Of his daughter, old Charlesy Tate braggs, "She can charm the birds right out of the trees." Not a very original thought, but one highly appropriate to "The Golden Honeymoon," Frederic Hunter's adaptation of a Ring Lardner tale on public TV tonight.
After months and months of filmmaking and grant-getting, "The American Short Story" makes its return at 9 on Channel 26 and other PBS stations with this very agreeable flapjack set in a time when marriage was forever and love occasionally meant having to say, "Shut up."
James Whitmore and Teresa Wright play the Tates, who leave their Trenton home to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversy in St. Petersburg, Fla., sometime in the '20s. This was a day of flivvers and boaters, of band shells and checkers, of parasols and tossed horseshoes and "being refined."
This was a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away where people were actually proud to say there were from New Jersey.
But director Noel Black, who made the cult classic "Pretty Poison" in 1968, keeps the details and "Golden Honeymoon" a measured, discerning character study. In Florida, the Tates run into, of all people, Frank Hartsell (Stephen Elliott) and his wife Cora (Nan Martin). Fifty-two years earlier, Frank proposed to the woman who is now Mrs. Tate, the long-suffering, endlessly listening wife of Charley the affable windbag.
The honeymoon turns into a joust betwee the two men, who lapse into the roles of suitors, though not always according to Arthurian codes; Charley laughs out loud when poor Mrs. Hartsell's dentures pop out on the shuffleboard court.
Virtually every scene glows with airy, unaffected Americana, and the film is acted not merely to, but beyond, a fare-thee-well by all concerned. But Teresa Wright is particularly fine as Mrs. Tate. When old Charley suddenly goes onstage at The Social and starts running off at the mouth, Wright's delicate, half-suppressed looks of humiliation are like facial ballet.
Teresa Wright looks wonderful old, as some lucky actresses do, and the years have added subtlety to her expressions and reactions so that they are perfect for closeup television. She can explain in a look or gesture how Lucy Tate was able to put up with Charley for all those years, and why it was that the marriages of our grandparents seem to have been impregnable and incorruptible.
I have been in love with Teresa Wright for many years and I don't care who knows it.
"The Golden Honeymoon" begins a season of 17 "American Short Story" programs, nine of them repeats from a previous season.Although his segments were not submitted for preview, Henry Fonda has been added as the obligatory PBS on camera introducer and explainer. At PBS, just like at commerical networks, it is felt that no one will tune in unless a big star is trotted out into the spotlight. 'Top of the Hill'
Most TV programs are terrible. Some are terrific. And then there are the others -- the ones you just don't mind. There is nothing much to mind about "The Top of the Hill," a four-hour syndicated movie from Paramount Television, and so it makes a passable time-killer that knows, all too well, its place.
Written by Eric Bercovici, from an Irwin Shaw doddle, and directed by Walter Grauman, "Hill" will be shown in two-hour segments tonight and tomorrow night at 8 on Channel 20.Wayne Rogers, so uninteresting you could scream, plays a death-wishing businessman who quits his job and runs off to Lake Placid to risk his neck.
For this his cheery and voluptuous wife, Adrienne Barbeau, leaves him, but in the patently ludicrous script this character has women throwing themselves at him hither and thither anyway. He seems to prefer the hithers to the thithers, but who cares?
Elke Sommer looks very Elke as the owner of a ski lodge, and a Porsche Turbo performs splendidly on a frozen lake. There's a smattering of sex, a soupcon of violence, and far more than a tad of talk not so much small as infinitesimal. "Hill" is dumb, dull and sodden, but it isn't worth minding.