A Passionate Pair Have A Murderous Affair…
A drifter starts an affair with a cafe owner’s unhappy young wife with deadly consequences.
The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981) – Trailer 1 Warner Bros and photos from Warner Bros
Don’t adjust your sets, as those two white dots on the pitch-black background are not a fault with your TV set. Soon after, two more lights will appear moving forward, with these lights revealed to be a car driving through the night. The only other light from a newly lit cigarette revealing a hitchhiker with a suitcase.
This the fabulous Art Deco fonts credits roll for our to be reviewed movie, The Postman Rings Twice (1981). The film is a remake of the English-speaking film noir with the same name and starring John Garfield and Lana Turner – in the Nicholson and Lange roles – made in 1946.
This was a film that sadly neglected in my Jack Nicholson Blogathon, and one of my favourite thriller films of this decade. As not only does it have a favourite actor in its cast, but it also has my favourite actress, Jessica Lange. Lange and Nicholson in the roles of those scheming lovers Frank and Cora.
The film starts in a Depression hit California, with the hitchhiker thanking the driver for a lift as he stops to refuel at a cafe and garage. The driver was immediately recognised as Christopher Lloyd, Doc Brown from the Back to the Future film trilogy (1985-). Lloyd starred with Nicholson in his film debut in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) and also starred with him in Goin’ South (1978). But this is not a Back to the Future movie by any means.
But I digress, the drifter Frank Chambers (Nicholson) invites the driver for a coffee and some food. but after soon after ordering his breakfast, Frank goes to freshen up. He stalls his return until he sees the driver leave. Frank claims he can’t pay for the meal as the driver had stolen his wallet, but he can send a payment for his breakfast. That is if he is able to secure the job he was travelling to in Los Angeles for. But all details of this job are in his missing wallet.
However the genial, trusting Greek owner, Papadakis (John Colicos) takes a shine to him. He offers him a job as a mechanic and with food and board thrown in. He then introduces him to Cora (Lange), his much younger wife (to Frank’s obvious surprise). Frank courteously thanks the cafe owner and his wife for the food and hospitality.
Frank agrees to Papadakis’ job offer and the pair of men get on well. They spend time laughing, joking and drinking together after work. One day as Papadakis discusses insurance with an agent, Frank oil-stained from his work approaches Cora in the kitchen for soap. She appears flustered and he’s charming (in that irresistibly sexy way Nicholson always has (see The Witches of Eastwick (1987) and more). There it appears to be a strong sexual tension mounting between the pair.
During a storm, we see Cora is unhappy in her marriage to this older man and in her life with him. With Frank watching Cora’s shadow in the couple’s upstairs bedroom, she appears to argue with her husband one stormy night. After the storm with Papadakis away on business, Frank visits Cora in the kitchen. She’s making bread. He roughly grabs her and is violently and fiercely passionate with her as they make love on the kitchen table.
After this act, the pair commence a turbulent affair. Frank decides Cora and he should leave together for a new life together in Chicago, telling her to pack her bags when Papadakis leaves for an overnight trip to town. However en route, after Frank asks to gamble away their savings, Cora returns home.
She then confronts a disappointed Frank on his return – with his winnings – telling him she’s trapped in her marriage. Then with ominous, foreboding music, she hints at a much darker solution. And as the tension increases on-screen.. the pair put a plan into action to murder Papadakis.
More suspense is added and felt as we follow Cora up the stairs. Chillingly and eerily these stairs creak as she moves towards the intended murder scene. Frank puts a ladder next to their upstairs bedroom for her to get away. These actions followed by an intense moment of suspense as she enters the bedroom to carry out the murder. The fantastic use of shadows in the filming of these scenes adds to the film ambience here.
We then see Papadakis in the shower, also in silhouette. As Frank waits by the getaway car outside. Cora approaches her husband in the shower with the murder weapon. A policeman on a motorcycle drives up and stops to talk to Frank. To find out more, you can find out by fair means or foul…
This film is a wonderfully intense, dark and thrilling film noir. It’s a film which will keep you on the edge of your seat. The first half of the film concentrates on the three main characters Cora, Frank and Papadakis. This ploy gives adequate time to establish and understand these characters as much more than the murderers as lovers and the victim.
It shows Frank and Cora’s motives, their perceived benefits of the murder and the nature of their relationship. It’s intense and passionate, like this couple. We also understand Papadakis, is a true victim unaware of their ruthlessness believing the pair and not suspecting them of an illicit affair.
Once the murder has been orchestrated, we see the repercussions of this treacherous act on Frank and Cora’s lives and on their relationship. We also meet more characters which add to this story. These including lawyers, insurance agents and Madge Gorman (Angelica Huston) as a wild cat trainer in a circus.
This character is a more wild and almost zany departure from her original character brief from the 1946 version. This character was then a girl who Frank meets at a train station. The inclusion of this character, shadowing doubt on Frank’s intentions towards Cora. This especially as more information is given about his life in this part of the movie. All this leads to the dramatic ending of the movie.
Lange and Nicholson were fantastically cast and credible as the lovers. Lange has the right mix of vulnerability and ruthlessness. She starts out as a downtrodden, dowdy, unhappy wife. With Frank, she becomes a stronger more sensual (and less repressed) character and passionate lover. More so it appears – albeit from watching the trailer alone – with Lana Turner as an apparently more glamorous, wide-eyed and conniving Cora.
Nicholson – and John Garfield in that trailer – is more difficult to read as you debate. Is he a man caught up in love and Cora’s planning? Or has he a more calculating and ruthless side? Nicholson is perfectly cast in this as his acting will easily portray all these attributes in a believable manner.
Colicos as Papadakis appears to be nothing more than a generous, trusting man, giving board and lodging to Frank. Trusting his lodger and his wife so much that he leaves them alone while travelling on business. Papadakis appears to not realise, feel or see his wife’s unhappiness and her sexual frustration. This apparent before she and Frank get together with her husband only appearing playfully amorous towards her when he is drunk. These realisations and more revelations come to you as the movie progresses…
The musical score by Michael Small is also outstanding in supporting the storylines with the right mix of thriller and suspense. The costumes and the time period for the original story are kept and portrayed in outstanding detail. These adding to the film noir feel of the movie much more than an updated version would have. Nicholson donning a fedora (or Trilby?) and suit once more he just exudes that 1930s look.
The film’s ending has been criticised as not being as effective as the original, and thus explains the title. I believe that this may be true, however, I believe this 1981 ending – without giving the plot away – and is more foreboding and therefore more enigmatic than the original.
One can plainly see the ongoing screen chemistry of the leads Nicholson and Lange. Be it in their in turns as passionate, brutal or more tender lovers. Or as contrastingly both trusting and non believing with each other in their tumultuous relationship. These combined make this truly an affair to remember.
Weeper Rating: 😦 😦 😦😦 😦 😦 😦 /10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂🙂 🙂 🙂10
Hulk Rating: /10
This post was added to Cinemaven’s Essays from the Couch Till Death Us Do Part Blogathon. Other posts with this cast include Tootsie and Sweet Dreams with Jessica Lange. Jack Nicholson stars in my Terms of Endearment, Batman, Witches of Eastwick, One Flew over the Cuckoos Nest, Mars Attacks, As Good As It Gets and Prizzis Honor. Angelica Huston co-stars with him in Prizzi’s Honor and she also stars in John Wick 3 Parabellum. John Colicos stars in Anne of the Thousand Days.