The Postman Always Rings Twice

Year: 1981
Production Co: CIP Filmproduktion GmbH
Director: Bob Rafaelson
Writer: David Mamet
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Jessica Lange, Anjelica Huston

What postman? And what does the number of times he rings have to do with anything here?Those were just some of the questions I was left with after watching and forgetting what I thought was supposed to be a classic. Was it noir? A thriller? A romantic potboiler? I could never put my finger on it, so everything about the film that I felt should have been affecting simply eluded me.

What's more – and even if I couldn't appreciate it in the canon of the genre it's supposed to be part of – the story is so uninvolving it left me cold. All I can attribute the plaudits to are that because it's a remake of a much earlier classic everyone was so excited about, director Bob Rafaelson could have pointed a camera at just about anything.

For one thing, it's not in the least steamy or sexy. When Frank (Jack Nicholson) consummates his affair with Cora (Jessica Lange), it subscribes to the extremely dodgy sexual politics of the time – the same in Straw Dogs – depicting him virtually carrying her off to sexually assault her, ignoring her protests and thrashing to get him off. Every time they engage in some act of romantic affection (including lovemaking) from then on, it seems to be through a gauzy veil of hatred for each other, like neither of them particuarly want it but feel they have to keep it going after initially giving in to their lust.

At the time it probably traded on Lange being such a sex symbol and the dark, dangerous male sexuality Jack Nicholson was known for in his heyday, but there's no heat in the affair, and the rest of the story is pretty dull too.

When a drifter and apparent former criminal Frank happens upon the country diner run by elderly Greek Nick, he falls in with the man and his goregous American wife Cora, doing odd jobs and helping in the kitchen in return for room and board.

They start their affair during one of Nick's frequent trips away, and despite it feeling so cold and uninvolving Frank and Cora plan to murder him so they can be together (apparently the element that makes it film noir, a bit like Double Indemnity). What happens next is an upward spiral of cause, effect, happenstance, dishonesty and violence, none of which amounts to very much and which David Mamet's script seems to be warning us is their due for their terrible deeds.

Of course, he might just be saying love and happiness are stupid illusions because the only constant is disappointment and pain. The final scene certainly seems to assert as much, introducing a violent dues ex machina that feels like it's only there to make you miserable.

It might have been the hottest ticket in 1981, but like the films of Bo Derek, it's dreadfully tame and out of date now.

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