version are avoided this time with a more plausible chain of events... and the story ends when the story ought to end, instead of being dragged on.

Wonderful character and situation development, intriguing and engaging, even when you know the story. Nice twists of the story from the Lana Turner and Italian ("Ossessione" 1943) versions.
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Grubby film noir
Leofwine_draca25 July 2011
This novel adaptation was the second after a first movie in the 1940s. This one retains the period setting but ups the ante in terms of sexual content, featuring one of the most explicit sex scenes ever shown in a mainstream film which goes far further than any film before - or since.

The plot is simple in the extreme: the wife of a Greek man who runs his own diner, bored and neglected by her husband, begins a torrid affair with a drifter her husband employs as his mechanic. From there on in, the story gradually develops in often fascinating ways as the two lovers realise that only one thing's stopping their happiness: her husband.

The film is shot through with a grim and gritty emphasis, best realised by Nicholson's grubby mechanic. He's nobody's idea of a sex symbol, although Jessica Lange is quite ravishing as the object of his attentions. This focus on realism over Hollywood fantasy is what makes the film so watchable and, in places, uncomfortable as it becomes clear that the lovers have something of a sado-masochistic relationship.

Things move into courtroom-drama territory later on (featuring some terrific acting work from Michael Lerner as the lawyer) whilst handing a number of blink-and-you'll-miss-em minor parts to familiar faces (John P. Ryan as a blackmailer, Angelica Houston as - bizarrely - a circus owner, cult favourite Don Calfa as a circus hand, Brion James as a thug and Christopher Lloyd as a salsman).

I found the film to be sometimes compelling and never boring. It's one of those films you watch to find out just what happens to the central characters, a curiosity bolstered by the feeling that they're never going to unentangle themselves from this mess. Come the surprise climax,'ll have to see for yourself.
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A movie well worth seeing
silly-721 July 1999
I must admit I was quite impressed with Bob Rafelson's adaptation of the depression era novel, "The Postman Always Rings Twice". Jack Nicholson plays Frank, a vagabond who eventually falls in love with a sexy waitress named Cora,played by Jessica Lange, who reciprocates this love. However, there is one problem standing in the way: Cora is married, unhappily married, but married nonetheless.

Aside from an intriguing story, "The Postman Always Rings Twice" is a wonderfully put together film, as Rafelson does a splendid job delving into the characters and their relationships, as well as examining the problems associated with forbidden love. As a viewer, you truly feel the passion between Lange and Nicholson,(who both won academy award nominations), and you almost feel for their pain. In the 1930's women in America were at quite a different position than they are today. They were expected to stay with the husband no matter what the circumstances, as divorce was quite uncommon. Lange was very convincing as this trapped 30's woman who eventually broke free the only way she knew possible..

I definitely recommend "The Postman Always Rings Twice" for any fan of entertaining and thought-provoking movies. Although the character development is not quite as extensive as some of Rafelson's early work, particularly the 1971 classic "Five Easy Pieces", the movie combines an intriguing screenplay with superb acting to make its own statement.
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Raw, Gritty & Explicit
seymourblack-126 April 2012
Warning: Spoilers
It's easy to understand how attractive it must have seemed to make a 1980s movie of "The Postman Always Rings Twice". James M Cain's famous depression-era melodrama had already been successful as a book (1934) and a movie (1946) and a 1980s version could obviously benefit from the advantages of being made in colour and at a time when censorship constraints would be far less strict than they had been in 1946. The result is a production in which this story of lust, adultery, murder, blackmail and "the hand of fate" is told in a style which is far more raw, gritty and explicit than the 1946 movie.

Frank Chambers (Jack Nicholson) is a drifter who stops for a meal at a remote countryside diner / filling station somewhere outside L.A. and decides to stay a little longer after catching sight of the establishment's attractive cook called Cora (Jessica Lange). Cora's the wife of Nick (John Colicos) who's the considerably older Greek proprietor of the business. Nick offers Frank a job as a mechanic and soon Cora and Frank are involved in a passionate affair.

After the couple fail in an attempt to run away together, they decide to murder Nick. They succeed at the second attempt but soon Cora is put on trial for the crime. The prosecuting attorney succeeds in getting Frank to betray Cora but some slick work by her lawyer results in her being acquitted. After the trial, Frank and Cora resume their relationship and a succession of surprising developments culminate in a tragic conclusion.

Frank is a man whose misfortunes don't simply emanate from his weakness or the consequences of making a wrong turn in his life. He's a violent, petty criminal who's driven by lust, but nevertheless, seems more in control of his destiny than is typical of a noir protagonist. In this version of the story, in an interpretation which is probably more realistic, he's more cynical and brutal than John Garfield's 1946 incarnation and as a result is a far more unsympathetic character.

Jessica Lange's Cora is also different from Lana Turner's as she seems much too strong and spirited to be as trapped as she claims and also doesn't have the kind of mystique or ambiguity which makes it seem credible that she could've been harbouring dark thoughts about killing Nick for some time.

The ways in which the characters of Frank and Cora have been changed is interesting to watch but the same can't be said of the changed ending which lacks both the irony of the original and its significance to the story's title.

This movie is strong on atmosphere and intensity and convincingly evokes the period in which the action is set. Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange are excellent in their roles and the supporting cast (particularly John Colicos) is also very good.
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an original remake
RanchoTuVu30 September 2005
A remake of the 1946 film, this version features Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange, with a momentous white hot chemistry that can't possibly sustain itself but affords a memorable scene in the restaurant kitchen about ten minutes into the film which leads to the eventual plot to do in her older Greek husband. A story wherein neither would have the nerve to do such a thing alone, but together they make a job of it on one of the darkest nights and darkest rural roads ever. The trial for the murder features another couple of great performances by Michael Lerner as the resourceful to a fault defense attorney (if you were on trial for your life, you'd want this guy for a lawyer), and his investigator who becomes a menacing presence later in the film, played by John P Ryan. Very nicely photographed in color, it's set in the coastal hills and valleys north of LA, dotted with live oaks and capturing the rich earthy tones of the late afternoon golden hued hillsides that nicely contrast with the desperate story of the two lovers.
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Jason P4 October 2006
Warning: Spoilers
A fantastic story and i truly loved the film because i did not know why on earth it is called the postman always rings twice until right at the very end. The film made me think and it gave me goosebumps when i discovered at the end when the title and story of the film fitted perfectly together. I recommend this film to people who have a love for great movies. But it is always great when you have no idea what is about to happen and if you have not read the book or seen the original. Jack is always great to watch and this film is one of his best projects.

I thought the sexy scenes were great and they portrayed a vast amount of passion. To be honest, unfortunately i think that evil wins in real life but i like the idea and message that the film sends.
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Inconstant Nymphos.
Robert J. Maxwell2 March 2006
Warning: Spoilers
*** This comment may contain spoilers *** It's the story that James M. Cain might have written if the period had permitted it. Here is Jessica Lange, sensuously kneading dough on the baking room table and practically radiating oestrus. Here is her husband, Nick the Greek, oily, drunk, spitting his plosives all over everybody. And here is Nicholson as the reckless drifter who eases himself into Nick's confidence and forces himself into Lange's pants.

The engine behind the plot is raw sex that turns to a rocky kind of love affair and then to murder and tragedy. Cain couldn't write the sex scenes in this movie, not even in Snappy Stories pulp magazines, the kind with covers showing some gorgeous doll with the shoulder of her dress ripped and a bra strap showing and some goon with a gun lurking in the shadows behind her.

You can't help comparing it to the 1946 version with John Garfield, Lana Turner, and Cecil Calloway. The earlier movie is much sleeker, more compact, and brought up to date, and the characters are sketched in with greater simplicity.

This one is a period picture. The time is the 1930s and the production design is just fine. They're always tooling around in cars. What cars they had in those days -- that yellow Model A convertible roadster with the rumble seat! I loved the one I once owned, even though I could never find replacement parts for it. The old days are gone forever. (Sob.) Anyway, neither Nicholson nor anyone else loves the cars as much as Nicholson winds up loving Lange, and vice versa.

There is a slight problem in this bond between the two of them, namely Nick the Greek. He's a nice enough guy -- trusting, not too bright, has ties to a vibrant Greek community which we don't see much of. As a matter of fact, except for some occasional run-ins with the law, this curious trio seems to live all alone at the Twin Oaks Roadside Stand.

Nicholson is required to show some range and he does a splendid job -- by turns dumb, sleazy, and horrified. Lange doesn't quite do the job that Nicholson does but she's more than adequate. When she finally gives in to Nicholson on the butcher block table she makes us believe it. The writers, though, have given her a strange and unanticipated quirk. After she's just watched Nicholson bash in her husband's head with a giant socket wrench, and she's just been severely punched in the face (twice) and knocked to the dirt among the shrubbery, she gets a case of the hots and invites Nicholson to join her in an al fresco romp. It just doesn't belong. Neither does Nicholson's brief tryst with Angelica Huston as a comic circus lion tamer. And it IS a little hard to swallow the notion that Lange is converted into a law-abiding, pregnant, willing Hausfrau because of her mother's death -- given that, until then, we didn't even know she had a mother.

But those are relatively minor issues. Overall, this is a superior movie, "gritty", as they say. Nicholson, unlike Garfield in 1946, looks like he really works at his job. What filthy hands. Not much can be said for his mind either. By the time he and Lange are reformed, the postman is at the door again.
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She's tired of what's right and what's wrong...
JasparLamarCrabb27 April 2006
Immensely watchable, this remake of the 1940s classic is sexed up by writer David Mamet and director Bob Rafelson. Jack Nicholson is a drifter who ingratiates himself into the lives of roadside diner/gas station owner John Colicos and his impossibly sexy wife Jessica Lange. Soon Lange and Nicholson are having sex EVERYWHERE...and plotting to bump off Colicos. Aided by great cinematography by Sven Nykvist and very evocative production design by George Jenkins, Rafelson manages to capture James M. Cain's ironic novel and all it's sordidness. Nicholson is terrific but Lange gives a career making performance...this is the movie that put her on the map after the KING KONG debacle. There are times when she acts Nicholson off the screen. Colicos is fine, if a bit old for his role and Michael Lerner is in it too. Anjelica Huston has a really odd cameo as a lion tamer!
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Passionate movie!!
vinniejo28 November 2007
Warning: Spoilers
'The Postman always rings twice' can qualify as a very under-rated movie. Despite its flaws, it's one of those movies which have touched my heart. The complex relationship between the two leading characters is one of the most intriguing relationships that I have observed. The movie is about a bond which is formed between Jack Nicholson & Jessica Lange. Jack is a vagrant who visits a highway hotel owned by Jessica Lange's husband, an old commoner. He ends-up seducing Jessica Lange who falls for his charm & his attractive demeanour. They carry their relationship, the same way till a point, where they decide to kill Jessica's husband.

After his murder they, they undergo an investigation & later realize that their relationship is not as rosy as it used to be due to their oversight of each other's shortcomings. But they still manage to hold on to each other due to a bond between them & because of their affection. It ends in a tragedy with the death of Jessica Lange, which is sort of an anticlimax, but it is presented in an original way. The movie gave me the same feeling which I got from reading the novel 'Love Story' by Eric Segal. The best aspect of the movie is the performance of Jack Nicholson & Jessica Lange which are astounding. Their love making scenes are the most passionate love making scenes I've ever seen in movies & their chemistry is simply awesome. Jessica looks like a million bucks in this movie. It is one of those rare movies which is definitely worth watching for someone who is a fan of character driven movies with complex relationships.
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