John Garfield - Frank Chambers
Lana Turner - Cora Smith
Cecil kellaway - Nick Smith
Hume Cronyn - Arthur Keats
Audrey Totter - Madge Garland
Leon Ames - Kyle Sackett
Tay Garnett - Director
Carey Wilson - Producer
Harry Ruskin - Screenwriter
Sidney Wagner - Cinematographer
George Bassman - Film Score
James M. Cain - Original Novel
It took twelve years to get James M. Cain's novel, The Postman Always Rings Twice, filmed because of the powerful resistance of the Production Code Authority (PCA), the official censoring body of Hollywood that found everything about the book objectionable. Itstawdry sexuality, adultery, murder, and the dishonesty of the lawyers and insurance-company officials were all deemed unsuitable for audience sensibilities. The PCA felt so strongly about Cain's book that in February of 1934 it warned RKO, which wanted to make the motion picture, that they would never allow it to be released.
MGM eventually acquired the rights, convinced it could get a screenplay that would pass muster. Six years later, a script was submitted that removed the adultery, virtually all of the sex, and the murder attempts on Nick, who would die accidentally. Even then, the PCA judged that it was too sordid, and it was again abandoned. The enormous popularity of Universal's Double Indemnity (1944), based on another Cain novel, revived interest and in May of 1945 a script was approved, restoring all but some of Cain's original version.
In The Postman Always Rings Twice drifter Frank Chambers (John Garfield) stops at a roadside diner, spots the luscious Cora (Lana Turner), and takes a job offered by her older, alcoholic husband, Nick (Cecil Kellaway). Frank and Cora are immediately attracted to each other, begin an illicit affair, and they leave, but Cora changes her mind and they return to the diner. Wanting a better life with Frank, both financially and romantically, Cora convinces him to hlep her kill her husband so they can be together and collect his insurance money.
Lana Turner, the ultrasexy star, initially turned down the role because of the steaminess of the subject but was finally persuaded to take the part. John Garfield had been released from military service because of a bad heart. It was reported at the time that Turner and Garfield had even more chemistry off the set than on it but that Garfield decided to otherwise occupy his free time for fear that he would have a heart attack.
Some elements of The Postman Always Rings Twice sprang from real life, notably the infamous Ruth Snyder murder case, in which the defendant murdered her husband with the help of her lover, who she then tried to poison. Cora was modeled on a girl who pumped Cain's gas at a service station. She was kind of cheap, Cain acknowledged (more like the Cora of the novel than the Cora of the motion picture, who just seemed too classy to be working in a cheap roadside diner), but so sexy that she stuck in his memory.
When the major studios were unable to get the motion picture past the censors, Cain adapted The Postman Always Rings Twice for the stage in 1936, hoping that a Broadway smash would grant it an aura of respectability. The play flopped, as did a French film version, Le Dernier Tournant, made in 1939, and an Italian version, Ossessione, made in 1942. A commercially successful remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice was released in 1981, starring Jack Nicholson as Frank and Jessica Lange as Cora. David Mamet's screenplay was far more faithful to the novel.
--OTTO PENZLER, from The 101 Greatest Films
of Mystery and Suspense, 2000
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