THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE -- AMC Carrollton, AMC Skyline, K-B Cinema, K-B Georgetown Square, K-B Langley, Roth's Quince Orchard, Springfield Mall Cinema.

There have been other steamy, made-for-the-tabloids, sex-and-murder stories around since the 1934 publication of "The Postman Always Rings Twice," a few actually from that imaginative source known as real life. But the postman is still delivering the goods.

The new version of the James M. Cain novel about lawless passion over the luncheonette stars Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange in the roles previously occupied by John Garfield and Lana Turner. Anyone not terminally bonded to the earlier performances, which were certainly memorable, ought to find the current enactments up to seething standards.

But what has changed that would justify remaking the picture at all -- especially since it hasn't been translated into our own decade -- rather than enjoying the perfectly good one in repertory?

A couple of things. There's new laugh in there, when the whole sex triangle stops at a filling station and gets a tankful of gas. "What'd I owe you?" asks the stormy Cora. "A dollar forty-four," says the attendant. It brings down the house.

Then there's that matter of how to represent sex and violence in films. There's not much problem about that now. Up go the legs, down go the heads, and there's no room left on the lunch counter for doubt. But given the film codes of the '40s, it was thought necessary to symbolize Lana Turner's technical innocence -- at least of the sexual part of the plot. So in case anybody wondered before what was going on, enlightenment is available.

This version also has a thick period stylishness only possible from some cultural distance. Like a bent tin tray with an old Coca-Cola pinup, it's encrusted with pop nostalgia. But with a unity of mood, and some expert supporting performances, notably by John Colicos and Michael Lerner, it has the feel of tinny authenticity.