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Movie Spotlight

April 12, 1998|Kevin Thomas

As a pleasing family adventure-comedy, the 1995 Operation Dumbo Drop (NBC Sunday at 7 p.m.) is as familiar as its setting is unlikely: Vietnam, 1968. Even more unlikely, however, is that it was inspired by an actual incident in which some Green Berets delivered an elephant to a small village in the midst of war. Most everyone past adolescence will find the picture easily predictable, yet certainly a Vietnam War movie in which the Americans are persuasively admirable is a refreshing change of pace. Ray Liotta's cynical Capt. T.C. Doyle, a West Point graduate looking for action, arrives in a Montagnard village hard by the Ho Chi Minh Trail to take over a command from Danny Glover's Capt. Sam Cahill, who respects the villagers and their culture. That includes a ceremonial ritual involving an elephant, who is regarded as sacred.

In the 1994 Nobody's Fool (NBC Sunday at 9 p.m.) Paul Newman is so right for the role of Donald "Sully" Sullivan, an aging, stubbornly independent black Irish scamp, that he infuses it with the easy enthusiasm and sense of the new usually associated with the young and the restless. Newman is so revivified, in fact, that he has sparked his co-stars to give better than average performances. Jessica Tandy (always delightful), Bruce Willis and Melanie Griffith (both somewhat less reliable) all had to pump up the volume just to keep up with their star. What Newman can't do, however, is turn "Nobody's Fool" into a truly memorable film. Taken from a discursive 549-page novel by Richard Russo set in the mythical upstate New York town of North Bath, "Fool" has to contend with the predilections of its writer-director, Robert Benton ("Kramer vs. Kramer," "Places in the Heart"). On the plus side is a pleasure in fine writing as well as a concern for character. "Nobody's Fool" is a film that cares about its people, a film that revels in the cracked qualities of their diverse humanity. That kind of sentiment, however, is best leavened with something a tad grittier, and "Nobody's Fool" is finally too soft and unfocused for too long to consistently hold our attention.

With the 1956 The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (KCET Saturday at 9 p.m.) writer-director Nunally Johnson smoothly adapted Sloan Wilson's bestselling Madison Avenue novel to the screen with Gregory Peck heading an all-star cast.

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