The Postman Always Rings Twice Triple Bill

This picture makes the book
look huge. It isn't.
Published in 1934 to much controversy, James M. Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twiceis one of the great crime novels. Although at around 100 pages long, it's hardly a novel at all, more a short story. But what a story; packing sex, violence, murder and heartbreak into a gripping piece of hard-boiled fiction. It tells of an amoral drifter Frank, who takes a job at a roadside diner owned by Nick, a middle-aged Greek. There, he is smitten by Cora, Nick's much younger and alluring wife. Soon, they embark on a steamy affair and together they plan to murder Nick, so they can start a new life together. Of course, things don't run to plan, forcing the couple into increasingly desperate attempts to avoid their doom. Heady stuff. So, can any of the film adaptations do justice to such a great book? Let's find out.

Ossessione(Luchino Visconti, 1943) was an attempt to put a Italian Neo-realist spin on the story. The film effectively captures the lust and sadness at the heart of the tale, but the Neo-realist approach means there's a deliberate focus on the humdrum minutiae of the characters’ lives and surroundings. As a result, a snappy novel is turned into a ponderous film and thus loses the tension of the murder plot itself and the sense that the characters are rushing headlong to their doom. It's an interesting adaptation, but not a gripping one.

The Postman Always Rings Twice(Bob Rafelson, 1981) hasn't got much of a reputation, which is a little unfair, since it's a perfectly fine thriller with Jack Nicholson in particular doing well to capture Frank's animalistic nature. But it really shoots itself in the foot by inexplicably omitting the finale of the book, meaning it misses the cruel irony of the story's climax. However, it did gain much notoriety for the pretty steamy sex scene on the kitchen table between Nicholson and Jessica Lange, in which it has been alleged the stars weren't exactly acting, if you catch my drift. They deny it, but then they would, wouldn't they? Either way, it's pretty convincing.

Lana Turner. A Lovely Girl.
 So, you're best to opt for the earlier The Postman Always Rings Twice(Tay Garnett, 1946), a classic film noir which comes closest to the brilliance of the novel, even though it required some changes to comply with censorship laws in the 40s. Most notably, it features a sizzling femme fatale performance from the very lovely Lana Turner. Never the greatest actress in the world, her screen presence and sex appeal are perfectly summed up in the scene where she first meets Frank (John Garfield), after which you can't really blame the bloke for getting mixed up with her. This version stumbles slightly toward the end, though, by attempting to spell out the meaning of the title with some pseudo-moralising. Whilst it doesn't undo all that's gone before, it would have been better to take the novel's approach, in which the interpretation is left to the reader.

So, in summary, a bluffer's guide:
What to say: "The 1946 film is better than the other two adaptations, but the book is better than all of them" 
What not to say: "Well I didn't see any postman. And he didn't even knock once, never mind twice"

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