Another AIDS movie? "Intimate Contact" is more than that. The two-part HBO Showcase film, at 8 tonight and tomorrow night on Home Box Office, paints a bitter but believable picture of the way one small community reacts when a formerly upstanding citizen develops the disease.
The movie asks whether even a deadly virus can be more virulent than the lethal combination of fear and ignorance.
"Intimate Contact" differs from previous TV movies about AIDS in that, this time, it's a heterosexual who contracts the disease. A successful British businessman who participated in a night of boozy womanizing during a trip to the States, and had sex with an infected prostitute, learns 18 months later that the virus is inside him and active.
Fifteen minutes into the film, he must tell his wife about the illness and the circumstances under which he caught it. "I am going to hurt you, and disgust you," he warns. There is crying and retching. She runs from the room.
At first, the couple try to keep the disease a secret. Ironically, they decide to tell friends the husband has merely developed cancer, an affliction whose victims once carried nearly the stigma that many AIDS victims do now.
Both the husband and the wife are ostracized by the tight little company town they live in; the husband suffers criminal humiliations from his frightened coworkers, who stand up and leave the table when he tries to join them for lunch at a snooty hangout. Company management coldheartedly turns its back. He becomes a nonperson.
Daniel Massey as the husband and Claire Bloom as the wife invest the roles with so much unarguable veracity that they help elevate the film well beyond the usual "problem drama" cliche's, not that Alma Cullen's script stoops to many of them. Waris Hussein directed. Part 1 opens so awkwardly that it appears some last-minute HBO editing may have been done; Part 2 has an odd continuity gap as well.
As good as Massey and Bloom are, the stellar performance in the picture is that of Maggie Steed as Becca Crichton, a friend of the family and a recovering alcoholic who is the town's resident free spirit. Steed illuminates the film and every scene in which she appears; you not only want to applaud her, you want to know her.
She's simply tremendously good.
In a comparatively thankless role, that of a social-climbing doctor's wife who is foremost among the rumormongers and alarmists, Sylvia Syms is impeccably deplorable; she makes her unsympathetic character complete and dimensional, not just a shrew. Bloom's performance is similarly thorough and thought-out. Her stately composure is put to good use, and to a stiff test.
The spiritual journey made by the wife is the most striking theme in the film. As part of it, she gradually befriends a homosexual couple -- one partner also stricken with AIDS -- from whom she initially recoiled. By Part 2, she has become such an activist against prejudice that she joins in protesting at a school where attempts are being made to expel a hemophiliac child who carries the virus.
Although it was already completed when the incident occurred, the movie thus depicts a situation like that in Arcadia, Fla., where a family was threatened, and their house burned down, because they wanted their three hemophiliac sons, who'd been infected by contaminated blood, to attend public school.
Even a sophisticated, educated, upscale community can turn into a hysterical Arcadia when AIDS invades it, the film says. It ends on a note of muted hope, however -- not so as to soothe the audience but because it would probably be emotionally irresponsible not to. "Intimate Contact" is a responsible movie. Also a vitally compelling one.
'Haunted by Her Past' "This room hasn't been opened in years," creaks the creaky old innkeeper at the creepy old Lion and Lamb. You'd think people would take such remarks as warnings, especially after having heard them repeatedly in countless other horror movies. But the characters in horror movies never seem to go to horror movies. The blind fools!
In "Haunted by Her Past," the NBC film at 9 tonight on Channel 4, Susan Lucci plays Karen Beckett, a young woman mysteriously drawn to aforesaid inn during a fourth-anniversary visit to eerie colonial Unionville. Karen is also mysteriously drawn to the antique mirror in that previously closed room upstairs.
You know, the one in which a bawdy 18th-century wench named Megan Meguire (Finola Hughes) hangs out. It seems that in 1786, Megan murdered her callous lover and, on the gallows, vowed revenge through eternity. The bloodline leads straight to poor Karen, who soon enough is being mysteriously drawn even to mysterious drawings.
"I want you," she pantingly announces to her mystified husband (John James), pushing him onto the bed. "I don't know you anymore; you're like two different people," he says, not long after she has drawn blood by digging her nails into his back during an impromptu session of hot-cha-cha.
Lucci, who looks a bit like Merle Oberon when she lets her hair down (a signal she's entered her bad phase), has fun with the part without actually laughing at it. Keeping a straight face may be harder for viewers, especially during the kooky climactic bedroom showdown, when the mirror and the husband compete for Karen's attention.
"Kill him," says the mirror. "I love you," says the husband. "Kill," "love," "kill," "love." Being possessed by an evil barmaid can be so confusing!
Barry Schneider wrote this silly film, and Michael Pressman directed. It was nicely shot in Toronto. The title theme sounds so much like the old instrumental hit "Midnight in Moscow" that viewers may logically wonder if Joe Biden has taken up composing.