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Film / The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)

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The Postman Always Rings Twice is the third and best-known screen adaptation of the eponymous novel, directed by Tay Garnett and released in 1946 (it was first adapted by French director Pierre Chenal in 1939 as The Last Turning with Fernand Gravey and Michel Simon, and then by Italian director Luchino Visconti in 1943 as Ossessione with Clara Calamai and Massimo Girotti). It is considered one of the key entries in the Film Noir genre.

Frank Chambers (John Garfield) drifts into a dusty rural California town, in search of a good meal. At the diner, he finds a meal, a job, and a beautiful woman named Cora Smith (Lana Turner). Within a small bit of time, Frank and Cora have a passionate affair. But Cora is married already, to a man she doesn't love. She wants to start over and live a new life with Frank, but not lose the diner. They see the murder of Cora's husband Nick (Cecil Kellaway) as a perfect solution. But how will they deal with the consequences of their actions, and will they get caught?


Compare the 1981 version with Jessica Lange and Jack Nicholson. Both the 1946 and 1981 versions are currently owned by Warner Bros., with the 1946 version being part of the Turner Entertainment library, and the 1981 version being inherited from Lorimar.

Tropes used by the film:

  • Adaptation Dye-Job: Cora has black hair in the novel, but she's played here by the blonde Lana Turner.
  • Bookends: Franks's relationship with Cora both begins and ends with a tube of lipstick rolling across the ground.
  • Bowdlerise: Notorious even in its day for toning down the source material.
  • Dead-Hand Shot: How Cora's death is revealed after Frank crashes the car.
  • Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life: Cora wants more than flipping burgers in a diner—and she definitely doesn't want to play nursemaid for Nick's sister.
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  • Downer Ending: They got away with the murder, but Cora is now dead. Frank is convicted of murdering her, even though she died in a car accident that genuinely was an accident.
  • The Drifter: Frank is just wandering from town to town when he meets Cora and Nick.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Frank is supposed to look after a hamburger on the stove, but he gets distracted by Cora entering the room and lets it burn.
  • Feet-First Introduction: Cora, in the most memorable scene in the picture. Following Frank's Male Gaze, the camera starts at her feet, pans up to (and lingers on) her shapely legs, then cuts to reveal her wearing shorts and a midriff-baring top. She makes an impression.
  • Femme Fatale: Cora, who lures Frank into murder.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Cora and Frank get away with Nick's murder—but after the car wreck that kills Cora, Frank is convicted of murdering her, even though it was really an accident.
  • Light Is Not Good: Cora, the adulterous and murderous femme fatale, dresses almost exclusively in white throughout the film.
  • The Perfect Crime: They left no evidence that they killed Nick. Indeed, one wonders why Cora's lawyer didn't take her to trial and win an acquittal instead of taking a manslaughter plea.
  • Title Drop: Frank notes that when a person is expecting to get a letter, it's all right if you don't hear it the first time, because the postman always rings twice. They got off murdering Nick scot-free, but Cora is now dead and Frank on his way to receive the death penalty. He says that the postman has indeed rung a second time for each of them. This is different than the novel. James M. Cain, who wrote the source novel, admitted that the title was mostly a non-sequitur.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: To the point of absurdity, with the scorching hot Cora married to dumpy diner owner Nick. Somewhat unconvincingly explained by Cora—she married Nick because she was tired of everyone else in town hitting on her.
  • The Vamp: Cora uses her feminine wiles to ensnare Frank. If you ever want to try this, it helps to look like Lana Turner.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Of the Snyder-Gray murder.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: We never find out what happens with regard to Nick's sister being cared for or the land deal for the Twin Oaks property.