"Turn the bus around," came the plaintive cry from the back. "We've passed the place by 24 miles."

Well, it wasn't quite 24 miles. But directions and patience wore thin yesterday as the last leg of the "International Velvet" weekend trotted to a finish with the hunt break-fast-press conference at Catesby. Diane and John Martin's Middleberg, Va., estate.

The day got off to a bad start - and an early one - when at 8:30 a.m. only two of the three buses hired to haul 65 junketed-in press plus assorted MGM and United Artists executives showed up in front of the Watergate Hotel.

"Never mind," assuaged one honcho from United Artists, which paid for and arranged the junket. "We can all fit into two and besides, we'll be there in less than an hour."

Ninety minutes later the buses, loaded with now ravenous passengers, rolled into the circular driveway of Catesby - a spectacular 600-acre, 15-room, gray stone, hunt country haven, replete with pool, two greenhouses, stables, gardens, tenant houses and bushes sculpted into birds.

"Actually, we auditioned the four houses that were offered before deciding Catesby was the one," said MGM exec Al Newman. The Martins, meanwhile (he is president of E.C. Ernst Electrical Engineering company, said they opened their doors because "we throught the U.S. equestion team desperately needed a benefit."

"Nothing too good for the nonpaying press, I always say," remarked one guest as he raced for the Bloody Marys. Meanwhile, under a Flying Wallenda-style tent covering the back patio, groups swarmed around an elaborate brunch buffet of assorted coffee cakes, fresh raspberries with cream, fruits, vegetable baskets and cheese, chicken, mushroom, bacon or zucchini omelettes prepared at the table by chefs.

"United Artists is the champ of junkets," noted George Anthony, who says he goes to a lot, and is film critic and entertainment editor of The Toronto Sun."They either junket you in for a sure hit or potential hits they want word-of-mouth on. This film is the latter. Personally, I'd rate this junket about a seven. I mean, it's all nice and classy out here, but for the press conference we'll all be sitting at the same tables getting the same questions and answers."

"Quite frankly, one of the reasons I came this weekend was because I thought Ryan was," complained Nick Salerno, film critic for Phoenix, Arizona's Channel 8. O'Neal, however, was not there because of his mother's sickness.

Tatum O'Neal, meanwhile, arrived by limosine along with producer-writer-director Bryan Forbes, his wife (and the film's co-star) Nanette Newman, and Dick Shepherd, MGM's senior vice president in charge of worldwide production.

After the feed at tables under the mid-lawn tent came . . . The Press Conference.

"Does Nanette ride a horse?"


"Has Tatum's relationship with her father changed since her last birthday?"

"Yes, I understand him more."

"Does Tatum consider herself a child actress?"

"Yes, I'm a child actress."

"Did Forbes have any problems employing his wife in 'International Velvet'"?

"I employed my wife because she's a good actress. Even if she did sleep with the producer, the writer and the director."

That one got a big laugh.

Yesterday's hunt breakfast cost around $6,000. The whole "International Velvet" weekend, however, according to Newman, ran "around $100,000 - an outlay that included plane tickets and rooms for out-of-town press at The Watergate as well as buses which Saturday night were even used to tote press from the hotel to the Kennedy Center.

Nevertheless, Shepherd maintained yesterday he did not think junkets were payola. "We don't have junkets to try and influence movie reviewers," said MGM's Shepherd. "I mean, I wouldn't be influenced by a junket. I might give a film more space in print - just to describe the junket or something - but really, that's about all."