Making the Grades
Frank Chambers (John Garfield) is a drifter with itchy feet. He takes temporary work at a rural restaurant and gas station owned by Nicholas Smith (Cecil Kellaway) and his beautiful, much younger wife Cora (Lana Turner). One glance at the sultry blonde standing in the doorway of the kitchen and Frank is willing to unpack his bags—at least for a while.
But before long, the new employee starts fingering property that isn’t his—namely Nick’s wife. With Frank securely smitten, the calculating bride reveals her ambitions to make something of herself and her husband’s business. And she wheedles Frank into believing he is the man to help her do it. However to make her plan work, they need to get Cora’s husband out of the way.
When Nick is killed in a car accident, the local district attorney (Leon Ames) suspects the dry-eyed widow and her handyman/attendant. And so Cora and Frank are brought to trial. While trying to maintain their pre-rehearsed stories, the twosome is spurred on by their lawyers to turn on one another. Through some seemingly underhanded methods, Cora’s legal defender keeps her testimony out of the courtroom and the pair eventually walks free. But just because they aren’t behind bars doesn’t mean they are free of guilt. As time passes, the crime strains their turbulent relationship and they experience unexpected consequences that threaten their future.
Based on a 1934 crime novel by James M. Cain, the script underwent years of adaptations in order to bring the explicit book material into compliance with the 1940’s movie production standards. While the portrayals of murder and accidents are non-graphic, the script contains several discussions about killing. Sexual activity, while depicted primarily with passionate kisses between Cora and her lover, is alluded to along with sultry stances and innuendo.
Yet even with the revisions to the screenplay, the movie remains a haunting storyline of deceit, sexual desire and murder. Destined for tragedy, Cora and Frank never deserve a moment of sympathy for their choices. But the chilling outcome of their lives shows the devastating results that can come from one bad decision.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about The Postman Always Rings Twice.
What initial decision puts Frank on the path that ultimately costs him so much? Are there any points along the way that he could have changed the direction he was headed?
Despite her dark intentions toward her husband, Cora often wears white. How does this play against the stereotypical depictions of the time that good guys wore white and bad guys wore black? Does her clothing choice make her seem more evil?
The district attorney has his suspicions but loses his case because of a lack of evidence. Cora’s lawyer employs some underhanded methods to keep her from confessing. Does he impede justice by doing that? What responsibility do lawyers have when they know their client is guilty? How are consequences satisfied in this film?