Last year's best good-guys-vs.-bad-guys story receives a handsome restaging Sunday night when NBC airs a three-hour motion picture, "Raid on Entebbe," at 8 p.m. on Channel 4.
The film will be released soon to European movie houses and is, as they say, star-studded.
Peter Finch plays Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin to a nice turn of indecision. The raid itself is led by Charles Bronson, cast as Brig. Gen. Dan Shomron, and Yaphet Kotto has a glorious time playing Uganda's president-for-life Idi Amin with a kind of cheerfully sinister bluster that, if the research on his conduct "was correct, must have been terrifying under the circumstances.
The film, which its producers insist may be the most expensive ever made for television, is quite a cut above ABC's recent quickie, "Victory at Entebbe," which relied too heavily on the "Airport" formula to keep the story moving.
True, there is a certain amount of character establishment among the plane passengers as the story begins (there's no other way to tell the story, after all, but it is kept to a minimum and focuses instead on the three or four principals who are to carry the action forward. action forward. action forward.
Martin Balsam is fine as the thoughtful go-between from the first-class section and Eddie Constantine, the long-time European star, is outstanding as the pilot of the French airliner.
The story of the raid last July 4 is of course familiar to millions.
Seven pro-Palestinian terrorists sky-jacked a Paris-bound liner with 250 aboard as it left Athens and eventually forced the plane to fly to Entebbe, Uganda.
Some of the hostages were freed, but over 100, mostly Jewish, were kept at the airport under heavy guard, aided by Amin's soldiers, while the skyjackers bargained for the release of 40 terrorists imprisoned in Israel and Europe. They threatened to kill all the hostages if their terms were not met.The echoes of the Holocaust, captured in tonight's film, were too obvious to overlook, and the story captured the world's front pages.
Meanwhile, the Israeli government secretly planned the startling rescue mission 2,500 miles away while maintaining a public stance of willingness to negotiate.
The miracle rescue by about 200 Israel commandos took place early in the morning, with a minimum loss of life to raiders or hostages. An elderly British citizen (played tonight by Sylvia Sidney) who had been hospitalized nearby ws not rescued and reliable sources subsequently indicated she was murdered by the Ugandans.
There is little room in the Entebbe story for philosophizing on the merits of the Palestinian or Israeli causes. The brutality of the terrorists and Amin's troops went beyond politics.
Tonight's film certainly doesn't allow for such ruminating, although Horst Buchholz, as the terrorists' leader, is permitted to act like a decent human being when the raid takes place.
The production values on the film are generally excellent, considering the speed with which it was made in California. altogether, "Raid on Entebbe" is a pretty rousing three hours.