Frank Chambers (John Garfield) is a drifter. His last ride drops him off at a hamburger joint. The owner of the “Twin Pines” is Nick Smith (Cecil Kellaway). Smith is a jovial older man who is looking for help. Nick decides to take the job for awhile to earn a little cash before he again gets the urge to wander.
Frank meets Nick’s much younger and very beautiful wife Cora (Lana Turner). Frank is immediately struck by her beauty. At first Cora is quite cold to Frank. Eventually she warms to him and they have an affair. Cora is fond of her husband but doesn’t love him. At one point Frank and Cora decide to run away together. They don’t get very far when Cora decides that the vagabond life is not for her. She may not love her husband but she does love the diner and wants to make it something special.
As soon as they return Cora and Frank start to plan to kill Nick. They plan on causing an accident in the tub that would result in Nick’s death. Things don’t go as planned. Nick survives the accident but is hospitalized for a week. The local state cop, Officer Blair (Jeff York) and the District Attorney Kyle Sackett (Leon Ames) are suspicious of Nick’s accident.
Realizing that he has no future with Cora as soon as Nick gets out of the hospital Frank takes off. He may be away from Cora but she is not out of his thoughts. He takes a job in Los Angeles at the market where Nick and Cora buy their produce. Eventually Nick sees him and convinces him to return.
Things are a little awkward between Frank and Cora until Nick tells them that he plans on selling the diner. His sister in Canada is paralyzed and he plans on taking Cora with him to live with her so Cora can take care of her. Cora is not happy with this news. It isn’t long before another plan is being hatched to get rid of Nick.
“The Postman Always Rings Twice” was released in 1946 and was directed by Tay Garnett. It is based on the novel by James M. Cain.
The original title of Cain’s book was “Bar-B-Q”. Cain’s publisher, Alfred Knopf didn’t like it and suggested “For Love or Money”. Cain thought that sounded like musical. Cain was also concerned that the title should sound like it actually came from an author and not a product of the “title factory”.
In a conversation with playwright Vincent Lawrence, Lawrence mentioned that when he was at home waiting for correspondence from producers he noticed that the postman, when he finally arrived, always rang twice. Cain liked that comment and decided to use it as his title. Convincing Knopf was not as easy. Knopf finally decided that since Cain was willing to give up his “Bar-B-Q” title that he would give up his “For Love of Money” title and go with “The Postman Always Rings Twice”.
Needless to say readers were puzzled. There is no postman in the book and nobody rings anything once, let alone twice. What does it mean? In interviews and in correspondence Cain said that this double ring by letter carriers was an old British tradition and that the double ring was a metaphor for delayed justice given out to the criminals and that, in the book, “postman” alluded to “justice”. It was all crap but everyone fell for it. In the end the made up reason works because instead of using a metaphor as the title, the explanation created the metaphor.
The film is well known for being highly sexually charged. Especially at a time where such things were under the scrutiny of the Production Code. Many critics have used the phrase "Garfield and Turner scorch the screen". I don’t think Lana Turner really needed John Garfield to scorch the screen. She manages to do that all by herself. The reserved yet obviously sexual Turner seems more goddess than diner owner’s wife. Putting her in white most of the time makes her shine brighter than her surroundings. There is a lot of atmosphere here. I can understand why Cain felt that Turner was the perfect person to play Cora.
Believe it or not, I wasn’t all that crazy about the script and I felt the characters were a little difficult to read. Either your evil and want to kill or you’re appalled at the thought. One minute you’re in lust with each other and the next you can’t stand each other. The way they waffled back and forth was a little confusing. I also felt that the whole strange court scene with the lawyer Arthur Keats (Hume Cronyn) was bizarre. In my opinion the best part of the movie was Lana Turner’s performance. Everything else was average.