By Tom Gliatto
December 23, 1996 12:00 PM

ABC (Sun., Dec. 22, 9 p.m. ET)


Sally Field makes her directing debut with this odd but endearing two-hour movie. Andrew McCarthy, a landscape architect whose annual duty it is to find Rockefeller Center’s Christmas tree, spots a magnificent Norwegian spruce on the estate of a rural convent. The tree is the unofficial property of Sister Anthony (Julie Harris), for whom its branches have long been a spiritual comfort. She fondly refers to it simply as “Tree” and encourages McCarthy, a typically frazzled urban professional, to hug its mighty trunk. You half expect her to start rhapsodizing about the tree’s inner sapling. As the spruce meets its destiny, the movie becomes a metaphor for death with dignity, or maybe the solace of faith. (Trees have been known to be ambiguous.) What makes The Christmas Tree moving is Harris’s performance. She plays her part with unadorned charm, guileless simplicity and a hint of neurosis. She is the Elmo of actresses.