The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981 film)

The Postman Always Rings Twice is a 1981 American neo-noir[4] erotic thriller film directed by Bob Rafelson and written by David Mamet (in his screenwriting debut). Starring Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange, it is the fourth adaptation of the 1934 novel by James M. Cain. The film was shot in Santa Barbara, California.

The Postman Always Rings Twice
Theatrical release poster
Directed byBob Rafelson
Produced by
  • Bob Rafelson
  • Charles Mulvehill[1]
Screenplay byDavid Mamet
Based onThe Postman Always Rings Twice
by James M. Cain
Music byMichael Small
CinematographySven Nykvist
Edited byGraeme Clifford
Distributed by
Release date
  • March 20, 1981 (1981-03-20)
Running time
123 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States[1]
Budget$12 million[2]
Box office$44.2 million[3]


Frank Chambers (Jack Nicholson) a drifter, stops at a depression-era rural California diner for a meal and ends up working there. The diner is operated by a young, beautiful woman, Cora Smith (Jessica Lange), and her much older husband, Nick Papadakis (John Colicos), a hardworking but unimaginative immigrant from Greece.

Frank and Cora start to have an affair soon after they meet. Cora is tired of her situation, married to an older man she does not love, and working at a diner that she wishes to own and improve. She and Frank scheme to murder Nick to start a new life together without her losing the diner. Their first attempt at the murder is a failure, but they succeed with their second attempt.

The local prosecutor suspects what has actually occurred but does not have enough evidence to prove it. As a tactic intended to get Cora and Frank to turn on one another, he tries only Cora for the crime.

Although they turn against each other, a clever ploy from Cora's lawyer, Katz (Michael Lerner), prevents Cora's full confession from coming into the hands of the prosecutor. With the tactic having failed to generate any new evidence for the prosecution, Cora benefits from a deal in which she pleads guilty to manslaughter and is sentenced to probation.

Months later, Frank has an affair with Madge Gorland (Anjelica Huston) while Cora is out of town. When Cora returns, she tells Frank she is pregnant. That night, Katz's assistant, Kennedy (John P. Ryan), appears at their door and threatens to expose them unless they give him $10,000. Enraged, Frank beats Kennedy up and strong-arms him into giving up the evidence against them.

When Frank returns, he finds that Madge has been to see Cora, who threatens to turn him in. They eventually patch together their tumultuous relationship and now plan for a future together. However, just as they seem to be prepared for a new life together, Cora dies in a car accident while Frank is driving. Frank weeps over Cora's body.



On May 14, 2012 Intrada Records released Michael Small's complete score for the first time.

Release and reception

The film was screened out of competition at the 1981 Cannes Film Festival.[6] Upon release, the film was poorly received by many critics, who felt that the remake of the 1946 film of the same name was wasted. They also believed the ending was "very weak" compared to the original film. They also criticized the fact that the meaning of the title is not explained in the remake, which can lead to confusion among viewers. Jack Nicholson later said "If you ran a question through this industry about The Postman Always Rings Twice, most people would surmise that it wasn’t successful. That is not true. I know it made money, because I received overages, so it must’ve grossed about as much as Chinatown and much more than Carnal Knowledge. But people are anxious to disqualify it."[7]

The film has since been received more favorably; it scores a 79% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with 11 positive reviews and three negative. Kerry Segrave and Linda Martin praised the "charged chemistry" between Nicholson and Lange, and stated that Nicholson admitted that he was smitten with his co-star, remarking that she was a "big consensus movie sex bomb".[8] The film was nominated by the American Film Institute in 2002 for the AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions list.[9]

The star of the 1946 version, Lana Turner, did not watch the remake, but said she had seen advertisements and blurbs on television that made her sick: she resented how the studio "turned it into such pornographic trash".[10]


Warner Bros. Pictures currently holds the rights as a result of both Turner Entertainment (for pre-May 1986 MGM library & due to the connection of the original 1946 film) & Lorimar Productions (which co-produced the remake) shared of this film.

See also


  1. "* The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981)". American Film Institute. Retrieved May 20, 2018.
  2. "The Postman Always Rings Twice - Box Office Data, DVD and Blu-ray Sales, Movie News, Cast and Crew Information". The Numbers. Retrieved 2014-06-24.
  3. "The Postman Always Rings Twice". Box Office Mojo. IMDb (Amazon). Retrieved May 20, 2018.
  4. Silver, Alain; Ward, Elizabeth, eds. (1992). Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style (3rd ed.). Woodstock, New York: The Overlook Press. ISBN 978-0-87951-479-2.
  5. "Movies".
  6. "Festival de Cannes: The Postman Always Rings Twice". Retrieved 2009-06-07.
  7. Walker, Beverly (May–June 1985). "Interview: Jack Nicholson". Film Comment.
  8. Segrave, Kerry; Martin, Linda (1990). The post-feminist Hollywood actress: biographies and filmographies of stars born after 1939. McFarland & Co. p. 174. ISBN 978-0-89950-387-5.
  9. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-19.
  10. "Lana Turner Full Interview". The Phil Donahue Show (Interview). Interviewed by Lana Turner. 1982. Video on YouTube
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