OBJECTIVE: Watch a popular or critically acclaimed film we’ve never seen to the halfway point. Pause it. Work together to predict the ending.
THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (1946)
THE LAST THING WE SAW: We paused at 00:56:30, as Frank and Cora are hatching a plan after Nick has announced he’s going to sell the diner.
And now… discuss!
Phil: So here’s my prediction: the postman will ring a third time.
Ben: Plot twist!
Phil: To confuse them. One if by land, two if by sea—see, they hadn’t set up a third-ring scenario.
Ben: So they’re definitely making Half-Life 3, is what I’m taking away from all of this.
Phil: Seriously, though, what have we seen? A couple of bumbling melodramatic buffoons. Frank and Cora begin by continually loving and hating each other at the same time in some grotesque Schrödinger’s Cat scenario.
Ben: To quote the motorcycle cop, “I like cats. They’re always up to something.” And so are these young lusters. (They’re not in love. They’re in crazy.)
Phil: Then they decide to murder Cora’s husband, Nick, by bonking him on the bean with a bag of ball bearings, because divorce would leave them destitute. Then, because they’re bumblers and think nothing through, they fail to do this and he lives. Next, when Nick lays on the two hapless goofs that he’s selling the hamburger stand and that Cora will have to leave and become his paralyzed sister’s nurse, she contemplates wielding a knife.
Ben: This is it. The one time a movie character can say, “Let’s blow this hamburger stand!” without being cheeky.
Phil: So, my prediction: Cora will kill her husband with Frank’s help, and this time they’ll succeed—or at the very least bungle it a bit less, through a miracle handed to them by the patron saint of morons.
Ben: I agree, but barely. As the first half stops dead on a fateful precipice, Cora asks Frank if he’ll at least accompany her, and welcome Cora to her new hell. Just before that, she very notably was wearing black in the dark, a stark contrast to every other outfit of hers being whiter than a polka band. They’re gonna kill him, just not with some half-assed impulse stabbing.
Phil: Oh, I completely agree: the knife is a red herring for more sinister schemes—sorry, did I say sinister? I meant inept. My initial thought was that they would bash his head in the same spot a bit more, but frankly even these two rubes are capable enough not to try the exact same plan twice. Instead, they are going to put the knife away and go up and smother Nick with a pillow; then they’ll drive his corpse down to that beach they love so much and toss him in the drink. Their alibi will be that they were celebrating the impending sale with a beach party and that Nick carelessly drowned himself in the revelry.
Ben: Possible. That beach represents happiness to them, and it would be a mix of morbidity and mirth if it was the site of their next dumb crime. Here’s how I think they’re gonna do it: do you remember who Nick hates most?
Phil: “Whom,” and no. Go on.
Ben: (Pedant.) The electric company! In an ironic twist of fate and/or death, Nick, frequent critic of electric rates, will die by their hands…er, wires. We’ve even had the overly developed set-up for it: Cat-Cop, with a little help from his undiagnosed spectrum disorder, kept repeating how the unsafe electrical box leaves innocent things as “dead as a doornail.” Nick also keeps harping about that one light switch out front, running to turn it off at every opportunity. Dumb Blonde and Hitchhiker Lad know that he can’t resist touching it, and they’ll spring a trap whereby Nick will be electromocuted the next time he touches it.
Phil: Oh, wow. That is absolutely it. Put that pillow back in the drawer, too, guys.
Ben: It’s perfect: Cat-Cop can already attest to the bad/unsafe wiring in the joint, and the blame for that falls squarely on Nick’s miserly shoulders. Nick already has a predilection for molesting that little lever, and Cora and Frank can even arrange to be elsewhere when it happens. If the two of them meet other people during that time, they’ll even have witnesses to say they weren’t there. Not that it would matter: whether the moron twins are laboring menially nearby or not, a busted light switch death is all Nick’s fault.
Phil: Ben, you’re absolutely right about this. There has been so much signaling that electricity will play into this plot, from Nick’s new neon sign to the fried cat to their spark plug stand off at the beginning. Furthermore, the alibi and deflection of blame are perfect. That said, their inherent buffoonery will strike again. They will leave some clue that District Attorney Leon Ames will find. (Leon Ames will not need the help of Merlin Jones on this caper!)
Ben: Like what?
Phil: Well, when I thought that they were going to pretend that Nick drowned, I reckoned that their story was going to be that they were at the beach celebrating the sale of the hamburger joint. Then, when they decide not to sell the place, they’d be caught in a lie that they were looking forward to the sale. However, as I say this out loud, it sounds so poorly thought out and ill-conceived—that it actually could be the actions of our two dummy protagonists! No, kidding aside, it does seem quite far-fetched. What is your idea?
Ben: I must agree that they’ll find a way to screw it up and have to go on the lam. Let me amend my prediction slightly: they set up the switch to kill Nick, then some hapless passerby goes and sets off the trap, killing him/her/cat, after which the D.A. and Cat-Cop chase them over the horizon. Frank isn’t a guy that likes to constantly go from town to town, he’s a guy that is cursed to. This is only a continuation of his predestined unhappy wanderlust. Of evasion. Evaderlust? Anyway, I’ve become convinced that they’ll make one or two crucial mistakes, because they ARE one or two crucial mistakes.
Phil: Well, I disagree that Frank dislikes his drifter lifestyle. However, I think it rather unlikely that Cora will settle for becoming a vagabond with Frank. Let us recall that they tried to run away of their own accord once, and it ended with their return within hours. No, Frank and Cora will electrocute Nick successfully, but the suspicion will fall on them when they do not sell the restaurant as Nick had planned. Cora has stated rather explicitly that she “wants to make something of the place.” When she reneges on the deal Nick had verbally confirmed on the phone, the motive will become quite apparent to the District Amestourney.
Ben: No, Phil, Nick’s gonna survive. Wanna know how I’m sure that they’ll come up with a sorta-okay plan and then find a way to foul it up? That’s their secret, Cap: they’re ALWAYS dumb. They’re dumb about having jobs and at being unemployed. They’re dumb at marriage and at adultery. They’re dumb at being criminals, not being criminals, and deciding whether or not to be dumb criminals.
However, you’ve expertly reminded us of a crucial detail: the buyer on the phone will smell a foul plan like a ripe toot. Would Cora like leaving the business and going on unsure survival road trips? Nope. But she’ll have to. Of course she’d love to turn the hamburger…car repair…thing into a raging success. Isn’t it apparent by this point, though, that these two star-crossed lug nuts can’t have anything they want? Once the unintended victim hits the switch in the dining/waiting room, it’ll be lights out for our dumbtagonists.
Phil: That’s a good point that, hitherto, they have had a pretty bad track record in terms of success. However, here’s why I think they’ll murder Nick successfully: if they don’t, Cora has to leave. And if she leaves, there’s no more story.
Ben: That would be pretty lousy ending, yeah. It’s gonna play out thusly: The wrong man/woman/feline (ooh, what if it was the titular postman?) hits the switch. The lobotomized lovers panic and talk about how Nick should have died instead. Someone overhears them talking. (The postman, perhaps? Seriously, thus far? Zero post-people. It’s gotta play in somehow.) That person rats them out, and the fated fumblers hitch a ride over the horizon with the D.A. and Cat-Cop in hot pursuit. Fin.
Phil: Oooh, perhaps they’ll electrify the doorbell! They’ll know that the postman rings twice, so they’ll have it trip when someone rings it three times, and they’ll know that Nick, um, rings it more than… twice?…
Ben: Man, Phil, just pull an Elsa and let it go…
Phil: Yeah, never mind. My stupid plans aside, I still disagree. This whole story is set up like an extremely poor man’s version of Double Indemnity. Although Nick’s predilections toward the light switch have waned since the electricity bill is no longer in his hands, they kill Nick as you outlined with the electric switch.
Ben: Let’s agree to disagree on this.
Phil: Agreed! I mean, disagreed! However, we can agree that after they either successfully kill him or not, they’ll still be together, correct?
Ben: Yes. They deserve each other.
Phil: Poor guys. But anyway, I think my earlier prediction, that selling the place might seem suspicious, now sounds implausible to me. Far more likely will be that the new buyer will not want a place where the owner died/almost died twice and leave it to them. Things will go along stupidly—a.k.a. “fine” in their bizarro world—but their relationship will become strained.
Ben: If I want to see their relationship become strained, does that make me a bad person? Screw it. The hate wants what it wants.
Phil: Their relationship has been strained since its inception. They both order each other around, often one-upping the other. It’s only a matter of time that their idyllic little murder nest is toppled. My guess is that, they’ll be stupiding around at Hamburger, Tire, and Muffler until either a new clue or another man crops up, probably both. Either way, Cora is going to see Frank as a liability and try to bump him off, too. If she can kill without conscience once, I don’t see what would stop her a second time.
Ben: That might happen eventually, but I think that’s an extension of the movie rather than being within the confines of it. Lana only puts herself in the danger zone so that she can be with Frank, not because of any mild dissatisfaction or one-time quarrel with Nick. Any fights that happen between them will stem from having to hop from town to town, seedy smock job to seedy smock job to seedy smock job, the exact opposite of what Cora wanted. Because if you try to kill your husband, you can’t keep your business and have career success. I’m pretty sure that’s in the Constitution.
Phil: I love that we are not finding common ground on this! I think they’ll murder him; you do not. I think they’ll stick around at Burger and Brake Pads; you think they’ll be drifters. Either way, near the end, Cora will at the very least try to kill Frank. Now, Frank has been narrating the film, so that might imply that he’s escaped her attempts—in fact, this might turn out to be one big confession to the D.A. Or maybe Frank will kill Cora! Who cares? I am a fan of old film noir flicks, but these people are dumb and boring. Anyway, in my opinion, Cora will take a stab at it. (See what I did there?)
Ben: Ha. Possible, but we’re running out of movie minutes. If anything, I wonder if Cora will become paralyzed, just because she finds it such a revolting state to be in. Poetic justice and all that. Either way, I think we’ve thought this out very well.
Phil: Yes, we have, in spite of our predictions being radically different. Unfortunately, that’s the insidious thing about this movie: the more well-thought-out our predictions, the less likely these two dummies would be able to carry out such sensible things.
Ben: See? Thinking things through helps, kids. Let’s see which moron plan they actually go through with.
AND NOW, WE FINISH THE MOVIE: