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The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981) Blu-ray Review

The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981) movie poster The Postman Always Rings Twice

Theatrical Release: March 20, 1981 / Running Time: 121 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Bob Rafelson / Writers: David Mamet (screenplay), James M. Cain (novel)

Cast: Jack Nicholson (Frank Chambers), Jessica Lange (Cora Papadakis), John Colicos (Nick Papadakis), Michael Lerner (Mr. Katz), John P. Ryan (Mr. Kennedy), Anjelica Huston (Madge Allen), William Taylor (Sackett), Thomas Hill (Barlow), Jon Van Ness (Motorcycle Cop), Brian Farrell (Mortenson), Raleigh Bond (Insurance Salesman), William Newman (Man from Home Town), Albert Henderson (Art Beeman), Christopher Lloyd (The Salesman)

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The 1960s ended on a promising note for Jack Nicholson. Acting in films and television since his late teens, Nicholson landed a choice role in his friends' film, Easy Rider, and earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Nicholson more than lived up to that promise in the 1970s.
Cinema was changing as a crop of talented new directors rose. In front of the camera, few actors enjoyed as much prominence and success as Nicholson, who starred in a string of decorated dramas including Five Easy Pieces, Chinatown, and 1975 Best Picture winner One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

The 1980s brought more change to Hollywood, with blockbusters from George Lucas and Steven Spielberg interesting the public more than the kind of adult dramas Nicholson made. Though one of his best-known and most adored films today, Stanley Kubrick's The Shining wasn't highly regarded upon release. Nicholson's next move was to reunite with his Five Easy Pieces and The King of Marvin Gardens director Bob Rafelson on The Postman Always Rings Twice, a dark, steamy Depression era noir romance.

James M. Cain's 1934 novel of the same name had already been adapted twice by the French, once by Italy's Luchino Visconti and most famously in a 1946 MGM film starring Lana Turner and John Garfield. This 1981 version was the first screenplay credit of David Mamet, who had gained recognition at a young age for a number of his plays performed on and off Broadway.

"The Postman Always Rings Twice" tells the story of a Depression era love affair between Cora Papadakis (Jessica Lange) and Frank Chambers (Jack Nicholson).

Nicholson plays Frank Chambers, a drifter, hitchhiker, and con man who orders a big breakfast from Twin Oaks Tavern and invents an excuse that prevents him from paying. Nick Papadakis (John Colicos), the Greek immigrant who owns the tiny California roadside diner, offers Frank a job as a mechanic, which he accepts over the machinist job in Los Angeles he's made up. Nick's sultry Anglo wife Cora (Jessica Lange) catches Frank's eye. When Nick is out buying parts in the city, they have violent, passionate sex in the kitchen.

Frank and Cora quickly make plans to run away together, packing their bags for Chicago. This is not to be, though. She reconsiders while he's invested in a backroom game of craps at the bus station. The adulterous couple then decides to tie up a loose end by eliminating Nick from the picture. Again, circumstance intervenes. Nick ends up hospitalized with a newfound love of life and gratitude for his wife and employee.

Though the fates seem not to want them together, Frank and Cora give it one more try and find themselves in hot water. Frank's long cross-country criminal record brings them immediate suspicion for a car accident sustained and raises accusations of murder and insurance fraud.

Despite the name tag, Jack Nicholson plays Frank Chambers, a drifter who becomes a mechanic at the Twin Oaks Tavern. Jessica Lange plays Cora Papadakis, the cook who begins a passionate affair with Frank.

Whereas the 1946 film had to adhere to Hollywood's restrictive Production Code, this remake does not. That explains why it's quite racy then and even somewhat now for its depictions of lovemaking.
While there's barely any nudity, the content is provocative enough to ensure that this would not have earned a PG-13 had it arrived three years later, when the MPAA introduced that rating.

We associate romance movies with female appeal and sentimentality, but this has little of either. It's a slow, unhappy film which most comes to life in the dizzying middle when the threat of legal consequences, and possibly even execution, hangs over our star-crossed lovers.

Postman (whose title is never explained here) was not much of a draw in theaters, although its $12.4 million gross in 1981 is the equivalent of a decent $37.2 M today when adjusted for inflation.

Poorly reviewed by critics and unrecognized by any significant awards, the film did little to set back the careers of its makers. Lange rebounded the following year, picking up dual Oscar nominations, for Frances (a losing bid for Lead Actress) and Tootsie (a Supporting Actress win). She went on to become one of the more acclaimed actresses of the '80s and has enjoyed a recent revival for her widely-recognized work on FX's "American Horror Story." Nicholson's follow-up, Reds, earned him another Oscar nomination, which he followed with a Supporting Actor win in 1983 Best Picture Terms of Endearment. He, of course, had been going strong into his seventies, though he's recently slowed, making just one film in the past six years. Mamet next adapted The Verdict, which earned him his first of two Screenplay Oscar nominations. He remains highly respected for both his theatre and film work. The only major player for whom things did not pick up is director Rafelson, who took the following six years off and before returning to a loss in relevance. His two subsequent reteamings with Nicholson (Blood and Wine, Man Trouble) represent two of the actor's low points of the '90s. Seemingly retired since 2003, Rafelson's filmography tapers off in a most disheartening way.

Though theatrically distributed by Paramount, Postman has been part of the giant Warner Home Video catalog since at least the early '90s. Warner recently brought the film to Blu-ray, just in time for Valentine's Day.

To the disappointment of studio logo purists, the film opens with a modern-day Warner Bros. Pictures logo and fanfare here.

The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981) Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.78:1 Widescreen
BD: 1.0 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Mono 1.0 (French, German, Italian, Castilian Spanish, Latin Spanish, Portuguese)
Subtitles: English SDH, French, German SDH, Italian SDH, Castilian Spanish, Latin Spanish, Portuguese; Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: January 21, 2014 / Suggested Retail Price: $19.98
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50) / Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase
Still available as Fullscreen DVD ($5.97 SRP; August 20, 1997)
and on Amazon Instant Video


Blu-ray presents The Postman Always Rings Twice in 1.78:1, an acceptable approximation of its 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio. That's a much-needed improvement over the film's DVD, released all the way back in 1997, which apparently presented it in full screen. The picture is very dark, presumably by design. The film conveys the period setting with a cold color palette heavy on browns and low on light. The film has that dated look of '70s and early '80s cinema, but the clean and detailed element suffers from nothing worse than some infrequent light grain and barely perceptible print imperfections.

The default soundtrack is a 1.0 DTS-HD master audio monaural mix. Its recordings are clean and consistent, though you still may find yourself checking the subtitles to clarify the occasional line. In doing so, you may be surprised to discover that Warner has loaded the disc with foreign language options, offering Dolby 1.0 dubs and subtitles in six additional languages, including three not mentioned on the case. (The full list, as always, appears in the table above.)

Less provocative (and more violent) than the cover, this poster art functions as the Blu-ray's static top menu image.


It's rare these days for catalog films to turn up on Blu-ray with any new bonus features, but The Postman Always Rings Twice is one of the lucky few. The disc includes a "scene-specific" audio commentary by director Bob Rafelson, screenwriter David Mamet, and Jack Nicholson.

The three accomplished individuals are recorded separately (sometime around 2006, if Nicholson's counting is accurate) and edited together over an abridged version of the film that runs one hour, 21 minutes, and 28 seconds long. I like that approach; so many commentaries suffer from lulls of dead air (of which there are almost none here). With Rafelson leading the way, the three speakers offer mostly fond, usually compatible memories of their shared experience. Among the topics discussed are the cast, casting, reviews, how to present sex on film, avoiding an X rating, improvised moments, the score, and the altered ending.

The only other extra is the original theatrical trailer (2:53, SD), a long narrated preview which culminates with a Playboy quote comparing the film to Last Tango in Paris.

Warner's DVD evidently included three trailers and production notes. Information on that disc, which presumably has been repackaged from the snapper case of its original pressing, is tough to come by, but I assume the notes were a handful of text-based screens, as was the common practice back then, and are not greatly missed.

The less provocative poster art used for the DVD's cover serves as the static, silent top menu. The disc doesn't support bookmarking, but does kindly resume unfinished playback.

The eco-friendly keepcase is not joined by insert or slipcover.

Cora Papadakis (Jessica Lange) and Frank Chambers (Jack Nicholson) plan their escape at a bus depot, where they've bought tickets to Chicago.


The Postman Rings Twice feels quite a bit older than it is, which perhaps is a testament to its impressive period production design. There isn't much else to celebrate about this film, which holds your attention but not your interest as it plods along to an unsatisfying conclusion, making time for some random tangents (like the strange scene featuring Anjelica Huston as a Russian lion tamer).

With a fine widescreen presentation and new partial-film audio commentary, Warner's Blu-ray undoubtedly improves upon the studio's nearly 20-year-old fullscreen DVD, but even Jack Nicholson fans may have trouble getting excited about the film.

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Related Reviews:
Jack Nicholson: Chinatown One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest The Shining How Do You Know The Cry Baby Killer Broadcast News
Early '80s on Blu-ray: Blood Simple. Thief Deathtrap Heaven's Gate One from the Heart
Jessica Lange: The Vow Prozac Nation | Anjelica Huston: The Grifters The Royal Tenenbaums The Darjeeling Limited
Adapted by David Mamet: The Verdict | New: Bonnie & Clyde The Broker's Man: Series 1

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Reviewed February 12, 2014.

Text copyright 2014 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1981 Lorimar, Metro-Goldwyn Mayer, Paramount Pictures, Northstar International Pictures,
and 2014 Warner Home Video. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.