From the This Generation to the That Generation, hardly an epoch, era or passing fancy has gone unsentimentalized during the '70s in books, movies and TV shows. So it is with something less than gnawing hunger that one approaches "The Last Convertible," NBC's six-hour miniseries about five members of Harvard's Class of '44.
Television has made communal, national and public something that used to be more of a personal, private enterprise -- remembering the past selectively, seeing it through rose-colored filters. "Convertible," which begins with a two-hour chapter tonight at 9 on Channel 4 (continuing Tuesday and Wednesday nights at 9), comes across as neither more nor much less counterfeit a recollection than the surplus of other works in this genre.
Those who remember the period firsthand will probably not blanch in disbelief, and those too young to have been there will probably get some sense of the time and the people from the film, adapted from a novel by Anton Myrer.
Certainly the sweaters and the cars are all okey-dokey, and a shot of the principal characters motoring through the country in the convertible of the title to such tunes of the times as "I Can't Get Started" is affectingly bittersweet. The question is whether one can feel nourished after six hours of misty memorabilia.
The story, which will eventually take the best of the brightest of their day up to their 25th reunion in 1969, begins tonight in the last twinkly years before World War II, when a mignificent 1938 Packard provided a focal point for the lives and relationships of five privileged and justifiably smug Harvard classmates.
On the dreams they shares, on the women they loved and oh, how it hurt when THE LIGHTS WENT OUT ALL OVER THE WORLD.
Perry King, an actor who combines Arrow-collar good looks with an intimidating, sleazy lustfulness, plays not only the richest and most frequently carousing of the group, but also the spokesman who announces which generation his is. This is a generation that still says "excuse me" and still thinks the future is its friend.
"We are the brightest, handsomest, most sophisticated crew to ever grace Harvard," he sings out. "I think we're going to make history!" Later at a pivotal school dance he exclaims, "We got magic. We can do anything tonight," and still later, at a beach party, "There's nothing any of us couldn't do if we wanted. Our horizons are unlimited."
Is the world ever going to come crashing down on him!
The cast also includes Bruce Boxleitner as the most introverted of the gang, Deborah Raffin as a much-coveted virgin from Radcliffe, the always negligible Edward Albert, and cheerful Sharon Gless, here totally miscast as a catty, worldly sexpot.
The narrative amounts to a series of ritual gatherings -- the dance, the beach party, a farewell party, a New Year's Eve party. At times there is a measured, unhurried quality that doesn't seem just the usual long-form padding. There are moments to savor and the chance to savor them.
Unfortunately, there is also the cheapness and a certain indifference common to these Universal golly-whompers. The campus does not look Harvardesque, the surrounding countryside does not look New English, and it is extremely doubtful that in December in 1941 there were bright green leaves on the trees of Cambridge, Mass.
Worse, the project has the usual Hollywood hodgepodge curse -- three different writers, three different directors. The British would not do it this way. It is very difficult to attain cohesive dramatic work under such circumstances. For all the drawbacks, though, "The Last Convertible" is earnest at heart and has an undeniable allure. It offers yet another chance to ponder the way we sort of, kind of, perhaps and maybe were.