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September 06, 1987|Kevin Thomas

The problem with Stone Pillow (CBS Sunday at 9 p.m.), the 1985 TV movie in which Lucille Ball plays a Lower Manhattan bag lady, is that it's hard to accept that it's not just a dramatic skit in which the familiar Lucy will soon break through and be her funny self. Still, Ball does manage some nice moments in this bold departure for the queen of slapstick comedy.

Coast to Coast (NBC Sunday at 9 p.m.), a 1980 comedy, stars Dyan Cannon as a wife who's been stuck in a mental institution by her husband but escapes and ends up in a cross-country adventure with trucker Robert Blake; there are some laughs along the way.

In the silly 1983 TV movie The Making of a Male Model (ABC Sunday at 9 p.m.) the late Jon-Erik Hexum is a rancher turned into a centerfold star by model agency head Joan Collins (who else?).

Killers of Kilimanjaro (Channel 13 Monday at 8 p.m.), in which Robert Taylor plays an engineer planning the first African railway, would be an entirely forgettable old-fashioned safari adventure were it not for the fourth-billed comic presence of the then-unknown Anthony Newley, an unexpected delight.

Writer-director-comedian Albert Brooks has never been afraid to portray himself unsympathetically. In his Modern Romance (Channel 13 Tuesday at 8 p.m.), which was derived from an actual love affair of his own, he casts himself as a Hollywood film editor so totally enamored of an attractive bank official (Kathryn Harrold) that he makes their lives miserable with his possessiveness and jealousy. Brooks crosses that fine line between brashness and obnoxiousness, but he is so honest and communicates so effectively as a writer (his co-writer here is Monica Johnson) and director as well as an actor that, if we're willing, we can recognize ourselves in his awful pain over being in love. That's a big if, however, and his crassness could turn off some people.

In the wake of their highly personal and successful "Breaking Away," writer Steve Tesich and director Peter Yates turned to a genre piece, Eyewitness (Channel 5 Tuesday at 8 p.m.). Unfortunately, they try to bring all the earnestness and meaning of their first film to Eyewitness, which serves only to make it seem as hopelessly contrived as a routine TV whodunit in which the long arm of coincidence could scarcely be stretched further. William Hurt plays a nice night janitor at a Manhattan skyscraper who discovers the corpse of a shady Vietnamese importer-exporter who had an office there; this gives him a chance to hint to TV newscaster Sigourney Weaver, who happens to be the girl of his dreams, that he knows more than he's told the police. Along with attempting to create a suspenseful and amusing entertainment, Yates and Tesich seem to be trying to comment upon the American egalitarianism that makes possible--though, alas, not necessarily probable--a romance between a janitor and a media celebrity from a rich, sophisticated emigre family. Since Hurt has as much wit, charm and poise as Weaver, what's he doing working as a janitor? (There's no indication that he's working his way through school, writing a novel, etc.) Is he supposed to represent the plight of the Vietnam vet who can't get a better job? Hurt's charisma and obvious superiority are finally just as incredible as the unraveling of the plot.

Beyond the Limit (NBC Tuesday at 9 p.m.) contains one of Michael Caine's definitive portrayals of the burnt-out, middle-aged male, in this instance a wryly self-knowing alcoholic, possessed of a tattered dignity and a capacity for love that catches him by surprise. He's sad but he's also funny. In our first glimpse of him he's literally falling down drunk at a bar in a backwater town in Argentina along the Paraguayan border.

Behind this film's vague movie-for-TV-sounding title lies a solid, understated adaptation of Graham Greene's 1973 novel, "The Honorary Consul," directed by "The Long Good Friday's" John Mackenzie and written by playwright Christopher Hampton. It's enjoyably familiar as one of Greene's characteristic contemplations of morality and entangled passions in a distant, sleepy outpost menaced by political unrest. Although Caine plays the central role, the film's star is Richard Gere, cast as the doctor son of a Paraguayan emigre and an Englishman who's been long imprisoned in Paraguay for alleged political activities and is now succumbing to the indolence of the town--and to a very young prostitute (Elpidia Carrillo) who just happens to be Caine's wife.

One of the most enduringly absorbing movies ever made, John Ford's Stagecoach (Channel 13 Wednesday at 8 p.m.), which writer Dudley Nichols drew from Du Maupassant, follows a band of disparate travelers, all of them unforgettably characterized, as they cross dangerous Indian territory. This is the film that made John Wayne a star and brought Thomas Mitchell an Oscar for his drunken doctor.

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