Awash in a soundtrack of ditties from the '20s, Dorothy Parker's short story "Big Blonde" becomes a "Saturday Night Fever" of the speakeasy set on the PBS "Great Performances" series tonight -- at 9 on Channel 26, 8 on most other public TV stations.
Sally Kellerman, who starts coming apart at the seams almost the minute she appears on the screen, plays Parker's hard-of-head but soft-at-heart heroine in an adaptation by Ellen M. Violett that seems facile and showy, as emotionally involving as a Vogue fashion spread.
Director Kirk Browning floods the film with period details (the story begins in New York in 1923) that evoke the period to death, and we are never more than a whisper away from a quaint old chestnut (arranged by Glenn Osser) as we follow big, blond Hazel Morse through declines, falls stumbles and nosedives.
Panicked over advancing years and loneliness, Hazel marries a feckless cad named Herbie (John Lithgow) but not until after they've danced and danced to "Bye Bye Blackbird" and "Apple Blossom Time." They are engaged to "Lady Be Good." He walks out on her to "Avalon." He dances with a hatcheck girl to "My Wonderful One." Hazel hits the bottle and sings "Sometimes I'm Happy." She joins a poker game while "What'll I Do?" plays in the background.
This isn't so much a drama as an illustrated edition of "Name That Tune."
Whatever Parker was saying about the soullessness at the center of '20s hedonism doesn't come through very clearly or persuasively in this pretty but empty film. "Big Blonde" amounts to little more than a tentative sketch of an addled human doormat -- 90 minutes of tuneful dead weight.