Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Berlin Alexanderplatz--which begins airing in segments Sunday at 10 p.m. on Channel 28 and continues Monday through Friday at 11 p.m. until all 15 1/2 hours have unspooled--is one of the cinema's monumental undertakings. Fassbinder made it for German television in 1979-80, and it was the inarguable peak of his prodigious, self-destructive, madly prolific career.
It took demonic energy to drive something this vast and strange to completion. It's a very full adaptation of Fassbinder's favorite novel: a neglected, Kafkaesque masterpiece of German literature by Alfred Doblin, who views Nazidom's rise in the early '30s through the eyes of Franz Biberkopf--a lumpish, alienated and tormented ex-convict adrift in Berlin's unsavory underworld. Fassbinder wanted to play Biberkopf himself. But the actor he chose, Gunter Lamprecht, gives an unimprovable performance--stewing in his age's poisons like a bewildered, trapped bear. Surrounding Lamprecht are the "Fassbinder repertory troupe": Hanna Schygulla, Barbara Sukowa, Gottfried John, Hark Bohm. Cinematography and art direction are miles above most TV novel-serials, but what affects you most, in this great work, is the murderously consistent perspective (Fassbinder and Doblin's): a cynical, despairing, finally near-mystical view of the terrors of the 20th Century.
The Enforcer (NBC, Monday at 9 p.m.) is the least of Clint Eastwood's four excursions as Harry Callahan, San Francisco's hardest cop--far behind Don Siegel's "Dirty Harry," or Eastwood's own "Sudden Impact." But, despite a formula plot, and some outlandish bleached-blond terrorists, the movie has one peculiar pleasure: the pairing of laconic Harry with lady cop Tyne Daly of "Cagney & Lacey."
It's a fairly violent week. Roger Corman's 1970 Bloody Mama (Channel 5, Tuesday at 8 p.m.) is an amusingly sordid "Bonnie and Clyde" knockoff, which paints the Ma Barker gang as unregenerate sleaze balls. Shelley Winters and Bruce Dern ladle out the sleaze--and the young Robert De Niro foreshadows greatness with a harrowing performance as a Brandoesque heroin addict.
Another Corman "B & C" offshoot is 1972's Boxcar Bertha (Channel 5, Wednesday at 8:30 p.m.). Its director, just flexing his stylistic muscle, was the young Martin Scorsese, and the movie has a lower-case, whiplash craziness. ("Mean Streets" was only a year away.)
Later Wednesday, Dead Man's Folly (CBS at 9 p.m.) offers more genteel carnage: Agatha Christie and Hercule Poirot juggling their "little gray cells" to untangle another convoluted crime. Peter Ustinov plays the ineffable Poirot (illustrated on cover).
In the 1973 Dillinger (Channel 5, Thursday at 8 p.m.) John Milius makes his hero, Warren Oates--a dry, deadly Dillinger--attack the source: deriding Bonnie and Clyde as "a couple of punks." Two choice items Thursday for late-night addicts: James Toback's 1978 Fingers (CBS at 12:40 a.m.), an existential melodrama whose admirers include Pauline Kael and Francois Truffaut; and Fritz Lang's icy 1944 thriller, The Ministry of Fear (Channel 5 at 3:30 a.m.), adapted from the Graham Greene "entertainment."
Since Corman and others have been knocking it off all week, it's a joy to see the real Bonnie and Clyde (Channel 5, Friday at 8 p.m.): a 1967 American cinematic landmark, in which Arthur Penn, writers Robert Benton and David Newman, and producer-star Warren Beatty join to re-create a 1930s landscape of heartlands, Walker Evans faces, Okie roads and crisp, sun-parched corn--and then blow it all to hell in an astonishing crescendo of violence.
You get a breather (finally) late Friday night at Vincente Minnelli's wonderful 1945 romantic comedy, The Clock (Channel 11 at 2:30 a.m.), with Judy Garland and Robert Walker as a lovelorn wartime couple packing months of wooing into two frantic, sweet, Manhattan days.
Agatha Christie pops up again with a Miss Marple opus, Murder with Mirrors (CBS Saturday at 9 p.m.)--typically tricky and tart, with Bette Davis and Helen Hayes. All bloodshed temporarily over, you can happily luxuriate in George Cukor's 1972 adaptation of another Graham Greene: the delightful picaresque comedy Travels With My Aunt (Channel 28, Saturday at 10 p.m.), with Maggie Smith. (Don't relax yet: Next week there are five more days of "Berlin Alexanderplatz" to shroud you in terror and gloom.)
Pick of the late-night cable fare: Notorious (Z, Tuesday at 8); Mephisto (Z, Tuesday at 10); Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (Z, Wednesday at 7); A Face in the Crowd (Disney, Wednesday at 10:30); Citizen Kane (Cinemax, Thursday at 9:30).