Get set for the clash of the gallant women Sunday night: imprisoned Army nurses vs. an obsessive Nazi hunter.
Admiration drips like sap from the two TV movies airing opposite one another at 9 p.m.--CBS' "Women of Valor" (Channels 2 and 8), and ABC's "Nazi Hunter: The Beate Klarsfeld Story" (Channels 7, 3, 10 and 42). And to varying degrees, it gums up the works, preventing the films from reaching their full dramatic potential.
"Women of Valor" is an unabashed testimonial to the courage of the U.S. military nurses who were imprisoned by the Japanese in the Philippines during World War II. As such, the focus of its -account of a fictional group of such women is on the brutal hardships and torture they endured, not the inner resources on which they drew or the psychic price they paid to survive.
Produced and directed by Buzz Kulik and written by Jonas McCord, it's a black-and-white study in battling adversity, with the Japanese men mostly portrayed as savages and the American women unfailingly brave and dedicated.
"All we've got is hope," says a nurse played by Susan Sarandon.
"And what happens when that runs out?" asks a young civilian (Kristy McNichol) who has fallen in with the nurses.
"Then," the older woman replies, "we've got each other."
"Nazi Hunter: The Beate Klarsfeld Story" is not nearly so simplistic, though the plot is fairly simple.
Klarsfeld is a German woman who grew up knowing little of the Nazis, married a French Jew who enlightened her about the Holocaust and thereafter dedicated herself to tracking down and exposing former Gestapo officials.
Well-acted by Farrah Fawcett as Klarsfeld and Tom Conti as her husband, it's an unusual story of a woman bent on expunging all remnants of her nation's disgrace. "I love my country. I don't want to be ashamed," she says.
But the very nature of her work undercuts the film's dramatic payoff. Since Klarsfeld is a private citizen, not a law enforcement official, she can only expose her enemies, not arrest or interrogate them. So writer Frederic Hunter and director Michael Lindsay-Hogg show us her tactics but only tell us the results.
As a result, the film simply peters out at the conclusion, with Klarsfeld having located and publicly identified former Gestapo officer Klaus Barbie but having failed to win his extradition.
Only in an epilogue do we learn that that finally came 11 years later--depriving us of seeing and sharing Klarsfeld's satisfaction.
Also on tap Sunday at 7 p.m. (Channels 7, 3, 10 and 42) is "The Thanksgiving Promise," whose dubious note of distinction is that it brings together three generations of Bridges actors--father Lloyd, sons Beau and Jeff (in a cameo role) and grandson Jordan.
Based on a novel by Blaine and Brenton Yorgason, it's the story of a 12-year-old boy whose job of raising a gosling for a neighbor's Thanksgiving dinner develops into a moral dilemma.
Alas, Jordan Bridges, in his first screen role, does not have the charisma or talent to carry the picture, and his real-life father, Beau, performs feebly both as the on-screen dad and the off-screen director, failing to infuse the film with a strong core of purpose or meaning.