TV REVIEW : Even Goering's a Wimp in This Occupied Paris

In the brief, Paris-set prologue to "The Man Who Lived at the Ritz" (beginning tonight at 8 on Channel 13 and concluding at the same time next Tuesday), young American painter Philip Weber (Perry King) inherits the use of a room at the Ritz--supposedly for as long as he wishes to use it. Then the time changes from the 1920s to the German-occupied Paris of 1940, and poor Phil is in danger of losing the room because the war is holding up funds from New York.

But guess who's also staying at the legendary hotel? No one less than Nazi Reichsmarshal Hermann Goering (Joss Ackland), who's gobbling up France's art treasures for his own collection (as well as dressing up in masks, Roman togas and evening gowns) and who offers Weber room-saving employment as a fake-spotter.

Our hero apparently hasn't read a newspaper or had a political discussion in 15 years. Despite seeing Nazi atrocities on the streets of the darkened City of Light, he still considers himself merely "a neutral." So, heck, why not take the job?

But then those darned Nazis go too far! They murder a Polish woman Weber's got the hots for. He's had enough, and decides to help out the French Underground. End of Part I. End of patience with this 4-hour, syndicated two-parter comes much earlier.

The first of innumerable problems with "The Man Who Lived at the Ritz" is that Weber is a wimp--all the more so in King's hands. The actor wavers between an enervated smile and sudden surges of disgust that are meant to evoke empathy, perhaps, but are more likely to elicit the offer of a Rolaids.

Other characters have little to do with the reality of history: fearless-to-a-fault French who think nothing of taunting German officers to their faces; a Goering who couldn't manage to lead you to the bathroom, let alone lead the Luftwaffe. And everyone has to go around saying things like (in a restaurant): "You took my country, and now you take my chair ."

"The Man Who Lived at the Ritz," adapted by Gordon Cotler from an A. E. Hotchner novel, was directed by Desmond Davis in a heavy-handed style that makes it look like one of the "Emanuelle" films minus the soft-porn. It clumsily involves "real" names such as Coco Chanel (Leslie Caron), and also features pallid performances by newcomer Sophie Barjac and oldtimer David McCallum.

There are a couple of nice things about this "Ritz"--enjoyably hammy acting by Ackland, a nice plot-turn involving the heroine(s)--but don't unpack your bags upon checking in. You probably won't want to stay long.

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