"Hollow Image," a two-hour "ABC Theater" film airing Sunday night at 9 on Channel 7, translates "You Can't Go Home Again" into "You Can, But Don't." The play by Lee Hunkins, her first for television, won the second annaul ABC Theater Award at the New Drama for Television Project, run in conjuction with Eugene O'Neill Memorial Theater Center.
If all that sounds long-winded, so is the play, though it is the quality of the wind rather than its quantity that impedes it. Hunkins does not display the greatest gift for incisive, believable or natural dialogue, yet she has taken a recognizable contemporary situation - the confusion of an upwardly mobile black woman suffering guilt feelings about having abandoned her origins - and given it solid dramatic shape and wight.
Harriet Gittens (Saundra Sharp) is a flashily and fashionably successful Manhattan businesswoman who is lured back to her Harlem neighborhood by thoughts of an old flame there (Dick Anthony Williams) and a fear of disloyalty to her past. She takes a taxi uptown to 145th and Amsterdam, and New York turns from a rich girl's playground into a chorus of shouts and sirens.
Meanwhile, a successful young black lawyer (the dependable Robert Hooks) has told her that she made it out of the ghetto on her own, and owes it nothing in return. The situation is furhter complicated by the plight of Sweet Talk, an old pal of her boyfriend's who has become a dissolute junkie. He is so prematurelly frazzled she does not even recognize him when he meets her in a hallway.
It's hard to tell whether actress Sharp has a limited emotional range or was directed to play things cool in character. The lightning that strikes in "Hollow Image" is sparked by two actors in subordinate roles, anyway - Anna Maria Horsford as Monica, a proudly possessive competitor for the old boy friend's affections, and Morgan Freeman as Sweet Talk, a striking portrait of disillusionment and self-destructiveness.
The film's best scene, in fact, is all Freemans's, when Sweet Talk makes another attempt to get rid of his habit, with his friend's help, at a local "detoxification" clinic. When he is asked his age and cannot remember it, Sweet Talk is overcome by a desperation that sums up all the feeble excuses anyone had ever made to himself. Freeman's performance is so subtly and conscientiously detailed that one may feel the play should have been about him.
"Hollow Image" coincidentally reunites three of the major figures responsible for last season's "Holocaust" on NBC - supervising producer Robert Berger, executive producer Herbert Brodkin and director Marvin Chomsky. The approach is direct and declarative for the most part, and the New York locations are an invaluable asset.
If this had been a filmed social drama of the 1930s, Harriet Gittens would have abandoned her posh apartment and chi-chi world and returned to her ture love and poverty. But this is a social drama of the 197/s, so it ends on a note of resigned but realistic pragmatism: Harriet won't be going uptown again.