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December 27, 1987|Kevin Thomas

James Brooks' Oscar-laden Terms of Endearment (NBC Sunday at 9 p.m.) is one of the key American films of the '80s, and in 1984 it brought Shirley MacLaine an Oscar as a brittle middle-aged woman coming to grips with her spirited daughter (Debra Winger) and unexpectedly falling in love with her next-door neighbor, a womanizing ex-astronaut (Jack Nicholson, who also won an Oscar). The film is marked by Brooks' extraordinary adeptness at blending comedy and tragedy while filling the screen with distinctive, amusing and entirely engaging individuals. A major treat.

The new TV movie A Hazard of Hearts (CBS Sunday at 9 p.m.) is based on a 1948 Barbara Cartland romance novel and stars Helena Bonham Carter as an early 19th Century aristocrat. Her father (Christopher Plummer) loses her and his estate in a gambling wager to the treacherous Lord Wrotham (Edward Fox), who in turn immediately loses her to the Marquis of Vulcan (Marcus Gilbert), who whisks her off to his secluded estate, Mandrake, presided over by his bizarre mother (Diana Rigg). (Probably best left to Cartland fans).

Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor, who played off each other so well in "Silver Streak," were reunited in the less effective though highly popular Stir Crazy (ABC Sunday at 9 p.m.), which finds them, in an elaborate confusion of identities, in prison doing 125 years each for bank robbery. Sidney Poitier's good-natured direction, however, can't disguise the thinness of the material.

Roman Holiday (NBC Monday at 9 p.m.), a new TV remake of the 1953 William Wyler classic starring Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn, stars Catherine Oxenberg as a princess who falls in love with a newspaperman, played by Tom Conti, while on a visit to the Eternal City. Ed Begley Jr. has the Eddie Albert part as Conti's photographer pal. Noel Nosseck directed.

The Great Train Robbery (Channel 5 Tuesday at 8 p.m.), Michael Crichton's elegant 1979 period piece, is aglow with Victorian settings and costumes rather more than it is acrackle with suspenseful pacing. Sean Connery, Donald Sutherland and Lesley-Anne Down attempt the greatest heist of them all.

Steven Spielberg's bloated 1941 (Channel 5 Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.) is a dictionary of destruction. Planes crash in flames; lofts collapse; a house, a Ferris wheel and a tank topple into the sea. But the heavier destruction is to the human spirit. The script is populated not with zanies but gargoyles and cretins. The setting is California in the panicky days following Pearl Harbor. A Japanese submarine co-commanded by Toshiro Mifune and Christopher Lee (as a German general) is trying to make a symbolic strike against Hollywood, but the result is strictly sophomoric. Featured in this 1979 production are the late John Belushi, the late Warren Oates, Robert Stack, Dan Aykroyd, Treat Williams, Tim Matheson and Nancy Allen.

Jerry Lewis' 1963 variation on the Jekyll-Hyde motif, The Nutty Professor (Channel 11 Wednesday at 8 p.m.), remains one of his very best films. Stella Stevens is his sexy, endearing leading lady.

Like the tidal wave that overturns its elegant ocean liner, Irwin Allen's The Poseidon Adventure (Channel 5 Thursday at 8 p.m.) pretty much sweeps over the viewer with its suspense, knock-out special effects and handsome production design. Its formula is so sure-fire and its development so forceful (under Ronald Neame's polished direction) that it could easily have sustained far less crudely drawn characters. But the 1972 disaster flick is lots of lurid fun anyway. Gene Hackman and Ernest Borgnine star.

Sydney Pollack's 1979 The Electric Horseman (ABC Thursday at 8:30 p.m.) is a pleasant entertainment in which Robert Redford stars as a former rodeo champion, out to pasture as the living symbol and horseback advertisement for a breakfast food which spins profits for an evil conglomerate headed by John Saxon. When Redford bolts, during the corporate convention in Las Vegas, Jane Fonda's pushy and ambitious (but also warm and vulnerable) TV reporter follows.

With Burt Lancaster in the title role, Barnum (CBS Thursday at 9 p.m.) is a decidedly affectionate portrait of a man who, long before creating the modern-day circus, earned fame and fortune by flamboyantly flim-flamming the public with novelty acts and freak shows. Lancaster plays P. T. with gusto, but this 1986 TV movie fails to sustain its early momentum. Hanna Schygulla plays Jenny Lind.

The comedy Drop-Out Mother (CBS Friday at 9 p.m.), a new TV movie, stars Valerie Harper as a woman making a less-than-smooth transition from the board room to the household. Wayne Rogers and Carol Kane co-star.

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