TV Reviews : Delicate Telling of 'One Christmas'

The first dramatization of Truman Capote's short story "One Christmas" spins a delicate coming-of-age tale that is unequivocally Capote country.

Director Tony Bill is faithful to the personal tone of the material, which features Henry Winkler, Julie Harris and Katharine Hepburn among a veteran cast, and the production lovingly captures the holiday warmth of 1930 upscale New Orleans.

The script by producer Duane Poole crucially suggests a child's viewpoint and mirrors Capote's edginess, lack of sentimentality and sense of childhood candor and wonder.

Framed by the whiff of bittersweet personal reminiscence, the story is anything but a fluffy Christmas card. It opens in rural Alabama, where a shy 8-year-old boy (T.J. Lowther) is reluctantly put on a bus to New Orleans by his devoted, garrulous cousin (Harris), who has raised him. She fills the boy with awe by promising him that "it will snow" in New Orleans.

Sure enough, it does snow, in a magical way, but not before our innocent young traveler has run a gantlet of characters and life-changing experiences.

Waiting for the wide-eyed lad is his estranged father (Winkler), a street-smart peacock of a ladies' man whose exotic cafe society lifestyle and relentless hustling both bedazzle and scare his son.

Winkler, an endearing liar in arguably his freshest performance, is terrific as a complex, slip 'n' slide con man desperate to do all the right father things.

As for Hepburn, she's barely in the movie, appearing only in a series of short scenes as a flinty New Orleans grande dame wary of Winkler's encroachments on her society daughter (Swoosie Kurtz). Physically, Hepburn looks fine but her voice is sometimes inaudible and her casting is frankly more sentimental than productive.

The copper-toned cinematography (Thomas Del Buth) and the production design (C. Robert Holloway) lend the movie a warm sheen. * "One Christmas" airs on at 9 tonight on NBC (Channels 4, 36 and 39).

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