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Smith: A Clone Again, Naturally : Television: Former 'Charlie's Angels' star Jaclyn Smith manages to turn everyone she plays into the same woman.

HOWARD ROSENBERG

January 08, 1992|HOWARD ROSENBERG

There's a hair here.

--Jaclyn Smith looking for murder clues as a police detective in "In the Arms of a Killer."

So you had him murdered!

--Jaclyn Smith, same movie.

Farrah Fawcett (Jill) went on to challenging roles in "The Burning Bed," "Extremities" and "Small Sacrifices." Kate Jackson (Sabrina) went on to blithe, carefree repartee in "Scarecrow and Mrs. King." Cheryl Ladd (Kris) went on to credible work in "A Death in California" and "Bluegrass." And then there's the other famous Charlie's angel, Jaclyn Smith.

Still Kelly After All These Years.

If you caught Smith as a gorgeous rookie cop who falls for a schizophrenic murder suspect in Sunday's NBC movie, "In the Arms of a Killer," you couldn't help marveling at the consistency of her career. It was no accident that her character seemed familiar. Overcoming the challenge of diverse TV movie roles that have included Jackie Kennedy, Florence Nightingale and George Washington's sweetheart, Smith has been able to accomplish what neither Helen Hayes, Meryl Streep nor any other great actress you can think of could ever do: Turn everyone she plays into the same woman.

Cool, composed Kelly Garrett of "Charlie's Angels."

This is a remarkable achievement, a thick carpet of sameness covering some 20 movies or miniseries, two weekly series and numerous guest appearances.

No more snickering. Fair is fair. Finally, it's time to give Smith her due as a serious actress and carefully examine. . . .

The Body of Her Work.

It's impressive. "Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy" is a personal favorite, a 1981 ABC miniseries in which Smith was so seamlessly cool and composed as the socialite-turned-First Lady that she appeared comatose. Three years later in the CBS miniseries "George Washington," she dazzled and bewitched poor George with her coolness and composure as Sally Fairfax, high-born sweetheart of the future first President.

Then as the Victorian-era nursing heroine of noble origins in the 1985 movie "Florence Nightingale" on NBC, Smith scored an amazing coup, displaying her versatility by staying cool and composed while simultaneously speaking with an English accent.

She had been only slightly less cool and composed in 1983 as the besieged hotshot lawyer of NBC's "Rage of Angels," a role she reprised three years later in "Rage of Angels: The Story Continues." Undoubtedly, she would have come across as even more inert in these miniseries had she not been hindered by lines ("Please, don't hurt me") that required movement of her lips.

More superlatives greeted Smith's 1988 work as an ambassador to Romania in the two-part "Windmills of the Gods" on CBS. This complex political thriller found her being the target of assassins and Robert Wagner's romancing, with only her coolness and composure saving the day.

ABC's "The Bourne Identity" was another Smith tour de force in 1988. Here she achieved the seemingly unachievable. Not only was she cool and composed while getting pummeled and pushed around by villains, she was even cooler and more composed while wearing a lacy spandex body suit in bed with Richard Chamberlain.

Smith is no machine, however. Take her work in NBC's "Settle the Score," a 1989 movie presenting her as a cool and composed Arkansas farm girl who became a Chicago cop on the trail of a rapist: Her composure cracked, and she flashed flickers of life that were unbecoming. But she was under a strain at the time, having to do this movie while also developing "Christine Cromwell," her ABC series about a cool and composed San Francisco attorney who prepared for her cases by looking great.

However, once more rebutting her critics who said that she could never pull it off, Smith was a cool and composed rape victim who was falsely accused of slaying her attacker on the operating table in last November's "The Rape of Dr. Willis" on CBS.

This brings us to Smith's most recent endeavor as the cool and composed society cop of "In the Arms of a Killer," a movie in which she vividly displayed the two emotions that have been the foundation of her TV work: pleasure (a faint smile) and perplexity (a faint frown).

Nuance, that's Smith's dish. Unlike Joan Fontaine in "Suspicion" and Glenn Close in "Jagged Edge"--both of whose characters faced similar crises--Smith reacted to the devastating realization that her lover was possibly a brutal killer with classic subtlety. That is, she didn't react at all. How delicate. Then she really went to work, the vacant eyes narrowing, the voluptuous mouth tightening. It was a textbook use of the faint frown to convey intense vagueness.

Plus, in a masterpiece of understatement, her bangs moved.

None of that cheap emotionalism under the sheets, either. Smith had sex with her lover with all of the intensity of someone drinking a milkshake. Without a doubt, in fact, she became TV's most unforgettable female cop since gritty, hard-boiled Debbie Reynolds stalked the city's toughest mugs in 1987's "Sadie and Son."

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