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SHOW OF THE WEEK

January 12, 1986|HOWARD ROSENBERG

"FATAL VISION," 9-11 p.m. Sunday and Monday (4) (36) (39)--NBC's rerun of this two-part, tense psychological thriller comes three weeks after a U.S. Court of Appeals denied the request of Dr. Jeffrey R. MacDonald--whose story it tells--for a new trial.

MacDonald is the former Green Beret doctor who six years ago was convicted of the 1970 murder of his pregnant wife and two young sons. And this David Greene-directed, John Gay-written account of the grisly, baffling casedoes not waffle about MacDonald's guilt.

It is a chilling, highly suspenseful story about a seemingly devoted family man who claimed that a band of drug-crazed hippies broke into his Ft. Bragg, N.C., home and fatally stabbed and clubbed his wife and children. MacDonald could never explain why he had been spared and had received only superficial wounds in the alleged attack.

Gary Cole is entirely convincing as MacDonald, depicted here as a bloodless schizoid and relentless publicity seeker who was undone in part by his own arrogance. Karl Malden (in an Emmy-winning performance) plays MacDonald's father-in-law, Freddy Kassab, who initially believed in his innocence. Kassab changed his mind, however, and ultimately led the long legal battle that resulted in MacDonald's conviction.

This is superb, meticulous storytelling that will have you on the edge of your seat, with Greene managing to convey the brutality of the crime in a surreal way without showing actual violence. NBC last year refused a request by MacDonald's lawyers to delay airing the drama, which became the highest-rated miniseries of the 1984-85 season. They contended it could have a negative impact on his appeal.

Ironically, the damning TV story is based on a book by Joe McGinnis that MacDonald commissioned and hoped would endorse his innocence. On the contrary, McGinnis became convinced of MacDonald's guilt. In a final strange twist, moreover, MacDonald shares in the book's profits.

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