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September 14, 1986|Michael Wilmington

There are some movies you can watch over and over again, with no diminishing magic or pleasure. For your reviewer, one is Dumbo (NBC Sunday at 8:30 p.m.), Walt Disney's 1941 fable about an ostracized little pachyderm with outsized ears, his nightmarish big-top tormentors, his feisty rodent pal Timothy and a band of streetwise crows who give him "the magic feather" and a ticket to glory. This story--a kind of "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Elephant"--is Disney at his best: full of blazing emotional impact, wonderful charm and detail.

Earlier on Sunday is the social Western The Unforgiven (Channel 13 at 6 p.m.), with Burt Lancaster, Audrey Hepburn and Lillian Gish--and director John Huston (courtesy of novelist Alan LeMay) sliding too smoothly over the traumatic racial terrain of John Ford's "The Searchers."

Monday brings the movie on which Huston knelt before Louis B. Mayer and begged to be released. (Mayer conceded; Mervyn LeRoy replaced him.) It's Part 1 of the 1951 Henryk Sienkiewicz-derived Roman circus Quo Vadis? (Channel 13 at 8 p.m.), with Nero (Peter Ustinov) feeding Christians like Deborah Kerr to the lions. (The film ends Tuesday; you'll have a chance to kneel and beg your way out of it, too.)

A week with America's favorite Good 'Ol Boy, Burt Reynolds, commences with W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings (Channel 5 Monday at 8 p.m.), a less popular, slightly more realistic, dive into "Smokey and the Bandit"-land. Here Art Carney, not Jackie Gleason, is the pursuer.

Starting Monday, you can follow again the desperate misadventures of Richard Nixon and John Dean through four nights of Blind Ambition (Channel 11 at 9 p.m.).

On Tuesday, the macho world of offshore oil riggers is invaded first by a female documentarian and then by fiery catastrophe in Oceans of Fire (CBS at 9 p.m.) with Gregory Harrison and Billy Dee Williams. Steve Carver ("Big Bad Mama") directs. And Burt Reynolds--once a college halfback--finds himself pursued by all-star fullback Jim Brown in Tom Gries' mostly misfiring 100 Rifles (Channel 5 at 8 p.m.).

A much better Reynolds vehicle--though few seem to think so--is Stanley Donen's Lucky Lady on Wednesday (Channel 5 at 8 p.m.). It's a high-style adventure spoof, with Reynolds, Liza Minnelli and Gene Hackman as a menage a trois amid Latin mayhem. (A different ending, and more musical numbers, would have made it a delight.)

Michael Winner's Scorpio (Channel 13 Wednesday at 8 p.m.) is a jaundiced look at the CIA, bolstered by a terrific cast: Burt Lancaster, Alain Delon and Paul Scofield.

On Thursday, Richard Fleischer's Soylent Green (Channel 7 at 8 p.m.), based on Harry Harrison's "Make Room! Make Room!," is interesting but variably successful adult science fiction. It's a cautionary fable about urban overcrowding, with Charlton Heston plus Edward G. Robinson's moving last film performance.

Friday offers another badly reviewed Burt Reynolds vehicle which we like: Peter Bogdanovich's admittedly peculiar At Long Last Love (Channel 5 at 8 p.m.), made up entirely of Cole Porter songs and set in an Astaire-Rogers fantasy-romance world. Cybill Shepherd (not too sharp with a tune) co-stars; Reynolds is at his most charming.

Many Happy Returns (CBS Friday at 9 p.m.), a new TV movie, is an anti-Internal Revenue Service comedy with George Segal waging a private war against overzealous auditors.

Saturday brings--surprise!--the original 1958 version of The Fly (Channel 5 at 6 p.m.), during which you can compare David Hedison's fly-head with Jeff Goldblum's and director Kurt Neumann's work with David Cronenberg's. (The screenplay was by a young novelist-film maker named James Clavell.) A lot of bewildering dreck, including KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park (Channel 9 at 11 p.m.), follows.

There's an American movie masterpiece on Saturday: Bogdanovich's elegiac and lusty adaptation of Larry McMurtry's The Last Picture Show (Channel 28 at 11 p.m.), which gives us in poignant detail a small Texas town where nothing much changes but love and its needs--and the double feature at the movie palace.

The selected cable fare includes a multi-channel director Michael Powell bonanza: The Elusive Pimpernel (Bravo Sunday at 2 p.m.), A Canterbury Tale (Bravo Tuesday at 8), I Know Where I'm Going (Disney Tuesday at 9, Bravo Thursday at 9), Black Narcissus (Bravo Tuesday at 10:30), The 49th Parallel (Bravo Wednesday at 8), The Red Shoes (Bravo Wednesday at 10) and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (Bravo Thursday at 10:30).

Also on cable: Amadeus (Z Sunday at 1:30 p.m.); Dim Sum (Bravo Sunday at 5); The Emerald Forest (Showtime Sunday at 8, Saturday at 9; SelecTV Monday at 10, Saturday at 8); The Arrangement (Movie Channel Monday at 6:30); The Blue Angel (Bravo Monday at 8); Loves of a Blonde (Z Tuesday at 7:30); Excalibur (Showtime Tuesday at 8); Three Women (Movie Channel Wednesday at 7); Alice in Wonderland (Disney Wednesday at 9); Sharma and Beyond (Disney Wednesday at 11:30); Tristana (Galavision Friday at 7); Micki and Maude (Cinemax Friday at 10); Secret Honor (Bravo Saturday at 7); Bad Timing/A Sensual Obsession (Bravo Saturday at 9).

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