Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)

In director Tay Garnett's thriller-noir set in the post-war era - one of the best film noirs of all time - it was also one of the earliest prototypes of today's 'erotic thrillers.' This stylish, sexually-charged, moody and fatalistic film was about lust and murder. The screenplay (by Harry Ruskin and Niven Busch) was based on the controversial first novel/pot-boiler (published in 1934) of the same name by notorious writer James M. Cain.

The steamy melodrama was best known for one of the hottest portrayals of a sultry and seductive femme fatale - it was one of "sweater girl" Lana Turner's finest performances as a seductress. Years later, the neo-noir Body Heat (1981) paid homage to it, and it was remade with Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange as The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981).

The film was advertised with posters that described the illicit passion between drifter Frank Chambers (John Garfield) and married, libidinous, restless and unsatisfied platinum-blonde waitress Cora Smith (Lana Turner) in a roadside cafe. "Their Love was a Flame that Destroyed!" Their killing of the woman's husband ultimately led to their mutual destruction in unexpected ways.

  • in the opening sequence, unemployed, hitchhiking drifter Frank Chambers (John Garfield) was dropped off in front of the rural Twin Oaks diner outside of Los Angeles, owned by California roadside gas-station and eatery proprietor Nick Smith (Cecil Kellaway), with the fateful sign: MAN WANTED (a come-on with many meanings!)
  • the young wanderer Frank engaged in a brief conversation with the driver as he was about to set off (soon identified as Kyle Sackett (Leon Ames), the local DA prosecutor); Frank revealed his wanderlust freedom and explained why he kept "looking for new places, new people, new ideas," and couldn't settle down: "Well, I've never liked any job I've ever had. Maybe the next one is the one I've always been lookin' for....maybe my future starts right now"; Nick immediately assumed that Frank was interested in the diner's handyman and mechanic position, although Frank again described his wanderlust to see the world
  • as he sat at the diner counter after Nick offered him a hamburger lunch (and then took care of an outside gas customer), Frank took his first look at the smoldering, femme fatale Cora (Lana Turner) when her lipstick case noisily rolled across the floor of the cafe toward him; he didn't know she was the diner owner's wife; the camera tracked back to her nude slim legs in the doorway; Frank looked at all of her - she was provocatively sexy and scantily clad in a white, two-piece playsuit (white shorts, white halter top, and white turban)
  • Frank set his eyes on the whitish platinum-blonde woman, bent down and picked up her lipstick, and asked: "You dropped this?" He held onto her possession in the palm of his own hand and then leaned back on the counter - she strutted over and took the case out of his hand.and then walked back to the doorway, stood sideways, and applied lipstick to her lips before shutting the door on the adjoining living quarters of the cafe; shortly later, Frank accepted the job offer - and then soon after considered rescinding his acceptance when he saw that Cora was Nick's wife
The Dramatic Entrance of Cora - The Wife of Diner Owner Nick Smith

Cora's Lipstick Case Rolling Toward the Diner Counter

Camera Tracking to Cora's Nude Slim Legs, as She Stood in Doorway

Frank Chambers - His First Glance at Cora

Full View of Cora Framed in the Doorway

Cora Applying Lipstick as Frank Asked: "You dropped this?"

Staring Back at Frank When He Stood There with the Lipstick in His Hand
  • after Cora's dramatic entrance into the cafe, she and hired worker Frank officially met and spoke for the first time; she began bossing and sizing him up while he made suggestive advances towards the untouchable yet glamorous woman; suddenly, Frank grabbed her and planted a kiss on her lips; she reacted with great poise - she pulled out her vanity mirror, cleaned up the smudged lipstick on her lips, and then reapplied the lipstick before leaving - without a word; Frank recalled in voice-over: "For a couple of weeks then, she wouldn't look at me, or say a word to me if she could help it"
  • Frank bragged to Cora, with a machismo double-entendre: "I could sell anything to anybody" - she snapped back: "That's what you think"; when she couldn't light her own cigarette, she had him stand there with his burning flame before letting him light her cigarette; he asked: "How did you ever come to marry a guy like that?"; soon after, Frank took credit for replacing the old Twin Oaks sign with a newer, blinking neon sign - Frank's and Cora's figures were alternately lit and darkened by the on-and-off blinking

In the Light of the Blinking Neon Sign

Dancing in the Cafe, Under Nick's Watchfulness

Late-Night Swimming Together
  • but then one evening, Frank was encouraged by Nick to dance with Cora, to the tune playing on the diner's jukebox; there was terrific magnetism between them; after hot-blooded Cora's passion rapidly swelled, to cool off, she departed in her white bathing suit to swim in the ocean, and Frank joined her - with Nick's urging; after returning, Cora was receptive to a passionate good-night kiss
  • the next day when Nick was away in LA, Cora explained why she married the good-hearted man when taken in by the promise of security and wealth - but she compromised herself by entering into a loveless marriage of convenience; the voluptuous Cora succumbed to Frank with another kiss - their kiss dissolved into an explanatory, incriminating note about planning to run away together: ("I'm going away with Frank - I love him. Cora"); Cora was tempted by Frank's impulsive promise of adventure to escape her life of boredom and defeat
  • Cora's note was put in the cash register before they deserted the diner, and hit the road hitchhiking; however, after minor hardships by the roadside, Cora changed her mind about being a drifter like Frank: ("If I walk out like this, I'll lose everything and I'll never be anybody. Oh, I love you Frank, and I want you, but not this way. Not starting out like a couple of tramps. I'm going back"); they retreated back to the diner just in time to retrieve their note before it might be discovered by Nick
  • they watched together from the front window as the inebriated Nick was returning, and almost drove head-on into a freight truck; Frank suggested half-heartedly: "I'd like to see him get plastered like that some night and drive off a cliff" - a foreshadowing
  • still smitten by Cora's smoldering sexuality, Frank remembered how fatal his decision was to stay, rather than escaping with Cora; he felt more and more trapped and propelled further toward leaving: ("I couldn't go, and I couldn't stay the way things were")

Planting the Idea of Eliminating Nick Somehow

"You're smart Frank. You'll think of a way"

Conniving to Have Frank Replace Her Husband Nick
  • about a week later, it was actually the evil and conniving Cora's idea to urge Frank to be rid of her husband Nick: (Cora: "There's, there's one thing we could do that would fix everything for us" Frank: "What? Pray for something to happen to Nick?" Cora: "Something like that"); the unfaithful and soul-less Cora planted the idea of murder into Frank's head ("You're smart Frank. You'll think of a way") so that they could be together - and so she could inherit the financial security of the restaurant ("Can't you see how happy you and I would be together here, without him?")
  • their first plotting was to kill Nick in an 'accidental' bathtub fall - the plan was for Cora to strike Nick with a sock full of ball-bearings and pretend that he had fatally hit his head falling in the bathtub; she would then climb out the window and down a stepladder put their for her exit; their plan went awry when a motorcycle cop pulled into the driveway and happened to notice a stray cat climbing up the stepladder to the second floor bathroom where the 'accident' was set to occur; the cat electrocuted itself on the rooftop and there was a grisly explosion and Cora's loud screaming
  • Nick was struck on the head and injured by Cora, but survived; he was taken to the hospital where he was revived; at the hospital, DA Kyle Sackett became suspicious and wondered if it was potentially a murder plot; however, upon investigation, the DA (with the motorcycle cop) concluded: "Accidents can happen in the weirdest sort of ways"
  • during Nick's week-long stay in the hospital, Cora and Frank frolicked in the moonlight in the surreal surf at the beach and enjoyed illicit romantic trysting; once Nick was about to return home, however, Frank became anxious and hurriedly packed and left without saying goodbye - he became a vagabond once more; after a couple of weeks in LA, he couldn't resist returning to Cora: ("I couldn't get her out of my mind. It kept naggin' me all the time"); he met up with Nick at the LA market, and was convinced to return and reacquire his job at the diner
  • that night at dinner, a turning point came when Nick suddenly announced to them that he was selling Twin Oaks, and retiring and moving to Northern Canada to live with his paralyzed sister (in a house he half-owned) where Cora would act as her nurse; Nick affirmed that he was ready to make the deal final and immediately phoned Stanton to arrange to sign the papers in Santa Barbara early Wednesday morning
  • Cora became desperate and was contemplating suicide for two reasons - despair over Frank's return, and her worry about being taken away to care for Nick's invalid sister; Frank concluded that it was his turn to murder Cora's husband: (Frank's voice-over: "A regular drunk automobile accident with liquor in the car and all the rest of it")
  • there was a second more successful attempt to kill Nick; a drunk-driving accident was staged as all three were in Nick's car proceeding along the coast road to Santa Barbara the night before the Wednesday appointment to finalize the sale of the cafe; Frank pretended to be drunk, but Nicky was completely soused; on the 3-mile turn-off road to Malibu Lake, they briefly stopped and the drunken Nick was bludgeoned to death from behind with a wine bottle; Frank placed Nick in the driver's seat and then pushed the car off the side of the road and down a cliff; Frank asked Cora: "It's gonna be tough going now. Are you sure you can go through with it?"

The Plot to Kill Nick (Their Second Attempt)

Frank Pushing The Car Over a Cliff (With Drunken, Bludgeoned Nick Inside)

Frank to Cora: "It's gonna be tough going now. Are you sure you can go through with it?"
  • afterwards, they both decided to climb down to the car: ("We gotta mess ourselves up so we can prove we've been in the accident too"), but then Frank suggested that Cora return to the roadside to flag down help; Frank became trapped in the car as it plummeted further downward; their car was followed by DA Sackett, certain that they had just committed murder; Frank was brought by ambulance (with Nick's corpse) to a hospital
  • to neatly wrap up the case, Sackett at first wanted to pin the murder on Frank; another motivating factor was that a few days before Nick's death, Nick had purchased a "brand new ten-thousand dollar insurance policy" - another reason to kill him; but then on second thought, Sackett shrewdly proposed that Cora was the one responsible for the murder, in order to divide the two lovers: (Sackett: "There were just three people in that car - Nick and you and Cora. It's a cinch Nick didn't have anything to do with it. So if you were too drunk to do it, that leaves her"); Frank was manipulatively pressured and goaded by Sackett into signing a complaint against Cora, as Sackett warned: "It's you or her"
  • Cora was shocked in court when her shrewd lawyer Arthur Keats ((Hume Cronyn) had her plead 'guilty' to both counts: murder (against Nick Smith) and the attempted murder (of Frank)
  • in an interrogation room alone with Cora, she denounced Frank for betraying her, turning against her, and double-crossing her with accusations; they both began to distrust and despise each other as their relationship slowly deteriorated; once her lawyer entered the room, to get back at Frank, Cora vowed to both her lawyer and Frank that she would testify to the "real truth" that Frank was very much implicated in Nick's murder: "He was in this mess as much as I was and I'm gonna tell it to the world...Oh, he's not gonna get away with it"

Cora During Arraignment with Her Lawyer

Frank In the Interrogation Room With Cora

Cora Denouncing Frank For Blaming the Murders on Her

Cora Angry Her at Own Lawyer For Allowing Her to Solely Plead Guilty to the Crime

Cora: "I'm gonna tell it all right now" - She Decides to Implicate Frank

Cora Delivering Her Confession - Transcribed and Typed by Keats' Assistant Kennedy
  • Cora delivered a fully transcribed confession that she signed, typed by Keats' assistant Ezra Kennedy (Alan Reed): "This will be a full and complete confession of how Frank Chambers and I deliberately planned and carried out the murder of my husband Nicholas Smith. Frank Chambers and I are equally guilty, although it was Frank who smashed Nick in the head before the car went over the cliff"
  • it was all a clever ploy by Keats, who turned the tables and revealed that the transcriber was not from the DA's office (but his own inside man), so Keats was able to keep Cora's confession locked away in a safe - unseen by the prosecutor Sackett; before the judge, Keats then reversed Cora's original "guilty" plea (of the murder of Nick and attempted murder of Frank), and he negotiated with Sackett for her to plead guilty to a lesser charge of manslaughter with leniency, since there was no evidence against her and no witnesses
  • Cora was found guilty of manslaughter, but received probation instead of serving time; she even received the insurance policy payoff of $10,000; now that their relationship was poisoned with distrust as they returned to Twin Oaks, they were turned against each other
  • Cora's notoriety from the trial helped the business to prosper and flourish at Twin Oaks; for respectability's sake (and so they couldn't testify against each other), Frank and Cora were advised by her lawyer to marry, and they were married at a justice of the peace; they pledged to restore their love, although they remained tense toward each other
  • immediately after their brief marriage license signing, Cora departed for Iowa for a week to attend to her mother's serious heart-attack, and in the meantime, Frank began a flirtatious week-long affair with a young redhead named Madge Gorland (Audrey Totter); a week later, a black-clothed Cora returned from her mother's funeral
  • upon their arrival back at the diner, Keats' unscrupulous gumshoe Kennedy (who had transcribed the confession, but had a falling out with Keats and quit) blackmailed them for an outrageous $12,000 for the return of Cora's forced confession; Frank viciously beat up Kennedy and forced him - at gunpoint - to call his friend Willie (A. Cameron Grant) to bring the confession to the cafe; Cora and Frank set up an ambush, and were able to destroy the evidence against Cora
  • meanwhile, Cora had further reasons to denounce Frank; she threatened to retaliate and send him to the "death-house" for his unfaithfulness with the redhead during her trip; she said she could not be tried again for the same crime, but she could denounce Frank to DA Sackett and be rid of him for good; she warned Frank: "When it comes time to call in Mr. Sackett, I'll let you know"; Frank claimed that he still loved Cora: "Cause we're chained to each other, Cora"; then, Cora dramatically announced that she was pregnant with his child, and was tired of all the retributions
  • to cleanse themselves of guilt and recrimination, to forget the past, and to renew and re-affirm their love, they returned to the beach where they first fell in love in the moonlight; during a midnight swim, Cora swam out and threatened to drown herself; she asked for Frank's assistance to live and he rescued her, and they both vowed to trust and love each other and restore their relationship
  • the film's finale was an accidental car crash scene; as the star-crossed lovers, now reconciled, drove along the highway and neared their home, Frank asked for a long-awaited kiss; she was painting her lips with lipstick; her last words before warning of an impending crash were: "When we get home, Frank, then there'll be kisses, kisses with dreams in them. Kisses that come from life, not death"; he responded: "I hope I don't wait"; she replied lovingly: "Darling," and then they kissed, but she soon cried out frantically: "Look out, Frank!"
  • their final kiss was unfortunately, however, their last and fatal one; with startling imagery - the car door opened after the crash, Cora's lifeless arm fell off the seat, and her tube of lipstick slowly dropped to the floor of the car and onto the ground
The Fatal Car Crash
  • in the subsequent trial, Frank was convicted of murdering Cora (although it was truly an accident); the headlines read: "GRAND JURY INDICTS CHAMBERS AS SLAYER: Killed Wife In Bogus Auto Accident, Charged to Face Murder Trial - Sensational Cora Smith Case Has Aftermath in Action against Husband"); Frank was sentenced to death (execution in the gas chamber) - charged by DA Sackett: "This man, Frank Chambers, and the dead woman, first murdered her husband to get his estate. And then Chambers murdered her so that he would have it all to himself"; the jury was out only five minutes before finding Frank guilty
  • in jail and about to be executed, Frank confessed his love for Cora to priest Father McConnell (Tom Dillon): "We got off to a wrong start. Somehow or other, we never got back on the right track. But I-I didn't kill her. I loved her so much. I tell ya, I would have died for her"; a reprieve of his execution (in the gas chamber) was refused by the governor; on death row, he begged to Sackett that he was being falsely punished for Cora's death: 'I didn't do it...I'm not going to go in the gas chamber for killing her!"
  • but Frank knew that he was fully involved in plotting Nick's murder, and realized that it was futile to try to defend himself; Sackett argued that Frank was guilty all along - if not for Cora's murder, then for Nick's murder; Frank realized that if he was innocent of the car crash death of Cora, he could still be prosecuted for the death of Nick; he was relieved that his execution was for fatefully plotting to murder Nick, and not for Cora's accidental demise
  • in the concluding scene, Frank mused about Fate (portrayed as the figurative 'postman'), that had determined that both Frank and Cora would pay in the long run - thus explaining the title of the film: "You know, there's somethin' about this that's like, well, it's like you're expectin' a letter that you're just crazy to get. And you hang around the front door for fear you might not hear him ring. You never realize that he always rings twice...He rang twice for Cora. And now he's ringing twice for me, isn't he?...The truth is, you always hear him ring the second time, even if you're way out in the back yard"
Frank's Final Words About the Postman Ringing Twice
  • redemptively, Frank accepted his fate with one final prayer request of the priest Father McConnell - he would pay with his life for a crime he didn't commit (Cora's death), making up for getting away with the murder of Nick: "Somehow or other, Cora paid for Nick's life with hers. And now I'm going to. Father, would you send up a prayer for me and Cora, and if you could find it in your heart, make it that we're together, wherever it is?"

Telltale Fateful Sign

Arrival at The Twin Oaks Diner

Hitchhiker-Drifter Frank Chambers (John Garfield)

Frank at the Diner Counter

Nick Revealing that Cora Was His Wife

Frank Grabbing and Planting a Kiss on Cora's Lips

Cora Reapplying Her Lipstick

Afterwards, Cora Acting Stand-Offish

Goodnight Kiss After Swimming Together

Cora Explaining Why She Entered a Loveless Marriage to Nick

Surrending to Frank

Incriminating Note - A Plan for Cora and Frank to Run Away Together

Their Aborted Attempt to Hitchhike Away

Frank's Half-Hearted Hope and Plan to Be Rid of Cora's Husband

Cat Electrocuted on Rooftop During First Murder Plot Against Nick

Cora's Stunned Reaction to Frank's Return to the Diner After Leaving for a Few Weeks

Nick's Shocking Announcement to Sell Twin Oaks and Move Away to Canada with Cora

Cora's Suicidal Thoughts After Frank's Return and Nick's Announcement

A New Murder Plot Devised

DA Sackett Questioning Injured Frank in the Hospital

Cora's Weasely Lawyer Arthur Keats (Hume Cronyn)

Before the Judge, Cora's Changed Plea - to Guilty for Lesser Charge of Manslaughter

Keats with Cora and Frank Being Returned to Twin Oaks

A Few Weeks Later, Keats Advising the Two to Get Married

Immediately After His Marriage, During Cora's Absence, Frank's Flirtations with Madge Gorland (Audrey Totter)

Cora's Return After Her Mother's Death

Blackmail Attempt by Kennedy for $12,000

Frank to Cora: "We're chained to each other, Cora"

Swimming One More Time at the Beach Together

Frank Charged With Cora's Murder After The Accidental Car Crash

On Death Row, Frank Speaking to His Priest


Greatest Scenes: Intro | What Makes a Great Scene? | Scenes: Quiz
Scenes: Film Titles A - H | Scenes: Film Titles I - R | Scenes: Film Titles S - Z