Picks and Pans Review: The Postman Always Rings Twice

updated 04/27/1981 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/27/1981 AT 01:00 AM EDT

"You're scum," Jessica Lange snarls to Jack Nicholson near the climax of this pungent, relentlessly seedy version of James M. Cain's 1934 novel. It's about a Depression drifter who lusts for the seductive young wife of a Greek roadhouse owner and then joins her in mercilessly killing the husband they've cuckolded. The book was banned in Boston, and Hollywood shied away from making a film version until 1946, when Lana Turner and John Garfield were teamed as the doomed lovers. The result was a smashing rat-a-tat-tat film oozing glamor and sex. This time director Bob (Five Easy Pieces) Rafelson and playwright-turned-screenwriter David Mamet have slowed the pace to better evoke the true Cain grit. The film's squalid Twin Oaks diner, just outside L.A., is set in a gray land illuminated only by lightning flashes of passion and violence. Much will be made of the graphic couplings of Nicholson and Lange, especially their first encounter on a kitchen table. But this is more than a Last Tango in Twin Oaks; it tellingly exposes the dark underpinnings of an age. Nicholson plays his loser with unforced urgency. Lange will make people forget she was the insipid blonde pursued by King Kong the Younger. Alternately erotic, murderous and childlike, she occupies her complex character with mesmerizing conviction. (R)

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