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August 17, 1986|KEVIN THOMAS

The China Syndrome (ABC Sunday at 9 p.m.), which takes its title from the remark that if a nuclear reactor ran amok it could burn a hole through the earth all the way to China, proved to be one of the most prophetic films ever made, having been released shortly before the Three Mile Island catastrophe. At once fervent anti-nuclear protest and an edge-of-the-seat thriller, it stars Jane Fonda as a bubbly TV reporter and Michael Douglas as her cameraman who are doing a routine gee-whiz feature at a nuclear power plant when an accident occurs. Jack Lemmon won an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of the facility's dedicated, terror-stricken chief engineer who knows what's at stake--and who's desperate to hide the truth from Fonda and Douglas.

Phobia (NBC Sunday at 9 p.m.) has got to be the worst film ever directed by a winner of the American Film Institute's Life Achievement Award. It's a routine junk thriller starring Paul Michael Glaser as a psychiatrist whose patients keep getting knocked off before he can cure them. Yes, John Huston directed it, in Canada in 1980.

Airing at 6 p.m. Sunday on Channel 9 is the delightful Who Says I Can't Ride a Rainbow? Jack Klugman stars as the real-life Barney Morowitz who struggled to maintain a pony stable in Greenwich Village, a popular attraction for children from all over Manhattan.

Monday night brings a pair of two-parters. In repeat is Little Gloria ... Happy at Last (NBC at 9, to be completed Tuesday at 8), an impressive dramatization of Barbara Goldsmith's absorbing and comprehensive study of the Gloria Vanderbilt custody case. Bette Davis is little Gloria Vanderbilt's grandmother and Angela Lansbury is a standout as the child's talented, autocratic aunt.

Airing at 9 p.m. both Monday and Tuesday is Mussolini and I, which tells of the domestic strife that beset Il Duce's family as World War II raged on. Bob Hoskins is Mussolini, Susan Sarandon his daughter and Anthony Hopkins her husband.

Despite having been cut by 15 minutes, Sam Peckinpah's Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (Channel 7 Monday at 8 p.m.) is nevertheless remarkable, an epic in which the sheriff's legendary pursuit of the outlaw becomes for both a quest for identity and a discovery of what's important and sacred in life. James Coburn is Garrett, Kris Kristofferson is Billy. Bob Dylan made an engaging debut, both as an actor (as one of Billy's followers) and as composer of the film's subtly compelling and elegiac score.

Alan Alda wrote The Seduction of Joe Tynan (Channel 13 Monday at 8 p.m.) for himself, and this is a very decent effort that examines the pressures on a rising politician, both from within and without. The women in the politician's life are especially well drawn. Barbara Harris is his supportive wife and Meryl Streep is an ambitious labor lawyer who, though married, becomes the politician's mistress, seeing him as a way to express the more ruthless aspects of her personality.

The Seduction of Joe Tynan, made in 1979, was one of the earliest evidences of Streep's virtuosity, which came into full flower in the 1982 Sophie's Choice (CBS Wednesday at 8 p.m.), Alan Pakula's remarkable, if overly slavish, rendering of William Styron's Gothic peregrination on guilt, gas chambers, love, death and sex. Streep is incandescent as the beautiful, worldly, complex Sophie, a once-Catholic survivor of Auschwitz, who's haunted by a terrible secret and who's now pursued, while living in a tree-shaded Brooklyn rooming house in 1947, by a passionate, unstable American Jew obsessed by the Nazis (Kevin Kline) and an innocent young aspiring novelist (Peter MacNicol).

In repeat on Channel 4 Wednesday at 8 p.m. is Will, G. Gordon Liddy, a 1982 TV movie based on the best seller by the convicted Watergate break-in leader. Robert Conrad's impersonation is engaging but one-dimensional. (That the film was cut from three hours to two may have something to do with its lack of a point of view.)

Airing Wednesday at 8 p.m. on Channel 13 is Lost and Found, a misfired attempt to reunite the "Touch of Class" team, writer-producer-director Mel Frank and stars George Segal and Glenda Jackson.

John Huston and John Milius joined forces, as director and writer, respectively, of The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (Channel 13 Thursday at 8 p.m.), a whimsical, highly sophisticated mock heroic Western starring Paul Newman in the title role as the tough hombre who brought law and order to the Texas badlands and became part of the folklore of the Old West. Like "Little Big Man," this fine and unjustly neglected 1972 film plays upon our traditional love of the tall tale to confront us with what the cherished myths of the Old West reveal about ourselves and our heritage.

Also airing Thursday (on Channel 28 at 7:35 p.m.) is that summer treat, The Music Man, with Robert Preston and Shirley Jones.

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