Television has trampled the line between celebrity and notoriety just as surely, and disturbingly, as it has violated the border between fact and reality. Anyone who wants to see both trends capriciously at work -- and all fans of diverting absurdities -- should get a load of "Will, G. Gordon Liddy," the silly NBC movie airing tomorrow at 9 on Channel 4.
"Will," based on Liddy's defensive book about himself, is of dubious value as an account of the Watergate years for obvious reasons -- number one of them being, why trust him? To compound inherent credibility problems, NBC admits in a preface to the movie version that "certain fictional characters have been introduced and a number of events modified for dramatic purpose."
Perhaps then we're not supposed to take literally such details as Liddy's account of how the Watergate break-in occurred and into whose lame brain this dopey idea first popped. An actor playing Jeb Stuart Magruder says to Robert Conrad, playing Liddy, "Oh, one other thing -- can you get into the Watergate?" Liddy replies, somewhat begrudgingly, "All right, Jeb, I'll do it, but remember, that's not part of our business deal."
Maybe the tiny little matter of truth really is an irrelevancy in a case like this simply because it is such an unlikely occurrence under the circumstances. The film makes Liddy look like not such a bad chap -- just a believer in good old Davy Crockett values who did his duty as he wackily saw it and says things like, "I can't compromise! I can't!"
Of course it's a load of garbage, but what should we expect from a movie that Liddy himself sanctioned? It wasn't likely he would be portrayed as a dangerous loon. The film is a case of obfuscation with extreme prejudice.
It's also a kind of Saturday afternoon serial: "Giddy in Liddyland." Incidents keep popping up which will be familiar to those who haven't read the book but who just caught one of Liddy's TV book plugging gigs. The first segment might be called "My First Rat" since it culminates in the young lad Liddy's victory over a rat in the family basement. He roasted it in the fireplace and ate it, as you may recall.
Indeed the rat, not altogether inappropriately, proves to be something of a motif. Near the film's conclusion, when Liddy is in prison and the screenplay is whimpering about his treatment there, he writes a memo to the warden complaining about a dead rat found in the mess hall. Apparently he will eat no rat before its time.
All this brings to mind a wonderful SCTV sketch of a year ago in which all President Nixon's men were sitting around plotting skulduggery when a delivery boy arrived with lunch and Nixon, doling out the food, asked, "Who ordered the ratburger?" The bag also contained one serving of "apple pan ratty."
Liddy really does work better as an element in a sick joke than as an implausibly rationalized sympathetic schnook. The film tries to explain his Darth Vader personality by sketching an unhappy childhood: His father treats him like a business partner, his nanny listens to Hitler on the radio and young G. Gordon is seen petting and fondling the handgun of his Uncle Ray, an FBI agent.
The film is nothing more than a series of bizarre vignettes, which, as adapted by Frank Abatemarco, don't add up to anything coherent or valuable but are, like a lot of the Watergate fallout, slightly fascinating. "Will" is a sorry excuse for drama or history, but a pretty good excuse for two hours of chuckles in front of your television set.