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February 14, 1988|Kevin Thomas

Clint Eastwood has never made a movie as blissfully sweet as Bronco Billy (Channel 13 Sunday at 6 p.m.), in which he directs himself as a sharpshooting, trick-riding star of a tiny, struggling Wild West show. In the finest tradition of '30s screwball comedy, Sondra Locke plays an icy, uppity runaway heiress who oh so reluctantly signs on as his assistant. Bronco Billy appeals to the dreamer in all of us, suggesting that we'd all be better off being whatever and whoever we want to be.

Carol Burnett and her daughter Carrie Hamilton star in the new TV movie Hostage (CBS Sunday at 9 p.m.), about a kidnaping that has unexpected consequences for those involved.

Another new Sunday TV movie, The Dirty Dozen: The Fatal Mission (NBC at 9 p.m.), inspired by the late Robert Aldrich's mordant "The Dirty Dozen," stars Telly Savalas and Ernest Borgnine as members of a renegade team of World War II soldiers attempting to defeat the formation of a Fourth Reich.

The new TV movie The Return of Desperado (NBC Monday at 9 p.m.) stars Robert Foxworth as a fugitive who crosses paths with a black man (Billy Dee Williams) in danger of losing his homestead.

Michael Caine's ability to rise above even catastrophic material gets its severest test with Blame It on Rio (Channel 11 Wednesday at 8 p.m.), a sniggering, high-gloss, no-class sex comedy which finds Caine and his pal Joseph Bologna vacationing in Rio with their nubile daughters. In the original French version, called "The Wild Moment," director Claude Berri managed to handle the bedding down of a middle-age father and his best friend's daughter with impeccable taste, but the same situation here becomes a leering embarrassment. Not helping matters is the charmlessness of the daughter, played by newcomer Michelle Johnson.

There aren't any prime-time movies airing on key channels Thursday, and Friday's only offering is the uninspired 1985 TV movie Family Ties Vacation (on Channel 11 at 8 p.m.), which finds the "Family Ties" TV series people in London. Unfortunately, even fans of the series will be disappointed.

One of the beautiful epic Westerns and most influential films of all time--and one of the finest films of both John Wayne and John Ford--The Searchers (Channel 13 Saturday at 8 p.m.) is the classic trek movie in which Wayne embarks on a yearlong odyssey in search of his niece (Natalie Wood), captured by Indians.

As if New York didn't already have enough to contend with, C.H.U.D. (Channel 9 Saturday at 8 p.m.), a 1984 social-protest horror picture, envisions the city's derelict population being turned into hideous-looking ghouls through contamination from radioactive waste. C.H.U.D., which stands for both Contaminated Hazardous Urban Disposal and Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dweller, is no more than routine because it's so devoid of humor and chills. Stars John Heard and Daniel Stern, who were presumably marking time between more promising roles, do the best they can.

With films so scarce this week, viewers with cable are to be envied, and for them it's worth noting that Z Channel will be airing the late Rouben Mamoulian's exquisite Love Me Tonight (1932) Sunday at 2 p.m., Monday at 3 a.m. and Tuesday at 9 p.m. The opening sequence of the film, regarded as the first screen musical in which songs and dramatic action are truly integrated, exemplifies why Mamoulian was one of Hollywood's major innovators and stylists. The film begins with a symphony of sounds and images of Paris at dawn. A church bell rings, a workman swings his pick on cobblestone, a cobbler tacks a shoe, a housewife beats a carpet--each of these sounds becoming part of a joyous chorus. By the time Maurice Chevalier opens his tailor's shop and sings--a little later on--Rodgers and Hart's "Isn't It Romantic?," the refrains repeating and building until we reach the balcony of late-sleeping princess Jeanette MacDonald, who completes the song, Mamoulian has transported us to a world in which everything is possible--even a princess falling in love with a tailor.

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