Beverly D'Angelo, in a throwback to the days of drop-dead femmes fatales , chews up a role that actresses would die for and runs away with the four-hour miniseries "Trial: The Price of Passion" (Sunday and Monday at 9 p.m. on NBC, Channels 4, 36 and 39).
It's not that John Gay's teleplay (based on Clifford Irving's book, "Trial") would have it any other way. But this crime story, notwithstanding the twist of two deviously overlapping murder trials, is essentially your standard-equipment courtroom suspense drama.
D'Angelo, however, playing a cold-blooded murderess who flares across the screen like a torch, kicks the movie into an overdrive you won't find on the printed page.
Her dominance is notable, too, because she's sandwiched by considerable veteran talent--co-star Peter Strauss, steady as ever as an embattled defense attorney, and supporting actors such as Ned Beatty and Jill Clayburgh. Even Clayburgh, as a mean, crusty criminal judge, turns in a bizarre, out-of-character performance.
But it's D'Angelo and director Paul Wendkos, opting to replace caution with attack, who give glamour one of those Joan Crawford/Jean Harlow faces that the movies used to bombard us with: brazen, smirky, seductive, in-your-face hauteur.
But the "Price of Passion" subtitle, like a tabloid headline, is a phony teaser. This movie is not about sexual or romantic passion but about the passion for manipulation, both in the trenches of the barrister profession and in the greed of a steamy lady who wears push-up bras to clear a path.
D'Angelo's plunging-neckline attire runs the gantlet from sleek to sumptuous. Costume designer Dorothy Amos must have been given the keys to the Paris fashion kingdom. Few TV movies ever dress up a star like this.