As high-priced, jewelery-chested, big-city criminal lawyer Nick Hellinger (a name straight out of -- well, straight out of something ), Telly Savalas strides around spouting axioms that give tonight's CBS movie its title: "Hellinger's Law," at 9 on Channel 9.
Thus when he is accused of having used a "cheap trick" to win a case Savalas says with his usual slithery charm, "Today's cheap trick becomes tomorrow's precedent." That may be only one of Hellinger's laws, but of course it is the First Law of television.
So here we have Telly back on the right side of justice, barging and bullying in his best "Kojak" style but with a derby and a three-piece suit, at least for courtroom appearances (open shirt and a jungle of gold baubles other times) and without a lollipop. Savalas chews up the scenery, chews up the other actors and all but burps in the camer's face.
He's still a magnetically repellent presence and "Hellinger's Law," almost certain to be a series on the CBS fall schedule, proves good solid fluff.
Already dubbed "Baldy of the Bailey" by one erudite wag, "Law" gives Savalas plenty of people to tell off before the film is over; he tells off everybody but God. Writers Lawrence Vail and Jack Laird trump up numerous confrontations and Savalas makes the most of all of them. Telly's mano a mano with the world again, and the sparks that fly are terribly entertaining.
Tonight's plot has more threads than Brooks Brothers. Hellinger leaves his stomping -- and jogging -- ground of Philadelphia to take up the defense of a Houston man (James Sutorious) accused of killing a detested, muckraking TV reporter. First it looks like his client is innocent, then it looks like he's a CPA for The Mob, and then it turns out he's undercover in the underworld for the Justice Department.
In addition, Hellinger wines and dines the deputy district attorney assigned to prosecute (Melinda Dillon, impossibly dithery and looking like she is always about to cry) and then she gets blackmailed by -- well, it does go on. The cast also includes Rod Taylor, a welcome returnee to the screen, as the Texas mobster (he consorts with known sheiks at a lawn party on a very badly manicured lawn) and the insufferable ham Roy Poole as Hellinger's law partner, a character who should be jettisoned brusquely should "Law" go to series.
Also there as ratings insurance, presumably for those not enamored of the Savalas swagger, is a young blond stooge played by Morgan Stevens. Leo Penn directed with obedient deference to Savalas, and a little location shooting around Houston helps a lot. Why the producers think they needed to have the defendant's twinkly-winkly little girl get a crush on Savalas and contrive a cutesy kicker to the movie is a mystery. No, wait -- it's not a mystery at all.
Neither is "Hellinger's Law," really, but it reeks of reliability and commercial savvy.