A TV movie called "Mafia Princess," based on mobster daughter Antoinette Giancana's published memoirs, ought to be a can't-miss proposition but believe me, you can miss it, and with a happy heart. The NBC movie, Sunday night at 9 on Channel 4, is ludicrous and pointless, though it does boast the kind of enticingly ferocious overacting dear to the hearts of bad movie lovers everywhere.
Tony Curtis plays Chicago Mafia boss Sam Giancana, and Susan Lucci, the soap opera star, throttles the role of his daughter in this hapless production, which might better have been titled "The Staircase," since that's where most of the frenzied father-daughter battles take place. Daddy endears himself to daughter with such tendernesses as, "Wash out your mouth; that's garbage!" And this is just a warm-up.
After Sam's beloved wife, belovedly played by wide-eyed Kathleen Widdoes, dies, and Antoinette sorrowfully embraces papa, he scowls, "Get your hands off me." When, later, she forgives him and comes to visit him in prison, he tells her, "Go away. Go away. Get out of my life." Upon her return from a second visit to a mental hospital, he contributes to her recovery by snarling, "Get out of here and never come back."
When it's all over, at Sam's big photo-opportunity funeral, the daughter reflects that maybe her father's repeated and occasionally violent rejections of her were his way of expressing love. Yeah. Uh-huh. Sure. Right. Thus do the filmmakers -- writer Robert W. Lenski and director Bob Collins -- attempt to find some sense in all this, to rationalize two panting hours at the keyhole. Don't they know that two hours at the keyhole is its own rationalization? It's one of the reasons we have television. 'Passion Flower'
"Body Heat" goes Far East in "Passion Flower," a colorfully atmospheric TV-film noir Sunday night at 9 on Channel 9. Shot on location in Singapore, and directed by sure-footed pro Joseph Sargent, the film endeavors to be as steamy as a TV movie can be in telling the story of an innocent boob lured into a shadowy homicidal plot by a coldly cunning vamp.
Stories like this, preferably set in tropical climes, are virtual perennials. It's part of the humid condition. As the dangerous lady, Barbara Hershey is uncomfortable with her British accent but very much at home with the come-hither lingo. "I'll never be completely satisfied, darling," she tells her lover. "It's not in my nature." The willing prey is Bruce Boxleitner of "Scarecrow and Mrs. King," who handles the chumpiness all right but proves about as potent a sex symbol as David Eisenhower.
A sorry sign of the times: Boxleitner, on the basis of his TV exposure, is top-billed in the credits over Nicol Williamson, one of the world's most musical speakers of the English language. He plays the seeming villain of the piece, an old John Hustony sort of conniver, and he makes the most of every line, even one so basic as "Oh, relax, relax, re-laaaax." He's the best thing in the picture next to (or in front of, for that matter) the Singapore scenery, which plays its role without a fault or a complaint.
"Passion Flower" is certainly a more involving and respectable movie than "Mafia Princess," but the most promising of Sunday night's three head-to-head-to-head network films, ABC's "Club Med, the Movie," was, alas, not made available for preview. 'Murrow'
You would expect malicious gossip to be entertaining, but then this is sanctimonious malicious gossip, a rather dispirited breed. For all the acrimony that preceded it, "Murrow," the Home Box Office movie about the career of legendary CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow, turns out to be a mean though not very compelling little tweet. HBO begins showing it Sunday night at 8.
Murrow, who memorably reported World War II from England on CBS radio and was crucially important to the development of CBS News when television arrived, was "broadcasting's supreme journalist," according to industry chronicler Les Brown, and among journalists, writes Theodore H. White in this week's TV Guide, "only Horace Greeley and Walter Lippmann matched him in shaping our history."
This is the giant whom the HBO movie insults even as it lionizes, because the producers (the usually dependable Herbert Brodkin and Robert Berger) and the writer (Ernest Kinoy) use Murrow mainly as a paddle with which to whack the coldhearted forces of commercial television -- in particular, CBS and its founder, William S. Paley, and longtime president, Frank Stanton. Of course CBS and commercial broadcasting brought forth an Ed Murrow in the first place, but never mind that for now.
CBS should be able to get as well as it gives, having inflicted a number of specious docudramas on the nation itself. And Murrow was saddened and disillusioned by the time he left CBS. But "Murrow" is so simplistic and somber an attack, it tends to implode on impact. Paddy Chayefsky took a much smarter approach with "Network"; his UBS network was a delicious synthesis of the ills of all the real ones. He didn't have the disreputable, constricting format of the docudrama to inhibit him.
The solemn nastiness of the film might be more forgivable if it worked on dramatic terms, but as directed by Jack Gold ("The Naked Civil Servant"), it's dark as ebony and heavier than lead. A central weakness is the casting of Daniel J. Travanti as Murrow. Travanti is fine as that sensitive soul Furillo on "Hill Street Blues," but his meek and muttered performance in this film robs Murrow of his backbone and his bite.
It almost would have made more sense to cast Dabney Coleman as Murrow, but the producers wanted to save him for the part of Paley, because Coleman has made a career of playing duplicitous louts, and they didn't want anyone to come away from the film admiring old Uncle Bill. Yet Coleman has the kind of strength and chutzpah that Murrow would have needed to stand up to bullies like Sen. Joe McCarthy, whose electronic jousts with Murrow are re-created here.
The film also covers the blacklisting mess of the early '50s, which CBS itself already treated in one of its own docudramas, "Fear on Trial," and the continuing conflict between the dread Front Office and the scrappy idealistic journalists. Murrow is accurately made to symbolize the latter; unfortunately, Kinoy has tried to make Stanton symbolize the former. While he and Murrow were in conflict during their years at CBS, Stanton later proved himself a champion of the news division, marching boldly to Washington to intimidate the bejeebers out of Congress, and so this depiction seems especially harsh.
As played by John McMartin, Stanton comes across as a scourge and a priss. But Paley is seen as not much better, preoccupied as he is with the Big Buck. "This is a business, for God's sake," he scowls at Murrow during one of their executive-suite te te-a -te tes. "Murrow" puts one in the uncomfortable position of feeling inclined to defend a television network. But then, it's a lot easier to defend CBS than to defend HBO, which is a projector hooked up to a satellite hooked up to a cash register.
Even the character of Murrow doesn't seem all that admirable in this production. Perhaps Kinoy sees him as a Faust figure, Paley as the devil. He's not only always smoking, as Murrow was, but he seems inordinately preoccupied with lunch and dinner. Intentionally or not, Kinoy makes it look as though Murrow had to be prodded into his finest moments by the likes of Fred W. Friendly, his stalwart colleague and friend, and onetime CBS correspondent William L. Shirer. These two men are depicted as living saints and most of the others in American broadcasting as venal sinners.
There is one warm, vital scene in "Murrow." It has nothing much to do with the broadcasting industry, really, or corporate politics. It's a scene in which Travanti as Murrow and Edward Herrmann as Friendly walk down a New York street after a tumultuous broadcast and Murrow reminisces about his youth and a fondly recalled speech teacher. For an instant, the two stick figures become human beings with whom one can empathize. Then it's back to the funereal dogma.
"Murrow" inspired a tiff when it was scheduled for a showing in Washington by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, which let itself become a cog in the HBO publicity machine. Walter Cronkite, lambasting the film for its distortions, also proved an astute movie critic when he pronounced it "dull." Dull it is, but 20 years after Murrow's death, it is a backhanded tribute that he can still be at the center of a flap. In this case, though, the gist of the flap is the bunk. 'Campaigning on Cue'
You don't have to be crazy to want to relive the presidential campaign of 1984. A bit wacky, perhaps, a trifle perverse maybe, but not insane. Or at least such a case is made by "Campaigning on Cue: The Presidential Election of 1984," a rivetingly thoughtful three-part seminar on media and politics that Channel 26 has rudely elected to bury in a 3 p.m. time slot starting tomorrow and continuing for the next two Sunday afternoons.
Boiled down from a two-day conference at the University of Chicago last March, "Campaigning" brings together journalists and politicos to thrash out the still-troubling aspects of campaign coverage and television's enormous, almost suffocating, role. Moderator John Callaway employs the Socratic interrogation technique seen on another PBS series, "The Constitution: That Delicate Balance." It isn't perfect, but it brings out some good stuff.
The first installment deals with a rather indelicate balance, that between the media and the political parties, as reflected in coverage of the general election. The second concentrates on the primaries and on television's preoccupation with the "horse race" aspects. In Part 3, political commercials, presidential debates and convention coverage are examined.
Remember the "bear in the woods" commercial from the Republicans? It's played again in Part 3. We all thought at the time that the bear represented the Soviet Union. But maybe the bear represented the media. If there was a bear.
There are as many complaints about television's way of covering politics and elections as there are unkept political promises. But after watching all three hours, the conclusion most evident is that, for all those complaints, television did a pretty good job last year, and Bruce Morton of CBS News, as reprised reports here indicate, did an especially good job of covering the subject of coverage.
Among those participating are Susan Spencer of CBS News, who says, "This administration is . . . incredibly skilled at the art of the backdrop"; Brit Hume of ABC News, who says, "It does not hurt our competitive position at the White House that Sam Donaldson has some thunder in his throat"; Maxine Isaacs of the Mondale-Ferraro campaign, who says Mondale "resisted very aggressively the idea of . . . having his image changed"; Timothy Russert, formerly an aide to New York Gov. Mario Cuomo and now an NBC News vice president, who says, "This idea that when you cover a, quote, horse race, you're ignoring the issues is nonsense"; and former FCC chairman Newton Minow, whose last name is misspelled "Minnow" in the on-screen caption and who proposes banning all paid political ads in favor of the British system of free time for all candidates.
Callaway makes a tireless, challenging inquisitor. At one point he charges that campaigns have been managed "into irrelevancy" by the media and the politicos, but for the most part he is not accusatory, just provocative. "Campaigning on Cue" solves no problems, but addresses many. It worries that we insist on politics' being "a good show," but it's a good show itself. 'The Redd Foxx Show'
A Foxx is a Foxx is a Foxx when it's Redd. And ABC's "The Redd Foxx Show," premiering tonight at 8 on Channel 7, is just what you would expect if you like Redd Foxx, and just what you'd dread if you don't. The longtime blue comedian and former star of "Sanford and Son" fusses his gravelly way through this new tailor-made sitcom about a cranky luncheonette proprietor with a soft heart for troubled kids.
The premiere, written by Bob Comfort and Rick Kellard, keeps insisting that Foxx's new character, Al Hughes, is a crusty sweetheart, but the crust tends to dominate, and the jokes include one that depends on finding child abuse funny (Al says his parents collaborated on dropping him on his head when he was a baby) and one of dubious racial sensitivity (Al to a teen-age delinquent: "What are you doin' with a knife? You're white").
So what -- the studio audience is at its wit's end with laughter.
In the premiere, a 15-year-old girl (Pamela Segall) who has transparently disguised herself as a boy is begrudgingly befriended by grumpy old Al, whose chief comic foil is Rosana De Soto as waitress Diana Olmos. Diana says that Al has "a gift" for getting people "to believe in themselves"; it's a gift certainly kept under heavy wraps. The teen-ager says things like, "You're really somethin' else, man" and "You're just jive, man!"
The program has been plagued with production troubles, including the reported illness of the star, and it looks very shaky in the first episode, like a show still in out-of-town tryouts. For Foxx fans who will forgive him anything, "Show" may prove satisfying, but others will find little to admire -- except maybe for art director Ken Johnson's handsomely realized street-corner set. It's almost magically pretty. Maybe some day it will get a series of its own.