January 19, 1981 12:00 PM

Attempting a movie about a classical piano competition is akin to a box office death wish. Still, The Competition mixes its music with a love story with out compromising either. The film sets up Richard Dreyfuss, Amy Irving and four other finalists in a race for a prize that can make a career. Dreyfuss, whose chances for success are running out at age 30, is desperate to win it. Irving, 21, is desperate to win him. Will she sacrifice her performance to get a man? The windup is predictable and a few of the subplots are numbingly so, yet writer-director Joel Oliansky successfully evokes the pressure-ridden world of the concert stage. Dreyfuss forsakes his usual cutesy mannerisms in his toughest work since Duddy Kravitz, and Irving complements him nicely. Also fine are Lee Remick as Irving’s tart-tongued teacher and Sam Wanamaker as an egotistical conductor. But the movie’s heart is its music. The Competition may do for classical piano what The Turning Point did for ballet. (PG)

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