The Postman Always Rings Twice


The sensuous wife of a lunch wagon proprietor and a rootless drifter begin a sordidly steamy affair and conspire to murder her Greek husband.

Release Year: 1981

Rating: 6.5/10 (8,749 voted)

Bob Rafelson

Stars: Jack Nicholson, Jessica Lange, John Colicos

This remake of the 1946 movie of the same name accounts an affair between a seedy drifter and a seductive wife of a roadside cafe owner. This begins a chain of events that culminates in murder. Based on a novel by James M. Cain.

Writers: James M. Cain, David Mamet


Jack Nicholson

Frank Chambers

Jessica Lange

Cora Papadakis

John Colicos

Nick Papadakis

Michael Lerner

Mr. Katz

John P. Ryan


Anjelica Huston


William Traylor


Thomas Hill


(as Tom Hill)

Jon Van Ness

Motorcycle Cop

Brian Farrell


Raleigh Bond

Insurance Salesman

William Newman

Man from Home Town

Albert Henderson

Art Beeman

Ken Magee


Eugene Peterson


In the heat of passion two things can happen. The second is murder.

Release Date: 20 March 1981

Filming Locations: Santa Barbara, California, USA

Gross: $12,200,000

Technical Specs


Did You Know?


This movie is arguably the first of the significant 1980s erotic adult thrillers. The picture was soon followed about six months later by
Body Heat, like this film, another remake of a film noir, then
Fatal Attraction and
Basic Instinct.


Modern-day paper currency is used in craps game set during Great Depression, instead of silver certificate dollar bills then in use.


Spit on the sidewalk and you'll die in jail!

User Review

Underrated, but still not entirely realized

Rating: 8/10

This remake of the 1946 film which starred Lana Turner and John
Garfield is significantly better than its reputation. The script,
adapted from James M. Cain's first novel, is by the award-winning
playwright David Mamet, while the interesting and focused
cinematography is by Sven Nykvist, who did so much exquisite work for
Swedish director Ingmar Bergman. An excellent cast is led by Jack
Nicholson and Jessica Lange, whose cute animal magnetism is well
displayed. Bob Rafelson, who has to his directorial credit the
acclaimed Five Easy Pieces (1970) and The King of Marvin Gardens
(1972), both also starring Jack Nicholson, captures the raw animal sex
that made Cain's novel so appealing (and shocking) to a depression-era
readership and brings it up to date. Hollywood movies have gotten more
violent and scatological since 1981, but they haven't gotten any
sexier. This phenomenon is in part due to fears occasioned by the rise
of AIDS encouraged by the usual blue stocking people. Don't see this
movie if sex offends you.

Lange is indeed sexy and more closely fits the part of a lower-middle
class woman who married an older man, a café owner, for security than
the stunning blonde bombshell Lana Turner, who was frankly a little too
gorgeous for the part. John Colicos plays the café owner, Nick
Papadakis, with clear fidelity to Cain's conception. In the 1946
production, the part was played by Cecil Kellaway, who was decidedly
English; indeed they changed the character's name to Smith. Also
changed in that production was the name of the lawyer Katz (to Keats).
One wonders why. My guess is that in those days they were afraid of
offending Greeks, on the one hand, and Jews on the other. Here Katz is
played by Michael Lerner who really brings the character to life.

Jack Nicholson's interpretation of Cain's antihero, an ex-con who beat
up on the hated railway dicks while chasing any skirt that came his
way, the kind of guy who acts out his basic desires in an amoral,
animalistic way, was not entirely convincing, perhaps because Nicholson
seems a little too sophisticated for the part. Yet, his performance may
be the sort better judged by a later generation. I have seen him in so
many films that I don't feel I can trust my judgment. My sense is that
he's done better work, particularly in the two films mentioned above
and also in Chinatown (1974), One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
and such later works as The Shining (1980) and Terms of Endearment

The problem with bringing Postman successfully to the screen is
two-fold. One, the underlying psychology, which so strongly appealed to
Cain's depression-era readership, is not merely animalistic. More than
that it reflects the economic conflict between the established haves,
as represented by the greedy lawyers, the well-heeled insurance
companies, the implacable court system and the simple-minded cops, and
to a lesser degree by property owner Nick Papadakis himself, and the
out of work victims of the depression, the have-nots, represented by
Frank and Cora (who had to marry for security). Two–and this is where
both cinematic productions failed–the film must be extremely
fast-paced, almost exaggeratedly so, to properly capture the spirit and
sense of the Cain novel. Frank and Cora are rushing headlong into
tragedy and oblivion, and the pace of the film must reflect that. A
true to the spirit adaptation would require a terse, stream-lined
directorial style with an emphasis on blind passions unconsciously
acted out, something novelist Cormac McCarthy might accomplish if he
directed film. I think that Christopher Nolan, who directed the
strikingly original Memento (2000) could do it.

For further background on the novel and some speculation on why it was
called "The Postman Always Rings Twice" (Cain's original, apt title was
"Bar-B-Que") see my review at

(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut
to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it
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