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SHOW OF THE WEEK

April 07, 1985|HWOARD ROSENBERG

"WALLENBERG: A HERO'S STORY," Monday and Tuesday, 9 p.m. (4) (36) (39) (Illustrated on cover)--Television's archives are now bulging with Holocaust literature, dramatizations galore about Hitlerism's mass destruction of millions in World War II.

Too much of anything tends to diminish an entire genre, trivializing the good along with the bad. Yet NBC's two-part "Wallenberg" is one of the better depictions relating to the Nazi slaughter, with Richard Chamberlain starring as the unlikely Swedish diplomat who effected the rescue of more than 120,000 Hungarian Jews as the war was drawing to a close.

A member of an aristocratic Swedish family, Raoul Wallenberg's job as a diplomat in Budapest was a cover for his role as President Roosevelt's secret representative in Hungary. His real mission was to save the remaining Jews in the country from the notorious Adolf Eichmann.

Filmed in Yugoslavia, written by Gerald Green and directed by co-producer (with Richard Irving) Lamont Johnson, "Wallenberg" is a taut, suspenseful, handsomely staged story featuring a good performance by Chamberlain as the heroic Swede.

In one moving scene that seems to especially capture the evil and desperation of the times, hundreds of Jews are marched off to death trains in a downpour. Wallenberg edges through them in an auto, hoping to reach the Nazis and their Hungarian collaborators in time to con them into releasing the Jews. As he does so, some of the apparently doomed victims press their hands against his window, almost as if he was their last hope.

Unfortunately, the drama tends to slow appreciably during its second two hours, becoming bogged in Wallenberg's corny alleged romantic attachment to a baroness (Alice Krige) whose eyes meet his across a crowded room.

It seems a gratuitous and distracting addition to an otherwise meaningful and nicely crafted story.

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