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Weekend Tv : 'Mercy Or Murder?': One-sided View

January 10, 1987|LEE MARGULIES | Times Staff Writer

The title of NBC's Sunday night movie, "Mercy or Murder?," refers to the question of motive put before the jury at the nationally publicized trial of 75-year-old Roswell Gilbert, who had admitted killing his wife of 51 years. There is no such ambiguity in the film itself, however: The jurors delivered their verdict; the film makers deliver another.

Indeed, viewers who complain about TV movies that waffle on controversial subjects will be heartened at how decisively this one takes a stand. It ends with Gilbert (played by that long-popular father-figure Robert Young) looking directly into the camera and saying, "I certainly hope they legalize euthanasia."

Gilbert, a retired electrical engineer, was convicted of murder and is currently serving a life sentence in a Florida prison, but it is his point of view that writer-director Steven Gethers presents in this two-hour dramatization of the case: that he fatally shot his wife in 1985 to put her out of the misery she was in because of Alzheimer's disease and the bone disease osteoporosis.

There is no doubt of that in "Mercy or Murder?," screening at 9 p.m. Sunday on Channels 4, 36 and 39. Considerable time is spent detailing the growing pain, memory loss, disorientation and dependency that Emily Gilbert (Frances Reid) experiences, with its increasingly debilitating impact on her loving husband as he tries to care for her.

Viewers will definitely come away with an understanding of how Gilbert was able to justify his action morally.

What gets short shrift is the prosecution's equally valid moral position that individuals do not have the right to decide arbitrarily when other people should die, and its contention that Gilbert actually was acting to end his own suffering, rather than his wife's.

"Mercy or Murder?" is a provocative, better-than-average TV movie, thanks to strong performances by Young and Reid (see interview with Young on Page 1), but the inclusion of some courtroom histrionics and a gratuitous shower scene with the Gilberts' daughter (Michael Learned) betrays its fear of digging too deeply into this very pertinent moral dilemma.

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