The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946 film)

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The Postman Always Rings Twice
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Tay Garnett
Produced by Carey Wilson
Screenplay by Harry Ruskin
Niven Busch
Based on The Postman Always Rings Twice
1934 novel 
by James M. Cain
Starring Lana Turner
John Garfield
Cecil Kellaway
Hume Cronyn
Music by George Bassman
Erich Zeisl
Cinematography Sidney Wagner
Edited by George White
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release dates
  • May 2, 1946 (1946-05-02) (United States)
Running time
113 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1,683,000[1][2]
Box office $5,086,000[1][2]

The Postman Always Rings Twice is a 1946 drama film noir based on the 1934 novel of the same name by James M. Cain.[3] This adaptation of the novel features Lana Turner, John Garfield, Cecil Kellaway, Hume Cronyn, Leon Ames, and Audrey Totter. It was directed by Tay Garnett, with a score written by George Bassman and Erich Zeisl (the latter uncredited).[4]

This version was the third filming of The Postman Always Rings Twice, but the first under the novel's original title and the first in English. Previously, the novel had been filmed as Le Dernier Tournant (The Last Turning) in France in 1939, and as Ossessione (Obsession) in Italy in 1943.


Lana Turner from the trailer for the film

Frank Chambers (John Garfield) is a drifter who stops at a rural diner for a meal and ends up working there. The diner is operated by a beautiful young woman, Cora Smith (Lana Turner), and her much older husband, Nick (Cecil Kellaway).

Frank and Cora start to have an affair soon after they meet. Cora is tired of her situation, married to a man she does not love and working at a diner that she wishes to own. She and Frank scheme to murder Nick in order to start a new life together without her losing the diner. Their first attempt at the murder is a failure, but they eventually succeed.

The local prosecutor, Kyle Sackett (Leon Ames), suspects what has occurred, but doesn't have enough evidence to prove it. As a tactic intended to get Cora and Frank to turn on one another, he tries only Cora for the crime. Although they do turn against each other, a clever ploy from Cora's lawyer (Hume Cronyn) prevents Cora's full confession from coming into the hands of the prosecutor. With the tactic having failed to generate any new evidence for the prosecution, Cora benefits from a plea bargain in which she pleads guilty to manslaughter and receives probation.

Frank and Cora eventually patch together their relationship and plan for a future together. But as they seem to be prepared to live "happily ever after", Cora dies in a car accident while Frank is driving. Although it was truly an accident, the circumstances seem suspicious enough that Frank is accused of having staged the crash. He is convicted of murdering Cora and is sentenced to death.

When informed that his last chance at a reprieve from his death sentence has been denied, and thus his execution is now at hand, Frank is at first incredulous that he will be put to death for a crime of which he is innocent. But when informed that authorities have recently discovered irrefutable evidence of his guilt in the murder of Nick, Frank decides that his impending death is actually his overdue punishment for that crime. Frank contemplates that when a person is expecting to receive a letter, it is of no concern if at first he does not hear the postman ring the doorbell, because the postman will always ring a second time and that second ring will invariably be heard. After they escaped legal punishment for Nick's murder, but with Cora now dead and Frank on his way to the death chamber, he notes that the postman has indeed rung a second time for each of them.



Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer purchased the rights to make a movie adaptation of Cain's novel a full twelve years prior the film's release. They were dissuaded from moving forward with the project earlier because of fears that its themes of adultery and murder would run afoul of the Motion Picture Production Code that began to be rigorously enforced not long after they had acquired the rights. The studio finally decided to proceed with the film in 1944, upon observing the success of Paramount's film adaptation of Cain's novella Double Indemnity, which included much the same moral taboos.[5]


The film was a big hit, earning $3,741,000 in the US and Canada and $1,345,000 elsewhere, recording a profit of $1,626,000.[1] Despite this, Louis B. Mayer of MGM hated the movie.[2]

Critical response[edit]

John Garfield from the trailer for the film

Bosley Crowther, film critic of the New York Times, gave the film a positive review and lauded the acting and direction of film, writing, "Too much cannot be said for the principals. Mr. Garfield reflects to the life the crude and confused young hobo who stumbles aimlessly into a fatal trap. And Miss Turner is remarkably effective as the cheap and uncertain blonde who has a pathetic ambition to 'be somebody' and a pitiful notion that she can realize it through crime. Cecil Kellaway is just a bit too cozy and clean as Miss Turner's middle-aged spouse. He is the only one not a Cain character, and throws a few scenes a shade out of key. But Hume Cronyn is slyly sharp and sleazy as an unscrupulous criminal lawyer, Leon Ames is tough as a district attorney and Alan Reed plays a gum-shoe role well."[6]

Critic Stephen MacMillan Moser appreciated Lana Turner's acting and wrote, "It is perhaps her finest work—from a body of work that includes very few truly stellar performances. She was a star, and not necessarily an actress, and because of that, so much of her work does not stand the test of time. She is best remembered for the spate of films like Peyton Place and Madame X that traded on her personal tragedies, but Postman, which predates all that, is a stunner—a cruel and desperate and gritty James Cain vehicle that sorely tests Lana's skills. But she succeeds marvelously, and from the first glimpse of her standing in the doorway in her white pumps, as the camera travels up her tanned legs, she becomes a character so enticingly beautiful and insidiously evil that the audience is riveted."[7]

The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 95% of critics gave the film a positive review, based on eighteen reviews.[8]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study .
  2. ^ a b c Scott Eyman, Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer, Robson, 2005 p 380
  3. ^ "The 100 Best Film Noirs of All Time". Paste. August 9, 2015. Retrieved August 9, 2015. 
  4. ^ The Postman Always Rings Twice at the American Film Institute Catalog.
  5. ^ Mankiewicz, Ben. (2011, August 5). The Postman Always Rings Twice, Turner Classic Movies
  6. ^ Crowther, Bosley. The New York Times, film review, "The Postman Always Rings Twice, With Lana Turner in a Star Role," May 3, 1946. Last accessed: January 9, 2008.
  7. ^ MacMillan Moser, Stephen. The Austin Chronicle, film/video review, December 29, 2000. Last accessed: January 9, 2008.
  8. ^ The Postman Always Rings Twice at Rotten Tomatoes. Last accessed: January 26, 2009.

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