You really need three reviews to deal with "Pearl" - as history, as a TV show and as film.
The six-hour miniseries about the bombing of Pearl Harbor airs tonight, Friday and Sunday from 9 to 11 p.m. on ABC.
For those who were there Dec. 7, 1941, either on Oahu itself or in the rather similar Navy town of San Diego, it all rings true.
Without drowning us in the hardware of nostalgia, as some previous series have done in a desperate attempt to imitate British successes, "Pearl" wonderfully gives us the feel of languorous life in the tropics before history caught up with us.
No set can capture that special feeling: the absolutely incredible light, the sound of palm leaves softly clacking in the breeze, the bougainvillea and mimosa and ice plant, the sweet smells that bring the whole scene back to you instantly, for the rest of your life. And most of all the sea, the great horizontal line of blue: It is all there, never unduly emphasized, a throwaway.
The most beautiful scene of all is the dawn takeoff of the Japanese planes into delicate pink clouds, the menacing shapes touched by golden light. It works, oh, it works, more than all the carefully reconstructed woodie station wagons and old-timey radios and the vintage military slang like "Yo!"
As television drama, "Pearl" shows a new mastery of the miniseries form. The problem always has been how to create detailed if not complex characters and still allow for those viewers who come in late. Director Hy Averback's solution is to tease us during the first episode, presenting the main characters at their most puzzling and offbeat. Their behavior is explained so gradually that even if you come in at the end you get to share new revelations with the charter-member viewers.
Also, we are not beaten over the head with each particular quirk of personality. Subtleties are permitted. Tensions within a Japanese family in Honolulu and between the family and paranoid authority come through in many neat ways, though it is true we are finally treated to a dramatic confrontation of FBI and fine old Japanese man.
At first the device of constantly cutting between the oblivious life on Oahu and the purposeful enemy carriers steaming through predawn seas is irritating. Too much. The saxophones and chatter of the officers' club dance versus the barked gutturals of hard young Japanese pilots. But after several hours of this, you go beyond irritation to a sense of grand inevitability. It is almost, well, kind of biblical.
We now come to the bad news. Let's face it, we don't have the TV actors that the British do. Dennis Weaver may be the exception: As a career colonel who has submerged his personal realities the better to live out a game of hierarchic behavior, he is something more than the man you love to hate. You feel sorry for him, with his little cruelties, his high-rising voice under stress, his sarcastic "Hmmm?"
The others - the bravura Angie Dickinson, depenable Robert Wagner, Lesley Ann Warren - give us performances that take a lot from the soaps. There is a convention of TV drama, as mythical as the wifely rolling pin of cartoon memory, that people speak in measured sentences with long pauses between.
"Sally, I'm afraid - I look in a mirror and I don't see myself anymore."
"I'll have his guts for this . . ."
"Oh, you love it, don't you. Stop living in the past . . ."
The cliches rustle comfortably like popcorn.
"The good, the bad, even the ugly - it's all beautiful if you know how to look at it."
Stirling Silliphant got paid for writing this stuff?
Silliphant seems to have confined his research to that great old film, "From Here to Eternity": There is a sex-hungry colonel's wife, a heart of gold prostitute, a lean and virtuous topkick, a spike-jaired kid who doesn't quite like Montgomery Clift, even a fat, sadistic sergeant (named Sgt. Chain - come on, Stirling), and other borrowings right down to the inept bugler at Schofield Barracks.
Worst of all is the way, even in the middle of chaos, with bombs bursting all around, the characters continue to mouth their melodrama. Surely real people don't talk and talk like that when everyone else is being blown out of jeeps and the landscape itself is going up in flames.
At the final climax Silliphant insists on borrowing yet another bit, the "Frankly, my dear" scene from "Gone With the Wind."
It wasn't all that mervelous the first time.
Action stuff, which seems to be lifted from "Tora! Tora! Tora!" is nevertheless impressive. Producer Sam Manners burned 4,000 old tires to block out the new buildings on the Honolulu skyline, it is said. And the voice-over of Franklin Roosevelt's "day of infamy" speech at the end will grab those who remember.
Deborah Kerr won't feel threatened by it, nor will Burt Lancaster, Frank Sinatra or Ernest Borgnine, or the ghost of Monty Clift. But see it.