"A Few Days At Weasel Creek" may not quite work in every way that it ambitiously wants to, but this CBS movie, at 9 tonight on Channel 9, is one sweet item. It has charm and heart, rare qualities and rare characters.
As an ingenuous country-western odyssey it far exceeds a number of theatrical films with similar premises and elements, being as it is the story of one Locksley Claitor, a well-traveled gal trying to make her way, in many senses of that term, to California, and one Beldon Stokes, who has had enough of the tiny farm his mama left him and more than enough of his puritanical brother Calvin. Calvin thinks the work ethic was one of the Ten Commandments.
Locksley and Beldon meet through unconvincing coincidences and at first one fears the attitude of writer Durrel Royce Crays and director Dick Lowry is one of quaint condescension. But it turns out they respect the characters and the setting, which is the great American road, southern division, along which people say things like "Don't mind if I do" and "I didn't mean nuthin' by it." Somehow the adventures of these two star-crossed nomads quickly become terribly real and involving.
As Locksley, the versatile Mare Winningham ("Amber Waves") adds another role to a growing list of first-rate, well-considered performances, whether she is fidgeting beguilingly with too much exposed leg in a too short skirt, or, excessively cute as it may sound, yelling out the window at God to remind Him where she is, in case He might have misplaced her.
"I'm real good company," she suggestively tells Beldon when they first meet, though she later expresses dissatisfaction with the way she looks: "I've always had a really weird nose . . . and my face is a little chubby." Winningham is seductive and innocent, especially touching when, after her first night in the trailer with Beldon, she says imploringly, "Be nice to me, Beldon, okay?" We can see in her eyes there have been men who weren't.
As Beldon, John Hammond is a true discovery, one who gives an unaffected performance as clean and refreshing as cold spring water. The writer has the same problems that other writers have had in trying to depict inarticulate characters endearingly, but both actors make the roles work by getting everything possible out of the dialogue and supplementing it with intuition and skill.
It's almost amazing how much you grow to care for them as they dodge Calvin, order chicken-fried steak from a beehive waitress, and finally settle for a spell in Weasel Creek -- at which point the formidible Coleen Dewhurst finally gets to play an earthy mother not encumbered with the title of Earth Mother. Dewhurst, as Beldon's Aunt Cora, barks around her house with disarming authority, shutting up her precocious little girl and telling her light-brained daughter Laverne to "get some clothes on."
The American fear of being "tied down" that keeps Locksley and Beldon apart and unable to express their devotion to each other is succinctly spelled out: The tragedy that brings about a reconciliation is perhaps too enormous for a story of this weight, but the reunion and the prospect of a long road ahead is genuinely encouraging. They look right together, side by side, in Beldon's old rattletrap of a truck. Hey, God, keep an eye on them, okay?