When drifter Frank Chambers (John Garfield) takes a job at a diner, the job comes with benefits in the person of the boss’s wife, Cora (Lana Turner). Tired of her marriage to the older, boring Nick(Cecil Kellaway), Cora longs to be with Frank and have the diner to run herself, so the two of them hatch a murder plot.
With this classic noir setup, “The Postman Always Rings Twice” explores the difficulties of carrying off a perfect murder as well as the aftermath, including the question of whether love can survive such stresses. Unfortunately, it doesn’t explore these themes nearly as well as the superior film “Double Indemnity” did two years earlier in 1944. The film does have some bright spots. Cecil Kellaway is excellent as the penny-pinching, clueless Nick, and Hume Cronyn steals every scene as a sleazy defense attorney. I also like that the film doesn’t make the murderers completely despicable. They do truly fall in love, and Cora winds up having more than the usual financial motive to want Nick dead. The lead actors, unfortunately, are too weak to carry the story off. Lana Turner is just serviceable, John Garfield is completely unconvincing, and the pair lack chemistry. Aspects of the plot are poorly developed as well. The District Attorney is onto Cora and Frank from the beginning, but the film never explains how he comes to suspect them.
“Postman” was successful and apparently well-regarded by critics, and it was a turning point in Turner’s career, offering her a meatier role than her previous “scream-queen” and “sweater girl” work. In the context of great noir films, however, it is a couple of tiers below movies like “Double Indemnity.” “The Postman Always Rings Twice”? He can just leave this one on the front porch.
2 stars out of 5