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December 13, 1987|KEVIN THOMAS

The first of the week's many yuletide movies is a repeat of the 1986 TV film The Christmas Star (ABC Sunday at 7 p.m.), a better-than-average family entertainment starring Ed Asner as a convict who escapes from prison in a Santa Claus suit, which has the effect of melting his gruff exterior. This is schmaltz served with finesse.

Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn re-create their stage roles in the "Hallmark Hall of Fame" TV version of Foxfire (CBS Sunday at 9 p.m.), which Cronyn wrote with Susan Cooper. Jud Taylor directed this drama about a family rooted in the land at a time when progress is clashing with the traditional way of Appalachia mountain life. John Denver co-stars.

Louis Gossett Jr. plays the first Roman Catholic priest to adopt a child in the new TV movie The Father Clements Story (NBC Sunday at 9 p.m.). Carroll O'Connor and Malcolm-Jamal Warner co-star.

Fritz Lang's classic Western The Return of Frank James, starring Henry Fonda, airs on Channel 9 Sunday at 6 p.m.

The Night They Saved Christmas (Channel 11 Monday at 8 p.m.) is a pleasant 1984 TV movie starring Jaclyn Smith in a fantasy-adventure about a mother and her three children who find themselves on a wondrous journey to the North Pole where they alone can save Santa Claus (Art Carney, a delight) and his immense toy factory from destruction.

The Competition (Channel 13 Monday at 8 p.m.) is a sleek but slight and contrived drama starring Richard Dreyfuss and Amy Irving as pianists competing for a top prize who fall in love. It's bolstered by good performances from Dreyfuss and Irving.

Miracle on 34th Street (Channel 11 Tuesday at 8 p.m.)--this is the 1947 original, not the TV movie remake--is a film that lives on warmly in our collective memory. Edmund Gwenn is the Macy's Santa who believes he really is Kris Kringle, and Natalie Wood is the little girl who wants him to prove it. With Maureen O'Hara, John Payne, Thelma Ritter (in her film debut) and Jack Albertson.

Although only loosely based on the Dan Jenkins novel, Semi-Tough (Channel 13 Tuesday at 8 p.m.) is a raucous, lightweight entertainment with a Gable-Tracy-Loy-type romantic triangle with football players Burt Reynolds and Kris Kristofferson vying for tart-tongued but vulnerable Jill Clayburgh. (The film's language has just got to be cleaned up for TV!)

Don't expect much yuletide spirit in A Christmas Story (Channel 5 Wednesday at 8 p.m.). Reportedly, Bob Clark, director of "Porky's," had for years wanted to make a film of humorist Jean Shepherd's short story, "The Red Ryder Nails the Cleveland Street Kid." The result is a kind of grade-school "Porky's" minus the raunchiness. Even though Shepherd and his wife collaborated on the script with Clark, this 1983 film has little of the subversive humor that made Shepherd such a legend in the '50s and '60s. Actually, it has little humor, period. It's a kind of sitcom set in the late '30s and starring little Peter Billingsley who dreams of owning an elaborate rifle; Darren McGavin and Melinda Dillon are his parents.

Far better bets are those timeless heart-tuggers, The Bells of St. Mary's (Channel 11 Wednesday at 8 p.m. in a colorized version) and Harold and Maude (Channel 13 Wednesday at 8 p.m.).

Alfred Hitchcock's Family Plot (Channel 5 Thursday at 8 p.m.), the suspense master's 53rd and final film (in 1976), is a slight but sparkling thriller with considerable humor. Barbara Harris is a cool medium enlisted by rich matron Cathleen Nesbitt to locate a long-lost nephew, and Bruce Dern is Harris' larcenous but lame-brained boyfriend. They cross with a pair of big-league baddies, William Devane and his helpmate Karen Black. What ensues is witty, suspenseful and stylish.

Just Tell Me What You Want (Channel 13 Thursday at 8 p.m.) is a cynical, uneven, updated variation on "Born Yesterday." Ali MacGraw stars as the longtime mistress to conglomerate tycoon Alan King, rich as Croesus but impoverished in his human relationships. The gist of the story is how MacGraw tries to hard-bargain King (who's married to Dina Merrill) toward matrimony or some equivalent thereof.

In the new TV movie The Three Kings (ABC Thursday at 9 p.m.), Jack Warden, Stan Shaw and Lou Diamond Phillips star as patients in a mental institution who believe they are the Biblical wise men and must escape to spread the true spirit of Christmas.

The all-time popular The Sound of Music (NBC Friday at 8 p.m.) is back again. The 1965 blockbuster, winner of five Academy Awards and based on the final Rogers and Hammerstein stage musical, of course stars Julie Andrews in the story of the Trapp Family Singers who had to flee their home in the Austrian Alps as the Nazis closed in on them just before the outbreak of World War II.

The Naked Spur (Channel 13 Friday at 8 p.m.) is one of the several splendidly terse and rugged Anthony Mann Westerns which revived James Stewart's career in the '50s.

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