AFI Catalog of Feature Films
Movie Detail
Name Occurs Before Title Offscreen Credit Print Viewed By AFI
The Postman Always Rings Twice
Alternate Title: Bar-B-Q
Director: Tay Garnett (Dir)
Release Date:   Apr 1946
Premiere Information:   New York opening: week of 3 May 1946
Production Date:   early Jun--mid-Oct 1945; retakes and addl scenes late Nov 1945 and 6 Jan--10 Jan 1946
Duration (in mins):   113
Print this page
Display Movie Summary

Cast:   Lana Turner (Cora Smith)  
    John Garfield (Frank Chambers)  
    Cecil Kellaway (Nick Smith)  
    Hume Cronyn (Arthur Keats)  
    Leon Ames (Kyle Sackett)  
    Audrey Totter (Madge Gorland)  
    Alan Reed (Ezra Liam Kennedy)  
    Jeff York (Blair)  
    Charles Williams (Jimmie White)  
    Cameron Grant (Willie)  
    Wally Cassell (Ben)  
    William Halligan (Judge)  
    Morris Ankrum (Judge)  
    Virginia Randolph (Snooty woman)  
    Tom Dillon (Father McConnell)  
    Howard Mitchell (Doctor)  
    John M. Sullivan (Doctor)  
    James Farley (Warden)  
    Dan Quigg    
    Oliver Cross    
    Paul Bradley    
    Paula Ray    

Summary: While hitchhiking to San Diego, drifter Frank Chambers stops at the sleepy Twin Oaks diner, located on a rural road near Los Angeles. Frank accepts a job from Nick Smith, the middle-aged, alcoholic owner of the diner, and is immediately intrigued by Nick's young wife Cora. A furtive romance soon develops between Frank and Cora, and when Nick takes a trip to Los Angeles one day, they decide to elope. The two only travel a short distance, however, as Cora loses hope and decides to return to Twin Oaks. Frank agrees to return with her, and they hurry back to the diner to get there before Nick finds the farewell note that Cora left behind. Determined to continue her romance with Frank and make a better life for herself, Cora convinces Frank that the only way for them to achieve happiness is to kill Nick and collect his insurance money. While Frank stands guard outside the diner, Cora prepares to kill Nick by knocking him unconscious and make his death appear to be a bathtub accident. The plan goes awry, however, when a cat trips the power lines just as Cora strikes Nick, plunging the diner into darkness and preventing Cora from completing the plan. Fearing that a police officer who stopped by the diner moments before the "accident" may become suspicious, Cora and Frank call an ambulance and rush Nick to a hospital. When Nick regains consciousness, he remembers nothing of the "accident," then tells Cora and Frank that he plans to sell the diner and take Cora with him to live at his sister's home in Santa Barbara. Although Cora protests, Nick firmly tells her that she must care for his semi-invalid sister. Desperate that the move will result in a complete life of drudgery, Cora enlists Frank to devise another plan to kill Nick. After getting Nick drunk, Frank and Cora stage an automobile accident at Malibu Lake, unaware that District Attorney Kyle Sackett has been following them. Though Sackett arrives on the scene too late to save Nick, he is certain that Cora and Frank are the killers. Without enough concrete evidence to convict Frank and Cora, Sackett tries to pit the two against each other, and tricks Frank into signing an official complaint against Cora, alleging that she tried to kill both him and Nick. Sackett's strategy nearly succeeds when Cora incriminates herself and agrees to sign a full confession. The confession, however, is recorded by Ezra Liam Kennedy, a private detective posing as an official from Sackett's office. Kennedy is in the employ of Cora's attorney, Arthur Keats, who prevents the confession from being read to the court. Keats persuades Cora to settle for a manslaughter charge, and she is later released on probation. Several weeks pass, and Cora and Frank still do not trust each other, but decide to marry, in order to run the diner together and not appear to be living indecently. One day, Cora leaves Twin Oaks to visit her ailing mother in Iowa. During her week-long absence, Frank has an affair with Madge Gorland, a woman he meets at a train station. Soon after Cora returns, she and Frank are visited by Kennedy, who is no longer employed by Keats and who demands $15,000 in exchange for Cora's signed confession. Cora and Frank manage to overpower Kennedy and destroy the confession. Afterward, Cora tells Frank that she has discovered his affair with Madge, and that she is pregnant. Cora then asks him take her to the beach for a swim in the moonlight and plans to swim far out into the ocean with Frank, then tell him that he can turn back without her. When Cora is finally too exhausted to continue swimming, she tells Frank what she is doing and his reaction makes them both realize that they love and and trust each other once again. After Frank helps Cora back to shore, the now happy couple drive toward the diner, but Frank loses control of the car and the vehicle careens off the road. Although Frank escapes unhurt, Cora is killed. Frank is then convicted of Cora's murder, and just before his scheduled execution, Sackett comes to see him. When Frank tells him that he didn't kill Cora and hopes that at the last second she did not think that he did, Sackett reveals that a note left by Cora, which was recently found in the back of the diner's cash register, not only revealed her love for Frank, but inadvertently divulged details of Nick's murder. Realizing that his situation is like that of someone who only receives the mail after the postman rings the doorbell twice, Frank contently heads toward his exection. 

Production Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp. (Loew's Inc.)
Distribution Company: Loew's Inc.  
Director: Tay Garnett (Dir)
  Bill Lewis (Asst dir)
Producer: Carey Wilson (Prod)
Writer: Harry Ruskin (Scr)
  Niven Busch (Scr)
Photography: Sidney Wagner (Dir of photog)
  John Schmitz (2d cam)
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons (Art dir)
  Randall Duell (Art dir)
Film Editor: George White (Film ed)
Set Decoration: Edwin B. Willis (Set dec)
Costumes: Irene (Cost supv)
  Marion Herwood Keyes (Assoc)
Music: George Bassman (Mus score)
  Ted Duncan (Orch)
Sound: Douglas Shearer (Rec dir)
  Charles J. Burnbridge (Unit mixer)
  James Z. Flaster (Re-rec and eff mixer)
  Ralph A. Pender (Re-rec and eff mixer)
  Robert W. Shirley (Re-rec and eff mixer)
  Newell Sparks (Re-rec and eff mixer)
  William Steinkamp (Re-rec and eff mixer)
  Michael Steinore (Re-rec and eff mixer)
  Don T. Whitmer (Re-rec and eff mixer)
  M. J. MacLaughlin (Mus mixer)
  Herbert Stahlberg (Mus mixer)
Special Effects: Warren Newcombe (Matte paintings)
  Mark Davis (Matte paintings, cam)
  A. Arnold Gillespie (Miniatures and transparency projection shots)
Make Up: Jack Dawn (Makeup created by)
Production Misc: George Richelavie (Research dir)
  Gladys Norvell (Research asst)
  Harry H. Poppe (Unit mgr)
Country: United States

Songs: "She's Funny That Way," words by Richard A. Whiting, music by Neil Moret.
Composer: Neil Moret
  Richard A. Whiting
Source Text: Based on the novel The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain (New York, 1934).
Authors: James M. Cain

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number Passed By NBR:
Loew's Inc. 6/3/1946 dd/mm/yyyy LP146 Yes

PCA NO: 11240
Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: Western Electric Sound System

Genre: Romance
Sub-Genre: Crime
Subjects (Major): Diners (Restaurants)
Subjects (Minor): Alcoholics
  Automobile accidents
  Confession (Law)
  Desertion (Marital)
  District attorneys
  Gold diggers
  Impersonation and imposture
  Insurance fraud
  Los Angeles (CA)
  Marriage--Forced by circumstances
  Marriage of convenience
  Moral reformation

Note: The working title of this film was Bar-B-Q . A Jan 1945 HR news item indicates that Gregory Peck was considered for the role played by John Garfield. Garfield was borrowed from Warner Bros. for this picture, and Cecil Kellaway was borrowed from Paramount. Some filming took place at a gas station thirty miles southeast of Los Angeles. A biography of Lana Turner notes that the actress once stated that her role in the film was her favorite assignment.
       Material contained in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library provides the following information about the film: In early Feb 1934, before James M. Cain's novel was published, a synopsis of his story was submitted to the PCA by RKO executive Merian C. Cooper. After reviewing the synopsis, the PCA persuaded RKO to abandon its plans to film Cain's story, calling it "definitely unsuitable for motion picture production." Columbia and Warner Bros. also expressed interest in the property, but Warner Bros. quickly rejected the story, "fearful that any attempt to get a screen story out of it would end in disaster." An internal memorandum of the Hays Office dated 9 Mar 1934 indicates that M-G-M production executive Eddie Mannix purchased the rights to the story only "two hours" after the PCA convinced Columbia studio executives to kill their plans to acquire the rights. In the memo, Joseph I. Breen, the Director of the PCA, noted that Columbia and RKO were likely to "set up a squawk the minute they hear Metro has purchased this story, which we persuaded them not to purchase."
       The Breen Office made several impassioned pleas to M-G-M to drop their planned film, warning of the dangers of filming a novel that it called "unwholesome and thoroughly objectionable" in its general theme. Breen later elaborated on his objections, stating that many of the story's elements, including "numerous sexual irregularities," the explicit treatment of criminal acts and the "emphasis upon the dishonesty of the lawyers and representatives of the insurance companies," would prevent the film from gaining the PCA's approval. By Apr 1934, M-G-M agreed to abandon the property, and it was shelved for six years. In 1939, a short time after the release of a French version of Cain's story, entitled Le Dernier Tournant , Breen stated in a letter to MPPA treasurer Col. Frederick L. Herron that "you will be glad to know that the film is a fairly complete flop. Very few of the critics liked it and I understand that the public hisses it from time to time. Some of this material might be used in defense of our industry when people over there claim that we make mistakes in refusing to permit certain stories to be filmed."
       In early 1940, M-G-M submitted to the PCA a proposed treatment of Cain's novel as outlined by Czechoslovakian director Gustav Machaty and Albert F. Joseph. As indicated in a letter from Breen to Louis B. Mayer, the new treatment did not contain the novel's "adultery or illicit sex," and it would "not be a story about murder." The treatment deviated from the novel in many respects, namely in that no attempt would be made to murder "Nick," that the bathtub scene would be treated as an accident, and that "Frank" and "Cora" would have no guilt in Nick's drunk driving accident. Despite M-G-M's willingness to alter much of Cain's story, Breen wrote Mayer that the material "still continues to be pretty sordid stuff, and questionable from the standpoint of popular entertainment." Machaty and Joseph were not mentioned in conjunction with subsequent versions of the script or story, and the extent of their contribution to the final film has not been determined.
       Various treatments and scripts were submitted by M-G-M to the PCA between 1940 and 1945, and in May 1945, the PCA approved a revised temporary script. In an Apr 1946 NYT article, Cain notes that while some "details about sex were omitted," nothing else was changed in the story's adaptation to the screen to win the approval of the PCA. Regional censorship reports contained in the MPAA/PCA file indicate that the film was banned in Indonesia, Switzerland and Spain, and that deletions to the picture were made in other countries.
       Cain adapted his novel for the stage in 1936. The New York production starred Richard Barthelmess, Mary Philips and Joseph Greenwald. Other films based on Cain's novel are: the 1939 French film Le Dernier Tournant , directed by Pierre Chenal and starring Fernand Gravet and Corinne Luchaire; the 1942 Italian film Ossessione , directed by Luchino Visconti and starring Massimo Girotti and Clara Calamai; and the 1981 Lorimar film The Postman Always Rings Twice , directed by Bob Rafelson and starring Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange. The 1942 Italian film, which did not credit Cain or his story, was the subject of an international copyright infringement dispute that resulted in M-G-M's successful lobbying to keep any prints of the film from being shown in the United States. Ossessione has never been released in the United States, and is shown illegally in most parts of the world. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   16 Mar 1946.   
Daily Variety   12 Mar 46   p. 3.
Film Daily   15 Mar 46   p. 16.
Hollywood Reporter   3 Jan 45   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   31 May 45   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   8 Jun 45   p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter   12 Jul 45   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   11 Sep 45   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   12 Oct 45   p. 18.
Hollywood Reporter   23 Nov 45   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   10 Jan 46   p. 16.
Hollywood Reporter   30 Jan 46   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   7 May 46   p. 8.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   9 Mar 46   p. 2883.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   16 Mar 46   pp. 2893-94.
New York Times   19 Nov 1944.   
New York Times   13 May 1945.   
New York Times   21 Apr 1946.   
New York Times   3 May 46   p. 15.
Variety   20 Mar 46   p. 8.

Display Movie Summary
The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
Advanced Search
Support our efforts to preserve hisotory of film
Help AFI Preserve Film History

© 2017 American Film Institute.
All rights reserved.
Terms of use.