The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981)

R | 123 mins | Drama | 20 March 1981

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HISTORY

The summary and note for this entry were completed with participation from the AFI Academic Network. Summary and note were written by participant Maren Anderson Johnson, a student at University of Washington, Seattle, with Jennifer Bean as academic advisor.

The Postman Always Rings Twice was the fourth feature film adaptation of James M. Cain’s 1934 novel of the same name, as stated in the 13 Mar 1981 HR review; previous versions included the French film, Le dernier tournant (1939), the Italian film, Ossessione (1942), and an American version, also titled The Postman Always Rings Twice, directed by Tay Garnett in 1946 (see entry). According to a 14 Feb 1980 DV article, director Bob Rafelson first suggested to Jack Nicholson that he read Cain’s novel in 1970; at the time, Rafelson was not planning to direct a film version, but believed that Nicholson’s career would follow the same trajectory as actor John Garfield, who played “Frank Chambers” in Garnett’s version. Nicholson liked the novel, and spoke to director Hal Ashby about working on an adaptation. Ashby and Nicholson’s collaboration fell through, however, after Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the studio that owned film rights at the time, dictated that Raquel Welch must play the role of “Cora Papadakis.” Subsequently, a 25 Jul 1978 HR brief mentioned that Robert Blake was in discussions to play the role of Frank Chambers.
       In 1979, producer Andrew Braunsberg took an interest in the project, and Rafelson became available to direct, as stated in production notes from AMPAS library files. Jack Nicholson’s involvement as the lead actor was announced in a 14 Jun ... More Less

The summary and note for this entry were completed with participation from the AFI Academic Network. Summary and note were written by participant Maren Anderson Johnson, a student at University of Washington, Seattle, with Jennifer Bean as academic advisor.

The Postman Always Rings Twice was the fourth feature film adaptation of James M. Cain’s 1934 novel of the same name, as stated in the 13 Mar 1981 HR review; previous versions included the French film, Le dernier tournant (1939), the Italian film, Ossessione (1942), and an American version, also titled The Postman Always Rings Twice, directed by Tay Garnett in 1946 (see entry). According to a 14 Feb 1980 DV article, director Bob Rafelson first suggested to Jack Nicholson that he read Cain’s novel in 1970; at the time, Rafelson was not planning to direct a film version, but believed that Nicholson’s career would follow the same trajectory as actor John Garfield, who played “Frank Chambers” in Garnett’s version. Nicholson liked the novel, and spoke to director Hal Ashby about working on an adaptation. Ashby and Nicholson’s collaboration fell through, however, after Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the studio that owned film rights at the time, dictated that Raquel Welch must play the role of “Cora Papadakis.” Subsequently, a 25 Jul 1978 HR brief mentioned that Robert Blake was in discussions to play the role of Frank Chambers.
       In 1979, producer Andrew Braunsberg took an interest in the project, and Rafelson became available to direct, as stated in production notes from AMPAS library files. Jack Nicholson’s involvement as the lead actor was announced in a 14 Jun 1979 LAT brief. An 11 Jun 1979 HR news item announced that Lorimar Productions would produce the film, and production notes stated that Lorimar financed the budget. Though a 4 Dec 1979 DV brief listed the production cost as $9 million, including Nicholson’s $3 million salary, an article in the Dec 1981 Rolling Stone reported the final production budget as $13 million. A 24 Feb 1980 HR article announced that Braunsberg and Hal Ashby formed Northstar International Productions, a joint venture backed with $50 million in financing from Lorimar. The Postman Always Rings Twice, which was in production at the time of the article, was set to be Northstar’s first feature film. On 26 Nov 1980, Var announced that Paramount Pictures had secured domestic distribution rights.
       As stated in production notes, Rafelson wrote the name of actress Jessica Lange on paper and sealed it inside an envelope before casting began. A total of 128 actresses were auditioned for the role of Cora, and an 18 Jul 1979 HR news item hinted that Lesley Ann Warren had been cast. Brooke Adams, Tuesday Weld, and Patti D’Arbanville were also rumored to be under consideration for the role, according to a 24 Sep 1979 LAHExam item; however, Rafelson’s early instinct that Lange would play the part was correct, and a 2 Nov 1979 DV article announced that she had been cast as Nicholson’s co-star. Rafelson stated that he planned to film the picture as if it were X-rated, wanting to make the story as erotic as possible. He pointed to the 1942 Italian version directed by Luchino Visconti as “one of the dullest films ever made,” and vowed to hew closer to Cain’s novel.
       During casting, Rafelson met actress Linsday Crouse, as stated in the 14 Feb 1980 DV article. After the director mentioned playwright David Mamet, Crouse informed him that she had just married Mamet and would introduce the two. According to Rafelson, Mamet, who made his screenwriting debut with The Postman Rings Twice, was working on the film five days after Crouse introduced him to the director. Though an 8 Jun 1979 DV item stated that Rafelson would co-write, he did not receive any writing credit on the film.
       According to production notes, the set for Twin Oaks was built “on a remote stretch of road in San Marcos [CA],” near Santa Barbara. A hotel in the Skid Row area of Los Angeles, CA, doubled as a 1930s bus station, and other locations were found in San Diego, CA, as stated in the 14 Feb 1980 DV article. Cinematographer Sven Nykvist aimed for a “deep-focus, high-contrast” look reminiscent of black-and-white photography, while production designer George Jenkins used “somber hues” to dress the sets in the manner of a 1940s film noir. According to a 2 Nov 1979 DV news item, filming was set to begin 7 Jan 1980 with a fourteen-week shooting schedule; however, a 4 Dec 1979 DV brief announced that rehearsals would begin 7 Jan 1980, with the shoot commencing one week later. After filming wrapped, Nicholson was quoted in a 29 Dec 1980 People news item, stating that Lange delivered an incredibly sexy performance; he also predicted the film would be a success, saying “If this don’t kill ‘em, I don’t know anything about movies.”
       The film opened to mixed reviews. In the 13 Mar 1981 HR review, Robert Osbourne described the film as “curiously tame” and complained that the ending lacked a pivotal scene in Cain’s novel wherein Frank is falsely accused of murdering Cora after their car accident and thus pays the price for his earlier crimes. The 13 Mar 1981 DV review echoed HR’s crticism of the ending and stated that the character of “Nick Papadakis,” Cora’s husband, was too likeable.
       An article in the Dec 1981 issue of Rolling Stone titled “Big Bucks, Big Losers” stated that The Postman Always Rings Twice cost $13 million to make but only took in $6 million in domestic box-office receipts. However, a 16 Jun 1981 HR brief reported that the film was “an overseas success,” taking in more than $2,095,000 in just over a month of release in the United Kingdom, in addition to faring well in Spain and Australia.
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BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
8 Jun 1979.
---
Daily Variety
19 Oct 1979.
---
Daily Variety
2 Nov 1979.
---
Daily Variety
4 Dec 1979.
---
Daily Variety
14 Feb 1980
p. 8.
Daily Variety
19 Mar 1980.
---
Daily Variety
13 Mar 1981
p. 3, 10.
Hollywood Reporter
25 Jul 1978.
---
Hollywood Reporter
18 Jul 1979.
---
Hollywood Reporter
24 Feb 1980.
---
Hollywood Reporter
13 Mar 1981
p. 3, 12.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Jun 1981.
---
LAHExam
24 Sep 1979.
---
LAHExam
23 Mar 1981
Section B, p. 3.
LAHExam
11 May 1981.
---
Los Angeles Times
14 Jun 1979.
---
Los Angeles Times
24 Apr 1980
Section VI, p. 1, 4.
Los Angeles Times
20 Mar 1981
p. 1.
New York Times
20 Mar 1981
p. 12.
People
29 Dec 1980.
---
Rolling Stone
Dec 1981
p. 44.
Variety
26 Nov 1980
p. 4.
Variety
18 Mar 1981
p. 133.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
An Andrew Braunsberg Production
A Bob Rafelson Film
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
Cam op
Asst cam
Asst cam
Asst cam
Gaffer
Key grip
Best boy
Grip best boy
Dolly grip
Video playback
Video playback
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dept asst
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
Apprentice ed
Apprentice ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set des
Set des
Const coord
Lead man
Prop master
Asst prop master
Asst prop master
Propmaker foreman
Propmaker foreman
Propmaker foreman
Labor foreman
Plaster foreman
Greensman foreman
Greensman
Standby painter
Gang boss
COSTUMES
Cost des
Men`s cost
Men`s cost
Women`s cost
MUSIC
Mus comp and cond
Mus ed
Orch
SOUND
Sd mixer
Cableman
Sd eff ed
Sd eff ed
Asst sd eff ed
Asst sd eff ed
Rerec mixer
Rerec mixer
Rerec mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Titles and opticals
Main title des
MAKEUP
Makeup
Hair stylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Extra casting
Extras casting
Casting secy
Prod office coord
Accountant
Asst auditor
Accounting assistant
Loc mgr
Scr supv
Transportation coord
Transportation capt
Unit pub
Asst to Mr. Rafelson
Asst to Mr. Nicholson
Dial coach to Mr. Colicos
Prod asst
First aid
Domestic cat handler
Craft service man
Set watchman
Projectionist
Caterer
Asst caterer
STAND INS
Stunt player
Stunt player
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain (New York, 1934).
AUTHOR
DETAILS
Release Date:
20 March 1981
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 20 March 1981
Production Date:
mid January--mid April 1980
Copyright Claimant:
Lorimar Film- und Fernsehproduktion, G.m.b.H.
Copyright Date:
4 May 1981
Copyright Number:
PA100011
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Color by Metrocolor®
Lenses
Lenses and Panaflex camera by Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
123
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
26248
SYNOPSIS

Frank Chambers, a transient, hitches a ride from a traveling salesman on a California highway. The next morning, when the salesman leaves him at the Twin Oaks gas station and restaurant, Frank pretends that he’s been robbed. Nick Papadakis, the Greek immigrant who owns Twin Oaks, offers Frank a job as a mechanic. Frank demurs, saying he is headed to Los Angeles for work, but when he sees Nick’s beautiful wife, Cora, Frank reconsiders. Sometime later, Frank has settled in, and one afternoon, after Nick goes to purchase supplies in town, Frank locks the door to the restaurant and forces himself on Cora until she reciprocates. A torrid affair ensues, and the next time that Nick leaves, Frank orders Cora to pack a bag and run away to Chicago with him. At the bus station, Cora reveals that she has $110 in savings. Frank enters a game of craps outside the station, but when he asks Cora for money to stay in the game, she refuses. As Frank changes in his bus ticket for more money to gamble, Cora disappears. Frank finds Cora back at Twin Oaks, where she admits she is afraid that Nick will come after her if she leaves him. Cora suggests that she and Frank murder Nick, and, one night, Frank stuff a cloth bag full of ball bearings for Cora to use as a weapon. While Nick showers, Cora approaches the bathroom, wielding the bag; meanwhile, Frank stands watch outside, and a police officer, happening to drive past on his motorcycle, stops and chats with him, then drives away. Spooked, Frank honks a horn to warn Cora, but the electricity goes out at the ... +


Frank Chambers, a transient, hitches a ride from a traveling salesman on a California highway. The next morning, when the salesman leaves him at the Twin Oaks gas station and restaurant, Frank pretends that he’s been robbed. Nick Papadakis, the Greek immigrant who owns Twin Oaks, offers Frank a job as a mechanic. Frank demurs, saying he is headed to Los Angeles for work, but when he sees Nick’s beautiful wife, Cora, Frank reconsiders. Sometime later, Frank has settled in, and one afternoon, after Nick goes to purchase supplies in town, Frank locks the door to the restaurant and forces himself on Cora until she reciprocates. A torrid affair ensues, and the next time that Nick leaves, Frank orders Cora to pack a bag and run away to Chicago with him. At the bus station, Cora reveals that she has $110 in savings. Frank enters a game of craps outside the station, but when he asks Cora for money to stay in the game, she refuses. As Frank changes in his bus ticket for more money to gamble, Cora disappears. Frank finds Cora back at Twin Oaks, where she admits she is afraid that Nick will come after her if she leaves him. Cora suggests that she and Frank murder Nick, and, one night, Frank stuff a cloth bag full of ball bearings for Cora to use as a weapon. While Nick showers, Cora approaches the bathroom, wielding the bag; meanwhile, Frank stands watch outside, and a police officer, happening to drive past on his motorcycle, stops and chats with him, then drives away. Spooked, Frank honks a horn to warn Cora, but the electricity goes out at the same time. Moments later, Frank finds Cora hysterically crying inside, and Nick bloodied and unconscious in the shower. At the hospital, Nick regains consciousness but is unaware that Cora bludgeoned him, perceiving his fall as an accident. As Nick slowly recovers at the hospital, Cora and Frank continue their affair. Upon his release, Nick’s large Greek family hosts a celebration, and Cora ends her affair with Frank; however, she soon changes her mind when she finds Frank composing a goodbye letter and begs him to stay. One night, Nick goes out with Cora and Frank and becomes very drunk. When the car malfunctions, Cora pulls over to the side of the road, and Frank decides to kill Nick there, whacking him over the head with a wrench. Cora and Frank then push the car into the woods to stage an accident and beat each other up so they appear to be injured by the crash. Before they leave, Frank attempts to push the car further out of view, but when he gets inside, the car topples over and rolls down a hill. Frank awakens in the hospital where Sackett, a lawyer, interrogates him, accusing Frank of having a criminal record in other cities around the country, and implying that he helped Cora kill Nick in order to secure his $10,000 life insurance policy. Sackett tells Frank the only way to prove his innocence is to sign a “complaint and request for damages” from Cora, who was driving the car at the time of the alleged accident. After Frank is transferred to a jail cell, Katz arrives, introducing himself as Frank and Cora’s lawyer, and forbidding Frank from signing any more paperwork. Nick’s insurance company, Pacific Reliance, sues Cora for insurance fraud, and Sackett uses the complaint Frank signed as evidence in court. Cora becomes incensed when she hears that Frank signed the document, and Katz quickly changes her plea from “not guilty” to “guilty” to stall the court proceedings. Feeling betrayed by Frank, Cora gives a statement to a man named Kennedy, confessing to Nick’s murder and implicating Frank as well. Meanwhile, Katz strikes a deal with Pacific Reliance when he informs them that another insurance company, Western Equitable, recently issued Nick a liability policy for $25,000. To avoid being sued by Frank for $25,000 in damages, Western Equitable is willing to pay the $10,000 death benefit to Cora as long as Pacific Reliance retracts their lawsuit against her. Consequently, the charges are dropped, and Katz explains to Frank that Kennedy, to whom Cora confessed, was his assistant, not a policeman like they were led to believe. Cora and Frank return to Twin Oaks, and shortly after, Cora learns from a childhood acquaintance that her mother is ill. When she leaves town to visit her mother, Frank closes the station and hitches a ride to San Diego, where he has a brief affair with Madge, a circus performer. Frank returns in time to pick up Cora from the bus stop after her mother’s death. One evening, as Cora and Frank share a romantic dinner, Kennedy, Katz’s former assistant, interrupts, claiming that he still has a copy of Cora’s confession in a safety deposit box. When Kennedy bribes them, asking for $10,000, Frank beats him relentlessly until Kennedy divulges the whereabouts of his safety deposit box. The next morning, Frank holds Kennedy at gunpoint as he drives to the bank where Cora’s confession is stored. When Frank returns with the confession, he discovers that Madge has visited the station and told Cora about the affair. Cora tells Frank that he is “scum,” and threatens that he can still be tried for Nick’s murder, despite the fact that she has been found innocent. Cora picks up the telephone, and fearing that she is calling the police, Frank disconnects it. The following morning, Frank asks Cora to marry him. After an impromptu wedding, they celebrate with a picnic, during which Cora proposes they sell Twin Oaks, but Frank suggests they stay and raise a family there. As they drive home, Cora leans over to kiss Frank, and he swerves to avoid an oncoming truck. The force flings Cora from the car, and Frank crashes into a pole. He gets out of the car and rushes over to Cora. Finding her dead, Frank weeps on the side of the road.


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Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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