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August 23, 1987|Kevin Thomas

Be warned: Nicholas Roeg's teasing, baffling and exciting The Man Who Fell to Earth (ABC Sunday at 9 p.m.), which proceeded from the provocatively cryptic to the merely incomprehensible in its two-hour theatrical release version (reportedly shorn by its distributor of more than 20 minutes), has now been crammed into a two-hour TV slot, which of course means more trims for commercials. Anyway, David Bowie stars in the eerie, offbeat 1976 allegory as an extraterrestrial visitor who's come to find relief for his drought-ridden planet and winds up in Manhattan creating a giant corporation with patent lawyer Buck Henry. Candy Clark and Rip Torn co-star.

Staying Alive (NBC Sunday at 9 p.m.), the hard-driving but highly uneven sequel to "Saturday Night Fever," finds John Travolta's Tony Manero trying to make the quantum leap from his Brooklyn disco to dancing on Broadway. Director (and co-writer, with Norman Wexler) Sylvester Stallone toughened up Travolta for his return as Tony, but the picture turns flabby, culminating in a ludicrous big-deal dance number called "Satan's Alley." This time Tony's girl is the sleek Cynthia Rhodes.

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do (airing in two parts on Channel 5, Monday and Tuesday at 8 p.m.), a notable 1979 TV movie, stars Robert Conrad in a drama which tells of the impact of divorce from the male point of view.

Although it takes a while for Same Time, Next Year (Channel 13 Monday at 8 p.m.) not to seem merely a filmed play, it does become very affecting under Robert Mulligan's direction. Ellen Burstyn and Alan Alda play annually recurrent lovers--both of them married to others--who meet every year for 26 years at a Mendocino resort. The film is cleverest at winning and holding sympathy for a couple who are raising hob with traditional morality and betraying what sound like terribly decent partners back home.

The 1978 Night Cries (Channel 7 Monday at 8:30 p.m.) is a standard TV movie suspenser about a mother (Susan Saint James) who has nightmares about her dead child being alive and in danger.

Last year's highly publicized Return to Mayberry, an ingratiating 1986 TV movie that brought "The Andy Griffith Show" up to date, is already back for the second time in 1987, airing on NBC Tuesday at 8 p.m.

House Calls (Channel 13 Tuesday at 8 p.m.) is a quite enjoyable kind of cartoon for grown-ups--farcical, mildly risque and quick-stepping in its broader-than-life ways. As a widowed doctor, Walter Matthau is a joy to watch as he rages like a dyspeptic moose, and Glenda Jackson is a woman of fierce independence and strong opinions with whom he collides.

Garson Kanin and his wife, the late Ruth Gordon, wrote the sparkling 1980 TV movie Hardhat and Legs (Channel 11 Tuesday at 9 p.m.), which teams Kevin Dobson's construction worker and Sharon Gless's sex education teacher.

In Kansas City Bomber (Channel 5 Wednesday at 8 p.m.) Raquel Welch is most persuasive as a Fresno divorcee who becomes a roller-skating champion. Lively and unpretentious, it remains one of Welch's best movies.

Martin Sheen and Blythe Danner work earnestly to bring warmth and invention to Man, Woman and Child (CBS Thursday at 9 p.m.), a contrived sudser in which Sheen's humanities professor discovers he has fathered a 9-year-old child, the result of a one-night liaison with a young French doctor, recently killed in a car accident. By the end of the film, you find yourself whimperingly grateful for anything that resembles truth in this sea of melodrama.

With just the right balance of tongue-in-cheekery and genuine respect for Alexandre Dumas, director Richard Lester and writer George MacDonald Fraser have lots of fun with the rollicking, stylish The Three Musketeers (Channel 5 Saturday at 6 p.m.), starring Michael York as the handsome but oafish D'Artagnan while Oliver Reed, Richard Chamberlain and Frank Finlay play the title roles with aplomb. Charlton Heston is a marvelously dastardly Cardinal and Faye Dunaway a dashing Milady de Winter, the villains of the plot. Raquel Welch is a knockout as York's klutzy girl friend.

George Segal, Ron Leibman and Helen Shaver star in the 1986 TV movie Many Happy Returns (CBS Saturday at 8 p.m.), a comedy about an average American citizen who gets audited in a bizarre manner by a district IRS office trying to meet its quota.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service (ABC Saturday at 8 p.m.) is arguably the best of the Bonds, which makes it all the more disappointing that Agent 007 this time out was played by George Lazenby, no more than OK. What sets this 1969 film apart from most of the others is that Bond is allowed genuine claims to humanity, real feeling and sentiment as the usual action-adventure stuff is interspersed with Bond's romance with the woman who is to be the love of his life, played by the delicious Diana Rigg.

Selected evening cable fare: Saving Grace (HBO Sunday at 7, Wednesday at 6); Sweet Dreams (HBO Sunday at 9, SelecTV Monday at 7, HBO Thursday at 7); Hot Millions (Showtime Monday at 6, Cinemax Saturday at 7); Throne of Blood (Z Monday at 7); The Family Game (Bravo Monday at 9); Eureka (Z Monday at 9); Tea in the Harem (Bravo Tuesday at 8:35); Echo Park (Movie Channel Tuesday at 9); My First Wife (Z Tuesday at 9); The Ballad of Narayama (1983) (Bravo Wednesday at 7:30); Touch and Go (Cinemax Wednesday at 8, Z Friday at 9); Vengeance Is Mine (Bravo Wednesday at 10); Seven Samurai (Bravo Thursday at 8:30); Henry IV (Bravo Friday at 8); Rich and Famous (Z Saturday at 6); Desert Hearts (SelecTV Saturday at 7); Gung Ho (Showtime Saturday at 8); Lianna (Z Saturday at 10).

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