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TV REVIEW : 'Sparrow': A Lack of Vision

December 07, 1987|DON SHIRLEY

If a screenwriter protects her characters as diligently as God keeps his eye on the sparrow, she'll write a dull script. That describes "Eye on the Sparrow," airing tonight at 8:30 on Channels 4, 36 and 39 (rescheduled from the original 9 p.m. time because of a news special later tonight).

The movie combines two TV movie staples: a handicap (blindness) and the bureaucratic rigamarole that adoptive couples must go through. Producer/writer Barbara Turner seems to believe that these problems, imposed on her characters by circumstances beyond their control, relieve her of the need for further dramatization.

Or perhaps she's just being nice to her poor blind couple, Ethel (Mare Winningham) and Jim (Keith Carradine), by absolving them of any flaws.

At only one point, when Ethel tells a social worker that "a slap on the rump never hurt anyone," do we get an opening, albeit a tiny one, for an ambivalent view toward this character. But later we see that her spanking of a foster child does indeed straighten out the kid in mere seconds. The woman is a tower of wisdom and strength.

How much more interesting and moving the film could have been if we saw these people trying to overcome something within themselves as well as the barriers erected by others or by fate.

Turner's script also covers too much territory. First we sail through Ethel's early years, including the death of her father, who is either a poor farmer or a Mississippi river-boat captain--it isn't clear which. Then surgery lets her see, briefly, before her blindness returns--accompanied by a suicide attempt.

Then she meets and falls in love with Jim. Then they learn he's sterile. Then . . . it goes on and on. Important characters pop up without proper introductions; everything is sketched rather than drawn. Director John Korty and his fine cast are helpless in the face of such pap.

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