Zut alors, it's love among the would-be ruins tonight with the CBS remake of "Arch of Triumph" (Channel 9, 9 to 11), a drizzly World War II romance served up as a soggy piece of pa te' a choux.
The 1948 original, based on the Erich Maria Remarque novel, was a two-tissue weeper starring zee marvelous Charles Boyer. For this version, put away the Kleenex and get out zee No-Doz.
British actor Anthony Hopkins, who seems to be making a career out of bad made-for-television movies ("Hollywood Wives," "A Married Man"), plays Ravic, the fugitive German doctor stranded in Paris in 1939 on the eve of the Nazi invasion. He is haunted by a vision of the man who once tortured him, the Nazi officer Haake, played by Donald Pleasence, who has made his career out of playing balding, beady-eyed rodents.
One night Ravic is strolling across a bridge and meets Joan (Lesley-Anne Down), a waif who is just about to breaststroke down the Seine.
"You don't really want to do that now. The water's very code," Hopkins says, doing his best Boyer imitation.
You know the romance is doomed by the following cinematic clues:
She faints. They share an unfiltered cigarette. "Be careful. It's strong. It's Algerian." He offers to buy her a drink. They repair to a cozy cafe' and drink Calvados. He says "salut" and tells her to drink hers down all at once. Wide-eyed, she obeys. He walks out. She follows him. He asks if her papers are in order. The Arch of Triumph looms in the background. They spend the night together. He wears a fedora. But not in bed.
He helps her get a singing job. Suddenly Joan of Arch is transformed into a slinky chanteuse, dripping rhinestones and innuendo, with a Hedy Lamarr hairdo. When they drive to Normandy for a brief respite she wears a snood, looking more like a Howard Johnson's hostess on her lunch break.
Lesley-Anne Down is luscious, especially in the dreamy shots that look like L'Air du Temps perfume ads, but as a graduate of the Jane Seymour school of acting, her talents seem more suited to talk shows and the pages of Vogue.
Hopkins looks drugged, meandering through the bars and hotel rooms where most of the action takes place, swigging brandy and muttering gruffly, "Regrets are useless."
The dialogue is uniformly dismal (He: "Next you'll be telling me you love me." She: "I love you"), and there's more dramatic action in one of those AT&T overseas phone commercials (especially the one in which Dad gives his daughter the cameo brooch) than in two hours of this reconstituted drivel.
"Just let me loov you," she pleads, trying to crack Ravik's meringue glace' demeanor.
The lovers are parted by fate and one or two commercials, then reunited months later, although Joan has taken up with another man. (After all, this is Paris.) Consumed with revenge against his former tormentor, Ravik first aims to make Wiener schnitzel out of the menacing Haake, whom he spots in a Paris cafe', and he gives Joan the brushoff.
The brightest light in this dim production is character actor Frank Finlay in the role of Ravik's confidant, Boris. He does the best he can with the material, which closes with Ravik's wry remark, "Human beings can stand a great deal."
Maybe they can, but anyone who can stand this goop deserves the croix de guerre.
Call it a case of fallen arches.