Who says there isn't enough choice on the tube? At 9 tonight you can pick between two TV movies that couldn't be more different: on ABC, a sensitive drama about parents trying to come to terms with their teen-age son's homosexuality, and, on NBC, a hard-nosed, shoot-'em-up war story featuring another suicide mission by "The Dirty Dozen."
In terms of quality, it's an easy choice.
"Consenting Adult" (on Channels 7, 3, 10 and 42) is by far the superior film--not without flaws, but a much better representative of its genre than "The Dirty Dozen: Next Mission" is of its. The ABC movie delves into fresh, highly charged emotional issues, while NBC's (on Channels 4, 36 and 39) is a pale and altogether dull imitation of its 1967 progenitor.
"Consenting Adult" presents Marlo Thomas and Martin Sheen as the well-to-do parents of a married daughter and a teen-aged son (Barry Tubb) who reveals early in the film that he is gay. Their heretofore storybook-happy relationship with him quickly deteriorates as the mother and father are sucked into a vortex of anguish, anger, guilt, puzzlement and shame.
"He's not the son I thought I raised," the dejected mother says at one point.
Screenwriter John McGreevy, adapting a novel by Laura Z. Hobson, follows the family over the next year as the son grows to feel comfortable with his sexuality and strives for acceptance from his parents. "You've got to let me be what I am!" he implores.
The movie is marred by uneven performances, and the story contains few surprises once the characters take their respective stands, but director Gilbert Cates sustains interest by stressing a theme that transcends the issue of homosexuality: the difficulty that every parent has in balancing love and disappointment when a child makes choices of which the parent does not approve. As the mother here learns, keeping disapproval at bay so it does not overwhelm the bonds of trust and respect can be one of life's great struggles.
"Consenting Adult," the 50th production for "ABC Theater," was produced by Ray Aghayan and David Lawrence, with Martin Starger as executive producer and Dennis Doty as supervising producer.
"The Dirty Dozen: Next Mission" returns Lee Marvin to his 1967 role as a nail-tough World War II major who, as one general puts it, "does things his way, not quite the Army way."
His way will certainly be familiar to anyone who saw "The Dirty Dozen." Writer Michael Kane has followed the motion picture faithfully. Marvin's Maj. Reisman is given a seemingly impossible mission to carry out behind the German lines. He handpicks 12 misfit soldiers imprisoned for a variety of heinous crimes, trains them rigorously and then leads them into battle, knowing many of them will not return.
It worked before, but that was for the movies. This is television, and the action has been toned down accordingly. So have the characterizations. The dozen kamikaze volunteers who Reisman refers to as a bunch of "twisted psychopaths" come off instead like a band of oafish outcasts from "The Dukes of Hazzard."
Even more ludicrous is the suspense-less plot, which has Reisman's squad trying to foil an assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler. At the crucial moment, Kane and director Andrew V. McLaglen struggle mightily to make us wonder whether the Americans will kill the would-be assassin or Hitler.
"It doesn't make any sense," protests one of the soldiers. Right.