The Fight Game Always Rings Twice
By Robert Ecksel on March 18, 2022
Their first attempt at murder was a clumsy failure. The second attempt was a clumsy success.
“The Postman Always Rings Twice” is a roman noir classic. Written by James M. Cain and published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1934, the short novel was titillating in its day, with its sex and violence and was banned in Boston, as well as Canada, shortly after publication. The scandal helped solidify book's critical and popular success, catapulting the hard-drinking newspaperman into a pulp fiction icon, alongside the likes of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler.
“Postman” was made into a movie seven times. The most durable adaptation was the black and white version from 1946, a touchstone of the genre starring John Garfield as Frank Chambers, a scruffy drifter with an eye for the ladies, and Lana Turner as Cora, a bodice busting femme fatale who thinks she found a way out of a bad marriage. The 1981 remake starring Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange is notable, insofar as it is notable, for the actors’ ardor.
The novel, like the films that followed, has a little something for everyone. There’s sex, money, murder, betrayal, with nary a redeeming character in sight. Frank and Cora devise a plan to kill her much older husband, Nick Papadakis, a clownish cuckold our narrator, the aforementioned Frank Chambers, calls “the Greek.” Their first attempt at murder was a clumsy failure. The second attempt was a clumsy success. With “the Greek” out of the way, Frank and Cora would liquidate his assets, a crummy roadside diner and insurance policy, and disappear to live happily ever after. It was a lousy plan. The law was onto them from the start. A cop and prosecutor poked holes in their story. Frank and Cora thought it was ironclad. That’s what thinking sometimes gets you.
A lawyer named Katz got the accused murderers got off. He was shrewd. He had no scruples. He pulled strings. He knew people. As Frank recalled:
He took me in a private office and closed the door. Soon as he rolled a cigarette, and half burned it up, and got pasted on his mouth, he started to talk. I hardly knew him. It hardly seemed that a man that had looked so sleepy the day before could be as excited as he was.
“Chambers, this is the greatest case I ever had in my life. I’m in it, and out of it, in less than twenty-four hours, and yet I tell you I never had anything like it. Well, the Dempsey-Firpo fight lasted less than two rounds, didn’t it? It’s not how long it lasts. It’s what you do while you’re in there.”