The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981) / Drama-Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for strong sexuality, violence and language
Running Time: 122 min.
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Jessica Lange, John Colicos, Michael Lerner, John P. Ryan, Anjelica Huston
Director: Bob Rafelson
Screenplay: David Mamet
Review Published February 28, 2004
The 1981 version of The Postman Always Rings Twice marks the second time that the novel of the same name by James M. Cain, author of such noir classics as "Double Indemnity of the Third Kind", "Mildred Pierce", and "Out of the Past", has been made into a film, with the first attempt being the Lana Turner classic from 1946. This more modern version is generally considered to add nothing much to the original film, save for the very steamy sex scenes and more graphic violence. It's also notable for being the first major motion picture screenplay for playwright David Mamet (The Untouchables, Glengarry Glen Ross), and while not one of his most refined works, it does offer a bit more humanity to the characters than had been the case incarnations. Unfortunately, the albatross for this production comes from the botched ending, which may give some closure to the tale but feels extremely abrupt and unsatisfying for all of the investment that we have put into the story up until that point.
Nicholson (As Good As It Gets, Batman) stars as conman drifter Frank Chambers, who stumbles into a secluded gas station in the countryside near Los Angeles in the 1930s, where a Greek immigrant named nick and his wife Cora run a diner. Frank is hired on to the establishment, but soon has eyes for Cora, and the two become lovers. However, they find that they have no freedom with Nick still in the picture, so plans are set in motion to bump him off and make it look like an accident.
Other than the aforementioned bad ending, perhaps the largest flaw of this remake comes from the fact that the two would-be murderers decide that murder provides a more logical alternative than just running off together, perpetuated by Cora's belief that Nick would find them no matter where they go. Personally, I'd rather worry about Nick than the cops breathing down my neck the rest of my life, although there is a subplot involving a life insurance policy that neither party claims to know anything about, further confusing the motives. Mamet's script does keep more in tune with the pessimistic attitude of Cain's novel, and the actors are as top-notch as you'd expect in their respective roles, with an especially sympathetic performance by Lange (Big Fish, King Kong), who alternates between innocence and sultriness with equal integrity.
If you can forgive the final scene, Rafelson's (Five Easy Pieces, Brubaker) somber delivery does provide a worthy showcase for the talented performers, although there is a depressing, dark atmosphere that some viewers may not find palatable. Nicholson and Lange fans will enjoy their performances enough to forgive the lackadaisical nature of some scenes, and those looking for early Mamet scripted flicks might want to give this well-written adaptation a shot. Even by today's standards, the sex scenes are quite racy, but the violent nature of them may make some viewers uncomfortable. In the end, it's a superfluous remake, but not a bad one, and with supercharged leads in full swing, lightning still manages to have struck as many times as Postman has.
©2004 Vince Leo