When the heroine tells the hero that now he belongs to the people, he says to her, "Laura, I've seen that movie before." So have we, but some movies are worth seeing, or even making, over and over. "Dream House," the CBS film at 9 tonight on Channel 9, revives motion picture storytelling traditions perfected decades ago by Frank Capra and does it with fresh, sunny conviction. This little honey is 110 percent charm.
Even hardened grouches may find themselves willing to suspend disbelief for this story about a riotously decent Atlanta carpenter who comes to New York in pursuit of the girl he fell in love with, can't find a parking place (nothing unbelievable about that) and ends up buying a dilapidated lot on the lower East Side where he plans to build, to quote Ira Gershwin, a little home just meant for two.
The girl continues to spurn him, toughs in the neighborhood persecute him, the framework for the house is pulled down, he almost gives up hope, he's ready to go back to Georgia, it's always darkest before the last commercial break -- and then, well gosh, a kind of miracle happens. All the folks in the impoverished polyglot neighborhood join in to lend him a hand. "People are basically decent," he'd said. "They're not," corrected a cop. But they come forward, just like they did in a dozen great Capra movies, to prove that old cynical cop wrong.
So what if it's slightly preposterous? It makes one smile. But the film might have failed without the asset of leading man John Schneider, one of the Dukes of Hazzard, in the lead role. Schneider makes the hero's ingenuousness absolutely credible, even when he apologizes to a 16-year-old mugger for having leveled him with a couple of down-home haymakers. Schneider is strapping and yet not threatening, a teen-age heartthrob (kept free of his shirt for much of the film) who goes disarmingly against the usual pretty-boy androgynous stereotype. He's about 125 percent charm.
Marilu Henner, the brassy and sparkling looker of "Taxi," plays the girl who can't say yes to him, partly because she's just emerged from a rotten marriage that soured her on dependence. Henner has to be unyielding, even cruel, to the big goofy kid through most of the movie, yet she lets it subtly be known that there's a warm soul beneath the ice. When gifts of roses fail to impress her, he brings her a puppy. She begins to melt; we know it's only a matter of time.
It's gratifying to know by about 9:15 that you'll be sent into the 11 o'clock news with a sense that the world isn't quite so mad as it often appears. "Dream House" was crisply written by Mike Lloyd Ross and directed by the accomplished Joseph Hardy.
"Sizzle," the ABC Sunday Night Movie, starts out as "The Untouchables Meet Thoroughly Modern Millie." But before long it has degenerated into just another thick-skulled contemptibility from Aaron Spelling Productions, television's most tireless purveyors of plastic prurience.
In the film -- apparently a series pilot -- at 9 on Channel 7, Loni Anderson plays a dimple-brained Nebraska girl, blonde to the core, who goes to Chicago with her boyfriend during the boring '20s and falls in, chest-first, with the criminal element, especially gangland boss Mike Callahan (John Forsythe). Loni ends up in the slammer, the boyfriend is murdered, and she returns to wreak revenge on the crooks.
Anderson doesn't appear in a low-cut gown until the film is about 15 minutes old -- a decided tactical blunder -- and never does quite summon the energy to act. Acceptably daffy in light comedy like "WKRP in Cincinnati," Anderson has an impenetrable blankness here that makes her less expressive than the World Trade Center.
What is that look in her empty eyes? It's the look that Kevin McCarthy got from Dana Wynter after she turned into a pod person in "Invasion of the Body Snatchers."
In jail, things take a rancid, unsavory turn. Frieda, a fat guard, pimps the heroine to corrupt guards and cops. According to the movie, both sides of the law are equally depraved, but the crooks wear better suits. It is clearly implied that the woman is raped by more than one man at a time. In one scene, she is carried off to the showers by two slobbering cops; the scene ends with one of them turning on the water and leering.
Whoring is now brought up on prime-time television as casually as if it were a normal part of everyone's life, like breakfast. Onward and upward with ABC.
Once out of jail, Anderson plays the tramp in order to seduce those who done her wrong. "I've been watching you and I think you want me," she says to one target, in the same provocative way a voice on the phone might purr, "The number you have dialed is not in service." With Loni Anderson, you never quite reach the party to whom you are speaking.
'Open All Night'
"Open All Night" could develop into the only worthwhile comedy series of the new fall season, although ABC seems to be dumping it onto the air unceremoniously, and would not even provide a complete copy of tonight's premiere, at 8 on Channel 7, for preview.
At its best moments, "Open All Night" harbors a madcap anarchic streak absent from prime time since the first and best season of "Mork and Mindy," and is considerably more intelligent, having been produced and created by MTM graduates Tom Patchett and Jay Tarses.
Gordon Feester, at the sane centrifugal center of the show's patently authentic L.A. loony-world, is the owner of a convenience food store in a neighborhood overstocked with fruits and vegetables. As played by George Dzundza -- almost unrecognizably the same man who played the Nazi leader in "Skokie" on CBS -- Feester contends with a terminally ditzy wife, played by that enigmatic bundle of nerves Susan Tyrell, and her blithering-idiot son by a previous marriage, played as a true original shifty-eyed wimp by the extremely funny Sam Whipple.
Into each life some rain must fall; every day Gordon Feester must face a new typhoon. Most of the customers are slightly to the left of Gypsy Boots -- or slightly to the right of Dirty Harry. The son is a bottomless pit for junk food ("That's not breakfast, that's nuclear waste"), the mother an oblivious apologist for him ("He needs his energy, Gordon; these are his Wonder years"). The funniest and most irreverent encounter on the premiere involves poor Gordon with a hilariously surly, paranoid midget, who is applying for the job of night manager: "We'll let you know, Scott." "When?" "Shortly. Er, soon, soon." "I know what that means -- the old kisseroo! I've been down that yellow brick road before!"
Towering Bubba Smith, as Robin, is introduced as the likely candidate for the job, able as he is to lift into the air, from behind the counter, evil little old ladies who try to tell him they gave him a ten when they only gave him a five. For some reason, a melodramatic note about Robin's criminal past is introduced, and the first episode is left annoyingly unresolved about his future. But "Open All Night" still has welcome nutty potential as a merrily microcosmic cross between domestic sitcoms about wacky families and such tribal outings as "Taxi" and "M*A*S*H."
'Of Mice and Men'
There are spacious skies in "Of Mice and Men," but it's primarily beautiful for amber waves of grain, caught in particularly fetching sway outside Dallas, Tex. This new version of the John Steinbeck story that has been a novel, a play and a film is not satisfying on every level, but there is more earnestness to it than most ventures of this kind, and that should count for something.
In addition, it is a pleasure to encounter a remake of anything that doesn't star Melissa Gilbert; perhaps her agent decided she wasn't really right for the roles of either George or Lenny. There are other things to be grateful for about the 2 1/2-hour NBC film, airing at 9 Sunday night on Channel 4. One is Randy Quaid's sweet, disciplined portrayal of Lenny, the childlike half-wit who stumbles into tragedy through no fault of his own.
The role of George, his reluctant but loyal partner, is played by Robert Blake, who has done so much television that he can't be anything but himself any more, but who tries. Blake is also the executive producer, and touchingly dedicated the film to Lewis Milestone, who directed the first film version of the story and gave Blake his first break in films.
Coincidentally or by design, the cast also includes -- in a scrupulously heartbreaking portrayal of Candy, an old ranch hand whose only friend is his arthritic dog -- Lew Ayres, who starred in Milestone's unforgettable film "All Quiet on the Western Front" 50 years ago. Ted Neeley does as much as can be done with the overdrawn part of Curly, the insanely jealous and presumably impotent newlywed, and Pat Hingle hangs around briefly as Jackson, who owns the farm where George and Lenny alight and court disaster.
The only major woman's role is also handled with some elegance -- by Cassie Yates, who makes the forlorn, entrapped Mae more than a sultry tease; she's really rather fascinating, and the '30s dresses cling to her with dizzying provocation.
E. Nick Alexander adapted the Steinbeck story (from the screenplay version, apparently, and not the play), and the film was directed by Reza Badiya, whose most glorious previous moment was probably the sensational opening credit sequence he did for "Hawaii 5-0," for years the most kinetically invigorating curtain-raiser in television. Courageously -- or maybe recklessly -- Badiya lets many scenes run on in long takes, like a play.
In truth, the Steinbeck fable seems dated now, but its bald pathos remains affecting. The slow pace of this remake may be off-putting for many viewers, but how refreshing to encounter for a change a TV movie that has too much respect for its source. As with doctors, the motto for producers of remakes should be, "First do no harm," and this new production of "Mice and Men" does none.
The Making of 'Raiders'
"We have to get more snakes," says director Steven Spielberg, and 7,000 additional serpents soon slither in from -- where? Central casting? They are poured all over the studio floor so that the messy magic of the movies can resume.
"The Making of Raiders of the Lost Ark" is essentially a puff piece -- shot and directed by Phillip Schuman -- but that's not to be minded when the film in question is the year's biggest box-office hit and a rousing return to cliffhanging days of your, and Spielberg's, moviegoing past. Public television stations have acquired the breezy pop-doc for showing during fund-raising week, so that though it is scheduled for 8 tonight on Channel 26, it may be postponed while WETA insults and abuses its audience with pleadings for loot.
Not as entertaining as behind-the-scenes documentaries on "Stars Wars" and "The Empire Strikes Back" -- two previous and more mythically resonant movie adventures from producer George Lucas -- "The Making of Raiders" still has its fascinating peeks at the sweat and toil of big-time commercial filmmaking.
The neatest shot in the program, which includes many short scenes from the film, is one in which the ark itself is carried through a doorway, followed faithfully by the big Panavision camera and its operators. On the last day of shooting, Ford pours a cup of water over Spielberg's head as they stand on a Tunisian street, and cinematographer Douglas Slocombe can be heard in voice-over saying that the craftsmen who make movies never stop learning: "Your apprenticeship is for life."