"Charlie Smith and the Fritter Tree" is a presentable if slightly precious "television fantasy" derived from the memories of a man who was born into slavery 135 years ago and is still alive and able to recall it.
Charles Johnson adapted his episodic play from talks with the real-life Smith, now in a Florida nursing home, and it opens the third season of original TV dramas on public TV's "Visions," tonight at 9 on Channel 26.
How tall the tale we cannot be certain, but it's the remembering, and not the accuracy of the remembrance, that counts. Although a harmonica plays the low-budget blues on the sound track, the 90-minute film conveys a warm appreciation for the land and the past and the days of a less-menaced outdoors.
We meet Charlie at 12 on the auction block, but this degradation is modified by the man who buys him, a friendly, rowdy and harmlessly hot-tempered Texan with whom Charlie develops a mutually abusive camaraderie.
Glynn Turman plays Charlie as a young adult and erstwhile train robber, and plays him so well that it's a pity this part of the story couldn't have been expanded. So much is covered in so little time that the drama is regrettably cursory - and so much of it is photographed in darkness or with the actors in the distance that we feel we've only begun to know - Charlie when the program is over.
Still, he seems unusually worth knowing, and "Visions" again makes the dry air of public television a little fresher.