“The Postman Always Rings Twice” – an Erotic Thriller of the 1980s.

The Postman Always Rings Twice


Title: “The Postman Always RIngs Twice”

Release Date: 1981

Director: Bob Rafelson

Cast: Jessica Lange, Jack Nicholson, John Colicos, Michael Lerner


“The Postman Always Rings Twice” is a classic tale of guilt and punishment, in which the order of nature, violated by crime, demands to be corrected. In retrospect, however, Bob Rafelson’s film seems most interesting on a genre level. Maintained in the neo-noir convention, the picture is a precursor of the erotic thrillers of the 90’s. Its greatest asset is therefore the sensual Jessica Lange, whose charm madly magnetizes both Jack Nicholson and the viewer fascinated by her appeal.

“The Postman Always Rings Twice” – lovers on the edge of crime

1981’s “The Postman Always Rings Twice” is the fourth film adaptation of James Cain’s novel. Before Bob Rafelson, it had been translated to the screen by Chenal (“Le Dernier tourant”, 1939), Luchino Visconti (“Obsessione”, 1943) and Tay Garnett (1946). The famous Hollywood version from the 1940s starred the famous couple Lana Turner and John Garfield. Rafelson’s film differs significantly from the other adaptations, however. The director emphasized the story in a slightly different way than his predecessors – he put magnetic desire in the foreground, which made him a forerunner of the erotic thriller which would reign in American cinema a decade later.

The film is set in the 1930s, at the time of the Great Depression. Frank (Jack Nicholson), wandering around the country in search of work, accidentally stops at a gas station in California, run by an elderly Greek man Nick (John Colicos) and his beautiful young wife Cora. Fascinated by the beauty of the woman, he decides to work for the company as a car mechanic. He strikes up an affair with Cora at the first opportunity and then tries to persuade her to run away together. Nevertheless, the woman fears an uncertain fate (after all, it is the 1930s and the famine), which leads the lovers to plot Nick’s murder. One evening Cora stabs her showering husband in the head. Later, however, frightened by her act, the couple calls an ambulance to the unconscious man.

The Postman Always Rings Twice 1981 movie review

After Cora’s husband recovers, he is convinced that he owes it to Frank to save his life. Noetheless, soon the lovers start thinking about the crime again. This time they successfully get rid of Nick by pretending to be in a car accident. At the trial, they are miraculously acquitted and start a life together. However, the crime hangs over them like a fate. On their wedding day, overjoyed with the news of Cora’s pregnancy, they have an accident. The woman dies falling out of a speeding car, and a devastated Frank cries over her corpse.

“The Postman Always Rings Twice” – Jessica Lange as a precursor to Sharon Stone

“The Postman Always Rings Twice” is a film which clearly refers to the noir cinema convention. What we are dealing with here is a fatal infatuation which leads to a cruel crime. The characters’ motivations are reduced to unbridled desire. It is lust, and not greed or desire for revenge, that comes to the fore. This can be seen in the naturalistic erotic scenes in which the lovers play a sadomasochistic game and become addicted to one another. The most important role is played by Jessica Lange, sensational in the role of beautiful Cora.

Often shown in close-ups and sensual poses, she openly demonstrates sexual insatiability and a strong temperament. At the same time, she is a mysterious character who appears in various guises: as an innocent victim of an evil husband, a calculating murderer, or a romantic lover. In this sense, Jessica Lange’s fascinating performance becomes a prototype for characters played in the 1990s mainly by the legendary Sharon Stone. Lange’s performance is the film’s greatest asset, and the viewer, just like the man who falls in love with her, finds it hard to free himself from her charm.

The Postaman Always Ring Twice film analysis

Furthermore, Frank is equally ambiguous. He is not at all an innocent man who is seduced by a woman and led to commit a crime. We get to know him as a common swindler and swindler counting on easy money. It is apparent that he is used to treating women as objects and he repeatedly shows disrespect and aggression towards Cora. What is more, during her departure for her mother’s funeral, he unscrupulously cheats on his lover with the owner of the circus. Frank, on the other hand, appears as a man ready to make the ultimate sacrifice in the name of love. A kind of game is constantly going on between the characters, making the viewer suspect one side or the other of scheming behind their partner’s back. In this sense Jack Nicholson becomes the prototype of the “fatal man” who ruthlessly ensnares his female victims.

“The Postman Always Rings Twice” – relativization of traditional morality

In many respects “The Postman Always Rings Twice” promises to be an erotic thriller. However, the world presented here is still subject to the ordering of traditional values. Guilt must therefore be punished: Jessica Lange dies in the final scene, unlike many later heroines of erotic thrillers, who triumph in the final scene. At the same time, nonetheless, Rafelson’s film heralds a loosening of the traditional moral code: the actions of the lovers are in a sense justified by the feeling between them, and justice is not served in the majesty of the law but by fate.


A.Garbicz, Kino, wehikuł magiczny. Przewodnik osiągnięć filmu fabularnego. Podróż piąta 1974 – 1981, Kraków 2009.