Brubaker (ABC Sunday at 8 p.m.), a strong, provocative prison drama, stars Robert Redford as a feisty, uncompromising warden appointed by the governor to clean up the prisons of an unnamed Southern state. Redford's character, however, is based on the real-life Tom Murton, who made headlines when he dug up the bodies of prisoners who had been murdered and buried at an Arkansas prison farm. Redford is at once heroic and laconic in a complex characterization, and he is well supported by Yaphet Kotto as a convict sympathetic with, although skeptical of, the possibility of lasting reforms and Jane Alexander as Redford's friend in court. Also airing at 8 (on Channel 11) is a rerun of The Blue Knight, most notable for the late William Holden's portrayal of Joseph Wambaugh's dedicated Skid Row cop Bumper Morgan.
The TV movie The Burning Bed (NBC Sunday at 9), in a repeat, is itself uneven and at times even unaffecting, so unsympathetic is everyone involved, but is important for calling attention to the plight of battered wives and for the quite moving performance of Farrah Fawcett as Francine Hughes, the Michigan mother of three who killed her former husband (Paul LeMat, convincingly evil) in 1977 after enduring his repeated beatings for a dozen years.
Monday brings two new TV movies at 9 p.m., Private Sessions (NBC) and This Wife for Hire (ABC). The first is a series pilot starring Mike Farrell and Maureen Stapleton as New York psychologists who share offices. The focus is on Farrell, who tries to help a young woman (Kelly McGillis) who feels compelled to have sex with strangers and a taxi driver (Tom Bosley) who says he hears voices. In the second, Pam Dawber plays a woman who decides to market her domestic skills as a professional "part-time wife"; the film is based on the real-life experiences of a young Seattle woman.
Channel 5's nightly 8 p.m. movie slot will be filled with six films about Hollywood, starting off Monday with The Bad and the Beautiful, by far the best of a not-so-hot bunch. Going Hollywood (Wednesday), with Bing Crosby and Marion Davies, and Hollywood Hotel (Saturday), however, are fun as period pieces. The second boasts the song classic "Hooray for Hollywood," Louella Parsons playing herself and Ronald Reagan, seen briefly as a radio announcer.
Judd Hirsch and Amy Steel star in the new TV movie First Steps (CBS Tuesday at 9 p.m.), a factual drama about a bio-engineer whose pioneering work with computer electrodes enables a young paraplegic to take 10 steps at her college graduation. The film is based on the experiments of Dr. Jerrold Petrofsky with paraplegic Nan Davis.
In its network debut, Robert Zemeckis' Used Cars (CBS Wednesday at 9 p.m.) is a hilarious 1980 comedy about the outrageous rivalry between two Phoenix used-car dealers who happen to be brothers (both played by the ever-estimable Jack Warden). Kurt Russell is a brash salesman whose boss is the "good" brother.
Thursday at 9 p.m. on Channel 2 brings one of the most durably pleasurable Hollywood films ever made, Frank Capra's beloved and timelessly amusing It Happened One Night (1934), the first film to sweep the Oscars in all major categories. Adapted by Robert Riskin from Samuel Hopkins Adams' "Night Bus," it stars Clark Gable as the brash reporter who brings runaway heiress Claudette Colbert down to earth as they make their way from Florida to Manhattan. The sequence in which the passengers on a bus sing "The Magnificent Man on the Flying Trapeze" is arguably the most joyous moment in American movies. There's more vintage pleasure to be found in The Music Man (Channel 28 Thursday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m.) with an exuberant Robert Preston in the title role.
Selected evening fare on the pay/cable services: The Man Who Knew Too Much (the 1956 version) (Z on Sunday at 7, again Thursday at 9), All That Jazz (Z on Sunday at 9), The Man Who Knew Too Much (the 1934 version) (Z on Monday at 7:30), Frightmare (ON-TV on Monday at 9), Agatha (Cinemax on Tuesday at 6), The Tin Drum (Movie Channel on Tuesday at 10), Loot (Z on Wednesday at 7), The Reivers (WGN on Wednesday at 9:30), Rear Window (SelecTV on Thursday at 7), Blue Skies Again (Cinemax on Friday at 8), Racing with the Moon (Z on Friday at 9, again Saturday at 7), Major Dundee (WGN on Friday at 9:30), The Kennel Murder Case (A&E; on Saturday at 7 and 11) and Scarlet Street (A&E; on Saturday at 9).
Opinions in this column are based on the original-release version of the films. Checks for the logs are based on Leonard Maltin's "TV Movies" book and other sources. Pay TV movies without checks have not been reviewed by The Times.