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MOVIES OF THE WEEK

January 11, 1987|KEVIN THOMAS

It took 14 years for David Carradine to complete Americana (Channel 9 Sunday at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.), but the effort was worth it. Loosely based on Henry Morton Robinson's "The Perfect Round," it is a mesmerizing poetic fable that cuts to the core of the eternal contradictions--that tug between the impulse to create and the impulse to destroy--within the American psyche so painfully revealed by the Vietnam War. Americana is one of those films with such a sense of ritual about it, such rhythmic pacing and lush, sensual beauty in its heartland sounds and images, that it can carry you away. It's Kansas, 1973, when seedy Vietnam vet Carradine wanders into a sleepy, bump-in-the-road village distinguished only by a derelict carrousel. Instinctively, he knows that he has found what he's been looking for and sets about restoring it--only to capture the unwanted attention of some bored young layabouts. In this very special film Carradine plays out one of our most cherished myths, that of a man of peace who is forced against his will to resort to violence once more so that he may fulfill his mission.

Gone With the Wind (CBS Sunday 9-11 p.m., completed Tuesday 8-11 p.m.) is surely the most enjoyable, the most beloved of all films that were ever called great. The 1939 David O. Selznick classic of Margaret Mitchell's Civil War saga stars, of course, Vivien Leigh as the tempestuous, steely Southern belle Scarlett O'Hara and Clark Gable as the dashing Rhett Butler (whom Mitchell modeled on her first husband), with Olivia de Havilland as the gentle Melanie and Leslie Howard as the aristocratic Ashley. De Havilland's performance is especially remarkable in that she makes human a paragon of nobility.

Uncommon Valor (ABC Sunday at 9 p.m.) is not nearly an uncommon enough film for its prickly, painful subject: those American soldiers long ago written off by the government as missing in action in Southeast Asia but who may in fact be still alive and held captive. Despite the fervor of its protest against official indifference toward the MIAs and their families, this 1983 film plays like a routine war movie. Gene Hackman, however, is terrific as an Air Force colonel, at once an angry, loving father and a straight-arrow military careerist, who joins forces with Texas oil tycoon Robert Stack to mount an elaborate attempt to rescue their sons, who they have learned may be held in what seems to be a prison camp.

The new TV movie Mercy or Murder? (NBC Sunday at 9 p.m.) casts Robert Young as Roswell Gilbert, the elderly Floridian who took the life of his incurably ill wife of 51 years and was later tried for murder. Michael Learned, Eddie Albert and Frances Reid co-star.

Stranger in My Bed (NBC Monday at 9 p.m.), another new TV movie based on an actual incident, stars Lindsay Wagner as a woman struggling to recover her self-identity and relationship with her family after an auto accident has left her with total amnesia. Armand Assante plays her husband.

Yet another new TV movie, Night of Courage (ABC Monday at 9 p.m.), stars Barnard Hughes as an elderly man who denied refuge to a Hispanic youth subsequently beaten to death. Daniel Hugh Kelly plays the dead youth's teacher determined to get to the truth of Hughes' seemingly callous attitude.

In the 1972 heist movie The Hot Rock (Channel 5 Monday at 8 p.m.) Robert Redford and George Segal display insouciant charm as a pair of accident-prone heisters eager to snatch an egg-size diamond on display at the Brooklyn Museum. Along for the fun are Zero Mostel, Ron Leibman, Paul Sand and Moses Gunn.

In Endangered Species (Channel 5 Tuesday at 8 p.m.), Alan Rudolph's taut political thriller, the cattle near a small Colorado town begin to be decimated. Their carcasses are left peculiarly mutilated while their internal organs seem to have evaporated. The background for this chilling, timely mystery has been fully worked out by Rudolph and his writers, but what goes on in the foreground feels less than inspired. Attempting to investigate the perplexing and increasing cattle deaths is newly elected sheriff JoBeth Williams, who unfortunately has been rather jarringly and unpersuasively teamed with Robert Urich as a recent arrival in the community. Urich is a one-time New York supercop, burned out and stuck with a drinking problem and a teen-age daughter almost as surly as he is.

Ann and Jeanette Petrie's documentary Mother Teresa (Channel 28 Wednesday at 9 p.m.) is worthy of their remarkable subject, an aristocratic Albanian-born member of the Irish Sisters of Loreto who in 1946 heard the call of God to work in the slums of Calcutta, where for nearly 20 years she had been a parochial-school geography teacher. Forty years later, Mother Teresa estimates that she and her Missionaries of Charity have rescued 42,000 people from the streets. So alive is Mother Teresa with humanity's infinite possibilities for good in the face of evil and despair that it is exhilarating.

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