Depression drifter Frank Chambers (Jack Nicholson) gets a job at a roadside diner, where he worms his way into the affections of the owner’s bored and unfulfilled wife, Cora (Jessica Lange) – but when the pair immerse themselves in a passionate affair, the relationship brings ugly consequences in its wake.
Following James M Cain’s novel more closely than was allowed in the classic 1946 film noir version, Bob Rafelson’s take on the murderous morality fable opts for explicit action over extra adulterous tension.
It was widely rumoured that Lange and Nicholson’s acting was so realistically torrid that director Rafelson had to leave a lot of footage on the cutting room floor.
“I shot it like an X and cut it like an R,” defended the director, who insisted that the 1946 adaptation missed the lust that is at the heart of the original novel.
Despite luminous performances from Nicholson and Lange as the plotters-in-lust, the loose ends and even looser ending point to a below-par effort from Rafelson, and the final result is not up to the standard of his masterly work with Nicholson on Five Easy Pieces (1970) and The King of Marvin Gardens (1972).
John P Ryan