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October 04, 1987|Kevin Thomas

The Journey of Natty Gann, Part 1 (ABC Sunday at 7 p.m., concluding next Sunday at the same time) offers a harsh view of the Great Depression as a young girl (straightforward and unaffected newcomer Meredith Salenger) sets off to find her father, chaperoned by a wolf.

Crude and sensational yet urgent and pertinent, Billy Jack (Channel 13 Sunday at 8 p.m.) in its unique, awkward way became a key film of the early '70s. Tom Laughlin starred as well as directed and co-authored (with his wife Delores Taylor) this uneven yet powerful film about a half-breed, casting his lot with the Indian side of his ancestry and coming to the aid of a progressive schoolteacher (Taylor) whose do-your-own-thing policies and hippie students predictably clash with the conservative, bigoted townfolk.

Mistress (CBS Sunday at 9 p.m.), a new TV movie, stars Victoria Principal as an "other woman" suddenly left to fend for herself.

Perry Mason: The Case of the Murdered Madam (NBC Sunday at 9 p.m.), another new Mason TV movie, stars Ann Jillian as a madam who forsakes prostitution to concoct a multimillion-dollar banking fraud.

One of the late scare specialist William Castle's last productions, Bug (Channel 11 Monday at 8 p.m.) is as technically superb as it is dramatically flawed. However, Bradford Dillman's remarkably strong performance as a scientist on the brink of losing his sanity goes a long way toward holding the film together. An earthquake releases a swarm of large, incendiary cockroaches, and Dillman can't help but wonder what would happen if he were to breed one with a common roach.

Also Monday at 8 p.m.: Doctor Zhivago (concluding Tuesday at 8 p.m. on Channel 5) and the stylish spaghetti Western My Name Is Nobody (Channel 13), which could have used the sure hand of its producer Sergio Leone to give it shape and clarity.

Haunted by Her Past (NBC Monday at 9 p.m.) is a new TV movie starring Susan Lucci as a devoted wife who becomes possessed by the century-old spirit of a sultry murderer hanged for killing her lover.

Although Alligator (Channel 11 Tuesday at 8 p.m.), which was written by John Sayles and directed by Lewis Teague, has an exploitation picture's mandatory quota of death and destruction, it has a wonderfully saving sense of humor. Robert Forster is a likable cop who's got to battle a very hungry 2,000-pound, 36-foot alligator sloshing about in a city sewer system.

A wise, delicious musical sendup of all the absurdities and hypocrisies surrounding the issue of sexual orientation, Blake Edwards' Victor/Victoria (Channel 5 Wednesday at 8 p.m.) stars Julie Andrews as a singer so down on her luck in Depression-era Paris that she accepts a job as a female impersonator, quickly becoming a star under the tutelage of a real female impersonator, played by the late, irrepressible Robert Preston. James Garner is the guy confused by his attraction to Andrews.

The Goodbye Girl (Channel 13 Wednesday at 8 p.m.) is quintessential Neil Simon: slick, sentimental, well turned out and entertaining. In this diverting 1977 comedy, directed by Herbert Ross, Marsha Mason plays a Broadway dancer whose male friends have a chronic tendency to bid her farewell--until her latest ex sublets his portion of their apartment to struggling actor Richard Dreyfuss, with whom she immediately clashes. You can take it from there.

A sophisticated attempt at a contemporary "Casablanca," Peter Weir's The Year of Living Dangerously (Channel 5 Thursday at 8 p.m.) has Mel Gibson and Sigourney Weaver caught up in a romance as steamy as its exotic Indonesian locale--the time is the toppling of Sukarno. It offers a tragic perception of East-West relations, and it has Weir's usual bold, sensual style. All these elements don't mesh quite as stunningly as they might, but it's a worthy and entertaining film all the same.

Death Ride to Osaka (Channel 4 Thursday at 8:30 p.m. after baseball), a 1983 TV movie directed by Jonathan Kaplan and originally titled "Girls of the White Orchid," is a sleazy white slavery, yellow peril tale that hopefully was made in fun, as so many of Kaplan's exploitation pictures were.

Star 80 (ABC Thursday at 9 p.m.), Bob Fosse's shimmering yet creepy film about ill-fated Playboy centerfold Dorothy Stratten, doesn't rise enough beyond its tragic subject to draw the larger conclusions that are there to be had. You never get to know Mariel Hemingway's Dorothy, which has the effect of shifting the focus onto her killer-husband, Paul Snider, played by Eric Roberts with a flashy obnoxiousness that is actually compelling.

The Wind and the Lion (Channel 5 Friday at 8 p.m.) is a highly entertaining epic adventure which stars Sean Connery as the last of the Barbary Pirates. He kidnaps Candice Bergen and her kids--in real life he was a middle-age man!--from their lavish Tangier estate, only to find himself against Teddy Roosevelt (Brian Keith) in a long-distance joust.

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