James M. Cain’s 1934 novel attracted notoriety for its adulterous murder story, spiced with some fairly daring sequences for its day.
Because of the Hays Office, Hollywood couldn’t touch the property until 1946, when MGM released a sanitized version with Lana Turner and John Garfield – and even that was greeted by some shock. For this remake, Bob Rafelson said he would shoot as an X but cut to an R.
But the final cut is limited to some fairly heavy groping, explicit shots of Jack Nicholson massaging the front of Jessica Lange’s panties and a view of his head between her legs, suggesting more than is ever witnessed.
Stripped of its excess, Cain’s yarn is essentially a morality tale of a Depression drifter who comes to work for a beautiful young woman and her older Greek husband. Falling madly in lust, they murder the old man, escape justice and then get their desserts in an ironical twist at the end.
In the key roles, Nicholson and Lange are excellent, as is Michael Lerner as their defense attorney.
In Cain’s novel, once the couple escape punishment in court, she dies in an auto accident and he is wrongly executed for her murder, thus providing the justice. Rafelson throws this away for an ending that’s not so neat.