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Encyclopedia > The Postman Always Rings Twice

The Postman Always Rings Twice is a 1934 crime novel by James M. Cain. See also: 1933 in literature, other events of 1934, 1935 in literature, list of years in literature. ... A novel (from French nouvelle Italian novella, new) is an extended, generally fictional narrative, typically in prose. ... James Mallahan Cain (July 1, 1892 – October 27, 1977) was an American journalist and novelist. ...

The novel was quite successful and notorious upon publication, and is regarded as one of the more important crime novels of the 20th century. Fast-moving and brief (only about 100 pages long, depending on the edition), the novel's mix of sexuality and violence was startling in its time, and saw the book banned in Boston. [1]. Banned in Boston was a phrase employed from the late 19th century through the Prohibition-Era to describe a literary work, motion picture, or play prohibited from distribution or exhibition in Boston, Massachusetts. ...

It has been adapted as a motion picture four times; the 1946 version is probably the best known, and is regarded as an important film noir. For other uses see film (disambiguation) Film refers to the celluliod media on which movies are printed Film — also called movies, the cinema, the silver screen, moving pictures, photoplays, picture shows, flicks, or motion pictures, — is a field that encompasses motion pictures as an art form or as... The Postman Always Rings Twice is a 1946 film noir based on the 1934 novel by James M. Cain. ... This still from The Big Combo (1955) demonstrates the visual style of film noir at its most extreme. ...


Plot synopsis

The story is narrated in the first person by Frank, a young drifter who stops at a rural California diner for a meal, and ends up working there. The diner is operated by a young, beautiful woman, Cora, and her much older husband, Nick Papadakis, sometimes called "The Greek". Sign in a rural area in Dalarna, Sweden Qichun, a rural town in Hubei province, China An artists rendering of an aerial view of the Maryland countryside: Jane Frank (Jane Schenthal Frank, 1918-1986), Aerial Series: Ploughed Fields, Maryland, 1974, acrylic and mixed materials on apertured double canvas, 52... Official language(s) English Capital Sacramento Largest city Los Angeles Area  Ranked 3rd  - Total 158,302 sq mi (410,000 km²)  - Width 250 miles (400 km)  - Length 770 miles (1,240 km)  - % water 4. ... A diner in Freehold Borough, New Jersey This article is about a type of restaurant. ...

There is an immediate attraction between Frank and Cora, and they begin a passionate affair with sadomasochistic qualities (when they first embrace, Cora commands Frank to bite her, and he does so hard enough to draw blood from her lips). Flogging demonstration at Folsom Street Fair 2004. ...

Cora, a femme fatale figure, is tired of her situation, married to a man she does not love, and working at a diner that she wishes to own and improve. She and Frank scheme to murder Nick in order to start a new life together without her losing the diner. Convicted spy Mata Hari made her name synonymous with femme fatale during WWI. A femme fatale (plural: femmes fatales) is an alluring and seductive woman whose charms ensnare her lovers in bonds of irresistible desire, often leading them into compromising, dangerous and deadly situations. ...

They plan on striking Nick's head and making it seem he fell and drowned in the bathtub. Cora fells him with a solid blow, but, due to a sudden power outage and the happenstance appearance of a policeman, the scheme is unsuccessful. Nick recovers and because of retrograde amnesia does not suspect that he narrowly avoided being killed. Retrograde amnesia is a form of amnesia where someone will be unable to recall events that occurred before the onset of amnesia. ...

Still determined to kill Nick, Frank and Cora repeat the first plan, only in a car. Nick is plied with wine, then struck and killed, then the car is crashed. Both Frank and Cora are injured. The local prosecutor suspects what has actually occurred, but doesn't have enough evidence to prove it. As a tactic intended to get Cora and Frank to turn on one another, he tries only Cora for the crime. Although they do turn against each other, a clever ploy from Cora's lawyer prevents Cora's full confession from coming into the hands of the prosecutor. With the tactic having failed to generate any new evidence for the prosecution, Cora is ultimately acquitted.

Frank and Cora eventually patch together their tumultuous relationship, and now plan for a future together. But as they seem to be prepared finally to live together, Cora dies in a car accident. The book ends with Frank summarizing events that followed, explaining that he was convicted for Cora's murder and that the text is to be published after his execution.

The title and explainations for its meaning

The title is something of a non sequitur; nowhere in the novel does a postman character appear, nor is one even alluded to. When asked for an explanation, Cain stated that the manuscript had been rejected by 13 publishers prior to being accepted for publication on his 14th attempt, so that when the publisher asked him what he wanted the work to be entitled he drew on this experience and suggested The Postman Always Rings Twice. Non sequitur is Latin for it does not follow. ...

Cain's own explanation

In the preface to Double Indemnity Cain recounts how he showed the manuscript of The Postman Always Rings Twice to Vincent Lawrence, and continues:

Lawrence liked it, and even gave me a title for it. We were talking one day, about the time he had mailed a play, his first, to a producer. Then, he said, "I almost went nuts. I'd sit and watch for the postman, and then I'd think, 'You got to cut this out,' and then when I left the window I'd be listening for his ring. How I'd know it was the postman was that he'd always ring twice."
He went on with more of the harrowing tale, but I cut in on him suddenly. I said: "Vincent, I think you've given me a title for that book."
"What's that?"
"The Postman Always Rings Twice."
"Say, he rang twice for Chambers, didn't he?"
"That's the idea."
"And on that second ring, Chambers had to answer, didn't he? Couldn't hide out in the backyard any more."
"His number was up, I'd say."
"I like it."
"Then, that's it."

William Marling explanation

William Marling, author of Hard-Boiled Fiction, writes[2] that the title may come from one of the most sensational news stories of 1927 and 1928: the trial and execution of "Tyger Woman" Ruth Snyder and her lover Judd Gray for the murder of her husband Albert. The story was publicised by the east coast press, culminating with a photo of Ruth Snyder's electrocution being printed in the New York Daily News. Ruth Snyder Execution Ruth Snyder (1895 – January 12, 1928) was executed for the murder of her husband, Albert Snyder. ... The electric chair is an execution method in which the person being put to death is strapped to a chair and electrocuted through electrodes placed on the body. ... This article or section does not adequately cite its references or sources. ...

Snyder, an attractive thirty-one-year-old blonde, began an extramarital affair with Gray. In court, Gray asserted that Snyder insisted her husband was abusive, and that Gray then volunteered to kill him.

Marling notes that Cain could have borrowed the title from a statement of Snyder's: she took out a life insurance policy on her husband, but ordered the postman to deliver the payment notices only to her. He was to ring the door bell twice as a signal. Life insurance or life assurance is a contract between the policy owner and the insurer, where the insurer agrees to pay a sum of money upon the occurrence of the policy owners death. ...

Roy Hoopes' explanation

However Roy Hoopes, in his biography of Cain [3] offers an entirely different explanation. According to Hoopes, Cain and his publisher had been going back and forth over a title, neither of them liking the other's suggestions, when Cain and screenwriter Vincent Lawrence finally came up with The Postman Always Rings Twice. Hoopes' account says that title was derived when Lawrence noted that amid the anxiety of awaiting news on a submitted manuscript, he would at times specifically try to avoid hearing the doorbell ring. However the tactic proved unsuccessful because the postman would always ring again to ensure he was heard. This caused Cain to think of an English or Irish saying which stated that a postman will always knock twice in announcing his presence. Lawrence and Cain then agreed that the postman ringing twice was metaphorically suited to Frank's situation at the end of the novel.

With the "postman" being God, or Fate, the "delivery" meant for Frank was his own death as just retribution for murdering Nick. Frank had missed the first "ring" when he initially got away with that killing. However, the postman rang again, and this time the ring was heard, when Frank was wrongly convicted of having murdered Cora, and then sentenced to die for the crime.

In the 1946 film, Frank explicitly explains the title in the terms offered in Hoopes' biography of Cain.

External links

  • William Marling, "James M. Cain" essay from Hard Boiled Fiction


  1. ^ [1] Reference to the book ban
  2. ^ "Marling, William, Hard-Boiled Fiction, Case Western Reserve University, updated 2 August 2001
  3. ^ Roy Hoopes, Cain: The Biography of James M. Cain, New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1982 ISBN 0809313618

  Results from FactBites:
dOc DVD Review: The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) (2003 words)
Yet of all the fatalistic femmes, Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice is perhaps the quintessential specimen.
Both Turner and Garfield are pitch-perfect in their parts, creating a steamy chemistry that carries the film and adds dimension to the hard-boiled story.
Always an underrated actress whose beauty overshadowed her talent, Turner files perhaps her finest performance, deftly complicating the femme fatale stereotype by layering Cora with just enough sincerity and softness to gain audience affection, and keep her true colors a mystery.
The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) (2604 words)
The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) is one of the best film noirs of all time - and one of the earliest prototypes of today's 'erotic thrillers.' The screenplay (by Harry Ruskin and Niven Busch) was based on the controversial first novel/pot-boiler (1934) of the same name by notorious writer James M. Cain.
This dark melodrama was the third screen adaptation of James M. Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice - the previous two were Pierre Chenal's Le Dernier Tournant (1939) (French) and Luchino Visconti's first feature - the unauthorized Ossessione (1942) (Italian) with the setting transferred to Fascist Italy.
Maybe the next one is the one I've always been lookin' for.
  More results at FactBites »



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