TV REVIEW : 'Mrs. 'Arris': Delightful Fairy Tale

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The late Paul Gallico, an ace sportswriter who turned to fiction and was for decades one of America's most popular storytellers, was the kind of dreamer and romantic that has slipped out of style in contemporary entertainment. But his fairy tale about a cleaning lady, "Mrs. 'Arris Goes to Paris" (Sunday, 9 p.m., Channel 2), with the delicious cast of Angela Lansbury, Diana Rigg and Omar Sharif, rewards attention.

Whimsically adapted by John Hawkesworth, the production catches the full bloom of a first visit to Paris by a British charwoman (Lansbury, in delectable Cockney) who saves up her shillings to buy a dress at the House of Dior.

The culture clash between the down-to-earth cleaning lady in her frumpy housecoat and the haute couture at the fashion house (personified by the delectable Rigg and newcomer Tamara Gorski as the luscious fashion model Natasha) is choice material.

This is also the "American in Paris" joive d' vivre of the early 1950s. Director Anthony Shaw and production designer Roger Murray-Leach (shooting on locations in Paris and Budapest) give the movie such a beguiling style you half expect Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron to swirl down the boulevard.

(Gallico's 1958 novel, which was followed by a series of other "Mrs. 'Arris" books describing trips to New York, Moscow and Parliament was turned, not surprisingly, into a musical in the late '50s.)

Although dropping her "Murder, She Wrote" demeanor to play an uncouth innocent abroad, Lansbury is still the ever-present healer, mending a father's broken heart (Sharif in his usual suave persona) and doing a Dolly Levi number on behalf of two young Cupids (the dreamy Gorski and the dazed Lothaire Bluteau as the Dior accountant).

Hollywood used to make movies like this all the time--the sweet-scented romantic fables that wed sentiment to tinges of comedy and satire and carry you off on an impossible dream. It didn't matter that it was a fantasy--you wanted to believe it .

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