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December 29, 1985|KEVIN THOMAS

Superman II (ABC Sunday at 8 p.m.) is one of the movies' best sequels, which this time finds the Man of Steel ultimately having to choose between the woman he loves--Lois Lane, natch--and the world he has vowed to protect. Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder are just terrific, and so is the script. (Too bad the series went into its disastrous third installment; by the way, Superman is airing Saturday at 8 p.m. on CBS.)

A new TV movie, Behind Enemy Lines (NBC Sunday at 9 p.m.), stars Hal Holbrook as a professor who serves as a colonel in the London-based Office of Strategic Services during World War II.

The 1980 film of Bernard Slade's play Tribute (NBC Monday at 8 p.m.) reveals its theatrical roots all too clearly but Jack Lemmon is quite affecting as a popular Broadway press agent struggling to rebuild his relationship with his ex-wife (Lee Remick) and especially his son (Robby Benson) before it's too late. Lemmon, who created his role on stage, won an Oscar nomination for his performance.

Airing Monday at 8:15 p.m. (on Channel 7) is none other than William Wyler's blockbuster, Oscar-laden remake of Ben Hur (concluding at the same time Wednesday, after the Sugar Bowl game), which features a great sea battle and the famous chariot race between Charlton Heston and Stephen Boyd.

Actually, more fun than either Tribute or Ben Hur is Mildred Pierce, the picture that brought Joan Crawford her Oscar. It airs Monday at 8 p.m. on Channel 13.

As awkwardly constructed as it is, Night Shift (CBS Tuesday at 9 p.m.) is still a pretty funny business. Michael Keaton made a scene-stealing debut as a new employee at the New York City morgue who finagles his very proper partner (Henry Winkler) into operating a call-girl ring. As hilarious as Keaton is, just how amusing you find Night Shift may depend on whether you can see humor in organized prostitution.

Also airing Tuesday (at 10:30 p.m. on Channel 28) is Godfrey Reggio's Koyaanisqatsi, a dazzling collage of American vistas, accompanied by Philip Glass' stunning score, which culminates in an unnerving image of a society lurching out of control. (The film means "life out of balance" in Hopi.)

Teri Garr and Stacy Keach star as a married couple whose lives are torn asunder by Vietnam in the new TV movie Intimate Strangers (CBS Wednesday at 9 p.m.).

Screening Wednesday at 9:15 p.m. on Channel 7 (after the conclusion of "Ben Hur") is Deliverance, that rich, energetic and ominous parable about survival and manhood in which Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox ride their frail canoes down the wicked waters of the Chattahoochee in the rugged mountains of Georgia.

Despite a couple of exploitation items, such as an extraneous razzle-dazzle chase, The New Centurions (Channel 13 Thursday at 8 p.m.) is a solid, highly entertaining adaptation of Joseph Wambaugh's first best seller about life and death in the LAPD. George C. Scott, Stacy Keach, Jane Alexander and Scott Wilson star. Richard Fleischer directed from Stirling Silliphant's script.

I Wake Up Screaming, a wonderfully '40s-looking whodunit starring Betty Grable, Victor Mature and Carole Landis, airs Friday at 10 p.m. on Channel 9. H. Bruce Humberstone directed.

In Superman (CBS Saturday at 8 p.m.), that thoroughly romantic and entertaining fantasy with smashing special effects, we're introduced to the comic-book hero who came from the planet Krypton--Marlon Brando, no less, is his father--to save Metropolis. Christopher Reeve is as perfect as shy, awkward, myopic Clark Kent as he is as Superman, embodiment of invincible heroism. However, campy arch-fiend Gene Hackman is on hand to do him in--if he can.

Among the cable fare, a special nod goes to the filmed record of Stephen Sondheim's remarkable Sweeney Todd, which airs New Year's Eve, Tuesday, at 6 and 10 p.m. on A&E. Other selected cable films: A Soldier's Story (HBO Sunday at 8, Saturday at 7); Romancing the Stone (Movie Channel Sunday at 8); The Amazing Mr. Blunden (Movie Channel Monday at 6); Cries and Whispers (Lifetime Monday at 8); Smash Palace (Lifetime Tuesday at 8); The Cotton Club (Movie Channel Wednesday at 7 and Cinemax at 10, HBO Thursday at 8, Showtime Friday at 8, Z Friday at 9, Cinemax Saturday at 8); The Right Stuff (Movie Channel Thursday at 8); The Third Man (Cinemax Thursday at 9:30); Breakin' 2 (HBO Friday at 6); Phar Lap (Showtime Friday at 6); Saint Jack (Lifetime Friday at 8); Brigadoon (Movie Channel Saturday at 7); A Face in the Crowd (Disney Saturday at 9); Maria's Lovers (Z Saturday at 9); F.I.S.T. (Cinemax Saturday at 10:15).

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