What exactly has so attracted international filmmakers to James M. Cain’s crime novel, The Postman Always Rings Twice?

At least FOUR movie versions have been based on this tightly-written 1934 book including, of course, the 1946 MGM standard bearer costarring Lana Turner and John Garfield (see above). How come?

We asked our resident BOOKS2MOVIES maven Larry Michie — who compared Cain’s Mildred Pierce to the Joan Crawford movie version in our blogs of Feb. 16 and 17 — to look into this.  Here are Larry’s findings:

The Postman Always Rings Twice should satisfy all noir fanatics as well as plain old lovers of heady novels and high-tension movies. Author Cain delivers in spades.

For this episode of Chic Cainery (excuse the pun), start off with the fact that neither the book nor the movie features a Postman, once, twice, or at all. There was plenty of steamy sex, however, off-screen but with little left to the imagination. One result: Boston banned the book. In those days Boston was famous for being stuffy. Oh, well, I’m still a big Red Sox fan.

The novel and the movie are matched up with considerable success.

First the novel.   Frank Chambers, a footloose bum, comes onto the scene when he gets thrown off a hay truck and he walks into a sandwich joint.  “Twin Oaks’ tavern is the name of the joint.

The Greek owner wants to hire him, especially since the young man is a good mechanic for cars that stop there. The Greek’s wife, Cora, had won a shot at Hollywood after winning a prize in her home town of Des Moines. Like many would-be starlets, she wound up behind an eatery counter (okay, I tried to make that sound like Cain himself).

When the Greek takes Frank’s advice and heads to L.A. to get a neon sign to attract customers, he’s barely out the door when Cora initiates the first kiss, squealing bite me, bite me, and he hauls her and her bloody lips upstairs for further discussion. Later on, by the way, she begs him, rip me, rip me like you did before. Frank complies, with not much left to the imagination. You begin to get the idea why Boston banned the book.

Soon enough, the panting pair set the Greek up for a fatal accident (by the way, the novel includes a lot of offensive ethnic references to the Greek — Cora doesn’t like his oily skin and makes nasty ethnic comments.) Their first attempt at knocking off the Greek failed, but he was injured, and the cops were suspicious.

The lovers contrive another “accident,” and then the cops, DA, lawyers, etc., appear on the scene, and my guess is that Cain did NOT like lawyers. Some seem downright sleazy, on the make, and not exactly candidates for the Supreme Court.

The nasty pair contrive yet another accident and this time the Greek is history, the pair get married and collect a tidy sum of the deceased Greek’s insurance.

In the novel, Cora’s mother dies and she heads back to Des Moines. Frank at once latches onto a hot tamale who specializes in acquiring and selling animals — evidently there’s a big market in California for critters such as pumas and the like. When Cora gets back, she’s less than delighted to meet puma girl.

Also, it turns out, she’s pregnant.

Cora and Frank go swimming in the ocean, a favorite pastime, but she has a horrid onset of a miscarriage and she dies there. The law decides that Frank married her for her money and then somehow was responsible for her death on the beach. There were a lot of rightly suspicious lawyers and cops around.

By the way, in the 1940s and 1950s, there was an imperative when criminals got locked up. Can you guess?

Yes, indeed, John Garfield was in the slammer, along with a priest who spoke thoughtful, comforting words. Practically the same comforting priest was in the cell with Frank (of the novel) and Garfield (the movie.)

Well, the movie wasn’t a great deal different from the novel as far as cheating, double-crossing and the like are considered. That’s tough going.

It surprised me to watch the original movie version (not the 1981 remake) and discover that director Tay Garnett managed pretty well to pull all the elements together. It helped that Turner and Garfield  performed very well indeed.

You read it here first: Lana is HOT!

A novel being compressed into a movie must have been a tough call, but it works well, though much of the movie is devoted to sleazy lawyers, double-deals, pay-offs, bribes, strong-arm tactics etc. I was pleased to note the presence in the courtroom of the dapper young Hume Cronyn.


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