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TV REVIEWS : 'Call of Wild' Lures on CBS

April 24, 1993|ROBERT KOEHLER

Hollywood is rediscovering Jack London. Suddenly there's a rush to remake those great old London yarns about man and nature and dogs.

Last week TNT brought us "The Sea Wolf." Disney recently released the theatrical movie "White Fang" and has a "White Fang II" in the works. And now, for the most seminal and popular London story of all, lean back and let that howl of "Call of the Wild" transport you to the rugged turn-of-the-century Yukon (at 9 p.m. Sunday on CBS, Channels 2 and 8).

"Call of the Wild" is the story of Buck--a dog who experiences an extraordinary odyssey from a life of baronial leisure in Santa Clara to his dognaping and subsequent crucible of fire in Alaska with mean dog sledders and snarling wolves. Along the way, he and a gold-seeking young adventurer (Rick Schroder as the Jack London alter-ego figure John Thornton) become fast companions and mutual protectors.

Prior Hollywood adaptations with such stars as Clark Gable and Charlton Heston pretty much ignored the dog for the human angle. The value of this version (screenplay by Christopher Lofton, direction by the pseudonymous Alan Smithee) is the strong focus on the heroic Buck and his effect on the lives around him, including an ebullient French-Canadian sledder (Richard Newman), a vicious dog trainer (Duncan Fraser) and one savvy Bear Claw Indian (Gordon Tootoosis).

Schroder seems a shade miscast. Clearly damaging is his frequent off-screen line readings from the novel, which are delivered with such an ingenuous, boyish tone that he sounds like a juvenile in some romantic pulp fiction at the very moment he's seen fiercely becoming a Darwinian survivor. The effect is jarring.

Happily, Schroder's rapport with the dog is totally disarming and convincing, and that, finally, is the lure of this most popular "howllll" in American Western literature.

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