The Postman Always Rings Twice, adapted from the 1934 novel by James M. Cain, saw its first Hollywood release in 1946. Starring Lana Turner, John Garfield, and Cecil Kellaway, the film was a huge hit, but the strict production code of the time meant the filmmakers had to tone down several elements to receive a Production Code seal. By 1981, director Bob Rafelson and first time screenwriter David Mamet didn’t have to worry about a Production Code, thus freeing them up to explore the essence of the sadomasochistic love affair around which Cain’s story revolved. Oddly enough, the steamy love scenes between stars Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange is probably what this version of The Postman Always Rings Twice is best remembered for.

As in the 1946 version, the setting is outside Los Angeles. One day, drifter Frank Chambers (Nicholson) stops in the Twin Oaks diner and gas station. A petty thief and con man, he has the look of a guy up to no good. The owner of the place, Nick Papadakis (John Colicos) is notably the Greek immigrant portrayed in Cain’s novel, complete with thick accent and large extended family.  Cora Papadakis (Jessica Lange) is a beautiful, hardworking housewife and cook, clearly not content with her lot in life.

The attraction between Frank and Cora is neatly instantaneous. Their affair is intense, the sex animalistic. The MPAA initially slapped the film with an X rating, though as Rafleson points out, there isn’t a nude scene in the entire film. Granted, Jessica Lange’s panties do receive a lot of screen time, and I’m sure the scene of Nicholson nude lying on his stomach where his tan line is clearly visible, caused some consternation among MPAA board members in 1981.

Poor Nick remains clueless as this torrid affair goes on, and it certainly never crosses his mind that someone might want to kill him; least of all, his beautiful and trusted wife. Though Frank and Cora botch their first attempt, they eventually make good on their plan to kill Nick. Just as Mamet’s screenplay restores Nick’s ethnicity, it brings in defense lawyer Katz (Michael Lerner) when an aggressive D.A., Sackett (William Traylor) is hell bent on getting the two lovers to turn on each other. This is a very different twist than anything seen in the 1946 film.

Rafelson chose to end the film differently from Cain’s novel. It’s up to the viewer to decide whether that choice was effective or not. Rafelson clearly saw the The Postman Always Rings Twice as  a love story, but it’s hard to see much beyond two people behaving badly. Both Nicolson and Lange do a fine job with their parts, but it’s hard not to feel they were largely wasted; the script doesn’t give them all that much to do.

Watch for a brief and colorful appearance by Anjelica Huston as a traveling circus lion tamer!  It was her first major film role.

Framed at 1.78:1 (a slight modification from its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio), this transfer shows off a nice level of detail, and appropriate black levels. The earth tone palette is rather pleasing throughout. Tiny artifacts (noise) are noticeable throughout, apparently due to compression, and there is no noticeable film grain. This is not to say that Warner has provided an absolutely terrible transfer, it simply could have been better.

Postman was released in mono, which is reproduced here in lossless DTS-HD MA 1.0. The track is solid, delivering nice dynamic range, clear dialogue, and accurate music reproduction.

English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, German SDH, and Italian subtitles are included.

The following extras are available:

  • Scene-Specific Commentary by Bob Rafelson, David Mamet and Jack Nicholson: The three men were interviewed separately, and their comments cut together and set to an edited version of the film. It’s too bad they couldn’t use seamless branching for this! Anyway, Rafelson and Nicholson discuss the director’s troubles within the industry, while both profess love for Cain’s work. Mamet offers some insight into his script ideas, but most of the interest comes from Rafelson and Nicholson commenting on the making of the film.
  •  Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2:53)