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The Postman always rings twice

The 1946 film noir from Warner Bros. Pictures

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Love, lust and murder. James M. Cain, John Garfield and Lana Turner make a fine, tawdry story

  • Feb 17, 2011
  • by
With platinum hair, dark eyelashes and pouty lips, Cora Smith is a slut to dream about. Or maybe she's just an ambitious, dissatisfied wife, married to Nick, the fat older owner of a greasy roadside diner. Or maybe all those banked flames of hers are getting too much fresh oxygen from tough, dumb Frank Chambers, who drifts into her life and watches Cora's lipstick roll across the diner floor to his feet. It doesn't matter. Fate is walking slowly down the highway toward Cora and Frank. Nothing is going to change what passion and murder will bring them, and the twist of ironic justice sets them up for a great ending. 

There are so many good things about this movie. The four obvious ones start with the story by James M. Cain. We're talking hot lust, dumb love and the kind of ironic inevitability that always comes in first-class noirs. There's the cynical display of the legal process, not quite corrupt -- what does justice have to do with the law? -- but rewarding to those who can best manipulate it. There's Lana Turner as Cora, no actress, but who makes believable the kind of blood-thumping single-mindedness that can turn a not-so-smart drifter into a willing participant in murder. She can offer sex and she can offer love, and neither we nor Frank is sure which has any truth. Frank will settle for the sex, but then he realizes with Cora he might have both. And there's John Garfield as Frank in a perfect performance as this flawed, gullible sap who thinks he can commit murder and call it love. All he wants is Cora on a hot night. He winds up wanting Cora for eternity, and is comforted that she'll be there for him. 

Do many people remember John Garfield now? He made a name on Broadway and an even bigger name in Hollywood. He was a committed liberal who was ruined during the Commie witch-hunts. By the late Forties he couldn't find work in Hollywood. All those studio heads who made money from his films didn't want to touch him. He was no Communist, just too liberal for the frightened suits. Garfield's film career was in tatters. He was a first-class actor but naive when it came to politics. He couldn't understand what was happening to him. He died of heart failure in New York in 1952 while trying to reestablish himself on the stage. He was 39. To see just how good he was, watch his reaction shots in this movie...when he first sees Cora...when he has to get in the car next to Nick right after he's smashed Nick's skull with a bottle...when at the end of the movie he reads Cora's note and listens to the DA. Garfield's last major movie was Force of Evil in 1948. These two films demonstrate just how powerful a screen actor John Garfield was and how much this nation lost through expediency and intimidation. 

But here’s the real story:
Frank Chambers (John Garfield) in The Postman Always Rings Twice
I couldn't keep my eyes off her. I couldn't keep my hands off her. Oh, Cora, wait for me.
I've always drifted from one town to the next. No plans. A few bucks, a few drinks are all I need or want. Dames go for me. I have 'em when I want 'em. Why not? That's what dames are for. I wasn't expecting anything special when I walked into that diner one night to have a coffee. It was just like all the others, smellin' of onions and grease. The fat guy at the counter was the owner. His coffee was as bad as his breath. Nick, he says his name was. What's yours? Frank, I says. I'll be back, Nick says, puttin' down the coffee in front of me. He slopped half of it into the saucer. Dead quiet, then I hear somethin' rolling on the floor…a lipstick rolling right to my feet. That was when I met Cora. You could almost see through that tight blouse she wore. Her white pants were so short I could've torn 'em off with one hand. She was so blonde, so warm. I wanted to feel those red lips all over me. It was a hot night and all I could think of was the sweat on her neck…how I wanted to lick her neck and have her on the floor right then. She might've let me, too, but Nick came back. I see you've met my wife, he says. I almost choked on the coffee. His wife? The thought of that fat old man on top her made we want to do him right then. I stayed around for a few days, doing odd jobs for Nick. Cora and I sneaked off that first night. Does a woman want it as much as a man? All I know is that Cora wanted it as bad as I did. She'd tell Nick she wasn't in the mood, but with me Cora was always in the mood. I swear to God that when Cora and I decided to get rid of Nick it wasn't just for the sex. She loved me. She'd learned what I could do for her in bed. No dame has ever complained about me. Funny though. I started thinking about what Cora was doing for me. Sex or love…what's the difference as long as you get some. Except with Cora I started to think maybe there might be a difference. Not one instead of the other, you know, but one with the other. Does that make me a pushover? We both killed Nick. Cora set him up and I smashed in his skull with a bottle. I thought it'd be easier to do than it was. Afterwards, when Cora and I got back to the house, I didn't think I'd want to have her right then. I was wrong. As soon as we lay down on the bed we started. It wasn't sex. It wasn't love. It was just…like we were comforting each other. Sounds screwy, I guess. I never did it feeling that way with any dame. Just with Cora. Didn't last long. Cora died in a car accident and everyone thinks I did it. They thought I'd killed Nick, too, but couldn't prove anything. I found out Cora was pregnant. I think it happened that night after we'd killed Nick. Maybe not. Doesn't matter. She wrote me a letter my lawyer just told me about. He thinks it might get me off the hook if I let him give it to the judge. When I read her letter I heard her voice again. I could smell her, touch her, love her. I tore up the letter. It will only be a couple of hours before my time's up. Cora, wait for me.
Cora Smith (Lana Turner) in The Postman Always Rings Twice
“Wait for me, Cora. Wait for me.” Oh, brother. When we were makin’ love and I’d say, “Wait for me, Frank, wait for me,” did he ever wait for me? Not a chance. Makin’ love with Frank was like a long distance runner (me) bein’ in a race with a sprinter (him). Frank always crossed the finish line before I even got warmed up. He thought he was so good in the sack, but he was just like all the others. Still, give ‘em a taste of honey and all a girl needs to do afterwards is let ‘em have a lick now and then. Dumb puppies, I call ‘em, not even house trained. Frank was all sex, no brains. Me? Let’s just say I know what I want.
Now I’m up here. I thought that car crash was the end of things. It’s not, and it’s weird. Everybody’s just hanging’ out, waitin’ around for something that never happens. Boring. I spotted a ramshackle gate with a rusty padlock on it. Must of looked nice once, but now it was covered with dirty, peeling yellow paint. An old guy was snoring in front of it. Hair growin’ out of his ears and nose. Spots on his hands. Ugh. I woke him up to find out what was goin' on. Old Pete was his name. I sure didn’t have to worry about puttin’ out with him. He was so dried up he’d forgotten what most old men keep tryin’ to remember. I couldn’t help noticin’ that every now and then his eyes would stray down to chest level. I knew I’d hooked him every time I inhaled.
I gotta get out of here, I told Old Pete. I don’t want my life to have been just a bunch of stinky fumbles with Nick and quickies with Frank. I always wanted to be a movie star. There’s gotta be a way for a second chance. I worked on Old Pete for months. No hanky panky either. He ‘d been stuck judgin’ others for so long he was sick of it. All he wanted was to nap and, well, yeah, sneak a look at my sweater. “You’re a good kid, Cora,” he told me, watching me breathe. “Can’t hardly blame you for Nick. After all, it was Frank Chambers who actually swung the bottle. But I can’t make anyone a movie star. Tell you what. I’ll fix it so you start over as a waitress at some drugstore in Hollywood. Keep your hair blond, your sweater tight and lick your lips every time you peel a banana. After that, kid, you’re on your own.”
I’m goin’ down to start my new life in a few minutes. Old Pete says I won’t remember much. He warned me about freeloaders and gangster boyfriends. Yeah, yeah. If it wears pants and shaves, I can handle anything.
Old Pete told me Frank is due to arrive in a couple of hours. “Wait for me, Cora. Wait for me.” Fat chance. 

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More The Postman always rings twice reviews
review by . February 15, 2012
Outstanding film
Sparks ignite when drifter Frank (John Garfield) meets bombshell Cora (Lana Turner). There’s no denying the attraction between them but she’s married, so they begin to think of ways they can get rid of her husband and live happily ever after.      This is a memorable movie thanks to the earthy and charismatic Garfield. He’s tough and vulnerable and sees Cora as his one chance to turn his life around. Turner is perfectly cast as the sultry wife; dressed almost …
review by . November 07, 2009
This film does for film noir what what The Matrix did for Sci-Fi, it defines a genre and breaks new bounds in the 40's at least, This classic film is undeniably one of the best that has ever been put to film it's dark themes and it's high level of sexual tension makes it a must see for Noir lovers and for classic film lovers as well.         The postman always rings twice is not what you'd call anything groundbreaking in the classic film genre but it is a very good …
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C. O. DeRiemer ()
Ranked #32
Since I retired in 1995 I have tried to hone skills in muttering to myself, writing and napping. At 75, I live in one of those places where one moves from independent living to hospice. I expect to begin … more
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When drifter Frank Chambers stops at a small dinner not too far from L.A.  He goes there just to get a meal and get moving, but insteasd  get's offred a job by the drunk  and  oblivious  owner of the  dinner. Frank not knowing wether or not this would be good for him  happily  accepts  his offer for a job. But not before seeing  the owner Nick's wife Cora. Soon enough Frank and Cora begin an affair and the greedy Cora wants Frank to help her do one thing, kill her Husband.
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