TV Reviews : 'Cold Sassy Tree' Proves a Pleasant Romance

Faye Dunaway gets out and around. Witness her hot-pants Bonnie to Warren Beatty's impotent Clyde ("Bonnie and Clyde"), her undercovers investigation of Steve McQueen ("The Thomas Crown Affair"), her lover-daughter complications with father-dearest John Huston ("Chinatown").

Her latest machination is staunch, independent Miss Love Simpson to Richard Widmark's newly widowed-but-still-heated Rucker Blakeslee. It takes place in turn-of-the-century Cold Sassy Tree, which is the name of the pinch-faced Georgia town that is set atwitter.

The film, "Cold Sassy Tree," executive produced by Dunaway and Don Ohlmeyer, and written and directed by Joan Tewkesbury, is a project of TNT cable, which premieres it tonight at 5, 7 and 9 p.m.

It's taken from a first novel by Georgia journalist Olive Ann Burns, who was setting down reminisences of her father. His is the voice of the story, as played by Neil Patrick Harris, the new "Doogie Howser, M.D." He plays Widmark's grandson.

Widmark is "a Democrat, Baptist and devout Confederate veteran" who is bent on wrenching homilies--"Livin' is like pourin' water into a Coca-Cola bottle--if you're the least bit scared, you can't do it."

Dunaway is a shady lady from Baltimore, who, we learn, has a troubling history. The guts of the story is that they marry for mutual convenience, then overcome the town's fear of her indifference to the traditional woman's roles.

The town is stumblingly bucolic and the pictures are hazy, as if the movie was shot in a dreamlike state.

But the leads are great old pros and it's a pleasant romance. The quibble with the casting has more to do with a faulty script, which has characters grumbling about their age difference. This is less a May-December romance and more like mid-August-December.

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