After gazillionaire Ellis Ikehorn has a rather dainty little stroke in a posh eatery, his wife asks the doctor in charge about her husband's condition. "Will he be able to communicate at all?" she asks.
Since Ikehorn is played by the definitively negligible Efrem Zimbalist Jr., the doctor's answer should have been, "No I'm afraid he'll be exactly as he was before the stroke." But Zimbalist, whose passage from vigor to torpor amounts to nothing more momentous than a blink, is only one small symptom of "Scruples," the six-hour CBS monster-soaper that starts tonight with a two-hour chapter at 9 on Channel 9.
"Scruples" is less a movie than a sedative and less a story than one long innuendo. The remaining chapters will be seen, though only by the excessively tolerant, Tuesday and Thursday nights.
Based on a novel by Judith Krantz, "Scruples" is set among the beautiful people that those who make lousy TV movies imagine themselves to be, and tells of an attractive young woman with a brain of solid gossamer and how she finds the meaning of life by opening a boutique in Beverly Hills.
Written by James Lee and directed by Alan J. Levi, the movie lopes along at the plush trash level of such theatrical features as The Other Side of Midnight" and "The Greek Tycoon," but without any compensating cheap lurid smut. Not that the film isn't riddled to the ribs with sexual suggestion: in this picture human beings exist only to be paired off in games of mutual prey.
Thus Lindsay Wagner, the heroine of the story, begins the film by pouring hubbie's ashes into the Pacific from a helicopter and then, on the way back home, seduces her chauffeur at a cheap motel pulling him down on the bed by his belt buckle.
From there we lurch into a flashback that takes up the rest of the first chapter and much of the second. Wagner plays the "poor relation" of the wealthy Winthrop clan. A kind auntie sends her to Paris where she discovers the religious significance of eye makeup. After plucking her eyebrows, she is in fact plucked herself, losing he virginity to a mangy playboy who is after the money of which she has naught.
As the narrator explains at the start of part two the experience discourages her; "heartbroken, she decides to go to secretarial school in New York City." There she meets Efrem Somnambulist Jr. as Ikehorn and soon they are exchanging vacant stares. they're as cozy as two peas in a pod, but less interesting.
Wagner was a pleasant enough robot and encouraging feminist role model to little girls as the Bionic Woman, but she truly cannot act. She could give lessons in not acting. When she tells Gramps Zimbalist in bed, "I love you and I want to be your mistress," she's less sensual than the weather lady on the telephone.
A subplot involves an allegedly lady-killing photographer (Barry Bostwick dyed blond) and a designing young designer played by Marie France-Pisier the ice-cube dispenser of "The Other Side of Midnight." Her French accent has not lapsed so that at one point she refers to "mouse-to-mouse resuscitation."
Two welcome faces from the past turn up in small roles: Gene Tierney as a magazine editor and Genevieve once a persistent delight on "The Jack Parr Show," as the French aunt. Trying to maintain one's dignity within the strudel of "Scruples," however, is like negotiating a high wire after 25 milligrams of Valium.