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June 14, 1987|Kevin Thomas

The title of Woody Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo (Channel 13 Sunday at 6 p.m.) refers to a movie-within-the movie, a 1935 third-rate society romance which enchants small-town waitress Mia Farrow, who escapes the Depression blues at the movies. She is especially captivated by a square-jawed, pith-helmeted young adventurer (Jeff Daniels) who, wearying of his two-dimensional existence, climbs down from the screen to declare his love for Farrow. Allen's fantasy is as much a miracle as the one it depicts, proceeding to become a funny and poignant commentary on what the movies mean to us--and finally how cruelly different they are from real life. A small gem from the master.

Brubaker (ABC Sunday at 9 p.m.) is a strong prison drama as well as a superior and shocking social drama in which the good guy (Robert Redford) is the warden. The film is based on the experiences of Tom Murphy, a feisty and uncompromising young prison reformer from Oklahoma appointed by the late Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller to clean up a pair of Arkansas prisons.

Three generations of Mitchums aren't much help in the glum 1985 TV movie Promises to Keep (CBS Sunday at 9 p.m.), in which Robert Mitchum plays a roustabout who returns home after a 30-year absence to find his son (Chris Mitchum) unforgiving and his grandson (Bentley C. Mitchum) eager to go to sea.

Also airing Sunday at 9 p.m. is another disappointing TV movie in rerun, the 1986 A Masterpiece of Murder (NBC), in which Bob Hope plays a washed-up police detective who teams up with Don Ameche, a retired cat burglar he once sent to jail, to solve a mystery. Hope and Ameche deserve better than this pedestrian comedy-mystery.

On Monday To Kill a Mockingbird launches a week of Gregory Peck films on Channel 5's 8 p.m. movie slot. Of special interest is Thursday's offering, Henry King's The Gunfighter, often called the last of the handlebar mustache Westerns.

This Child Is Mine (NBC Monday at 9 p.m.) is a sappy, simplistic 1985 TV movie starring Lindsay Wagner and Chris Sarandon as a perfect yuppie couple who adopt a baby girl only to have its unwed mother try to get her back.

The Carey Treatment (Channel 7 Monday at 9 p.m.) is an engrossing and satisfying low-key murder mystery, directed with high style by Blake Edwards and starring James Coburn as a footloose, strong-minded California pathologist who accepts a post at a conservative Boston hospital and winds up playing private eye.

Crime of Innocence (NBC Tuesday at 9 p.m.) is a routine 1985 TV movie starring Andy Griffith as a stern judge who sends a couple of joy-riding teen-agers to jail with nightmarish consequences.

In Jonathan Kaplan's terrific, exciting Heart Like a Wheel (Channel 11 Wednesday at 9 p.m.) Bonnie Bedelia is splendid as Shirley Muldowney, a blue-collar woman who became a champion car racer and who had a tumultuous romance with another racer, played as a disarming heartbreaker by Beau Bridges. It's a lovely film that maps a determined woman's survival course and which cherishes its Middle American milieu without condescension.

Rocky II (CBS Thursday at 8:30 p.m.) has much of the impact of the original--and some stringent commentary on the trappings and perils of success. Ironically, the finale of Champions (ABC Friday at 9 p.m.) owes something to "Rocky," although it is based on the true story of a British jockey (John Hurt) battling cancer. Although Hurt is outstanding, this 1983 film is too much maudlin formula in the manner of a standard TV disease-of-the-week movie.

Selected evening cable fare: Dr. Strangelove (Cinemax Sunday at 6 p.m.); Streamers (Z Sunday at 6); Back to School (Cinemax Sunday at 8 and Tuesday at 10, HBO Thursday at 9, SelecTV Friday at 7, Movie Channel Saturday at 9); Isadora (uncut) (Z Sunday at 8); Angel and the Badman (Nickelodeon Sunday at 9); Smooth Talk (SelecTV Monday at 7); French Cancan (Z Monday at 7); Letter to Brezhnev (Bravo Monday at 8, Z Wednesday at 9, Cinemax Thursday at 9); It (A&E Monday at 9); The Best of Times (Cinemax Tuesday at 8); The Sure Thing (Movie Channel Tuesday at 9); M (Bravo Wednesday at 7); Bronco Billy (SelecTV Wednesday at 7); My American Cousin (Cinemax Wednesday at 8); The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (Bravo Wednesday at 9); Stranger Than Paradise (Movie Channel Friday at 7:30); Choose Me (Bravo Friday at 8); Mask (Saturday on HBO at 6, SelecTV at 9); Kiss of the Spider Woman (Showtime Saturday at 8).

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