January 25, 1988 12:00 PM

NBC (Sun., Jan. 24, 8:30 p.m. ET)


Jack Lemmon gives the most restrained—make that the only restrained—performance I’ve seen from him in years. That’s the best reason to watch The Murder of Mary Phagan, a two-night mini about the 1913 slaying of a young girl who worked in an Atlanta pencil factory. Her Jewish, Yankee boss—played by Peter Gallagher, Lemmon’s co-star in Long Day’s Journey Into Night—is convicted of the crime, not so much because of the evidence against him but because of politics and religious bigotry. After losing in court, Gallagher’s last appeal and his only hope of sidestepping the gallows goes to Lemmon as the state’s Governor and leading party lackey. Such a story should be filled to overflowing with drama and raw emotion, but this one isn’t. Everybody in the show is too restrained. In Lemmon that is a relief. In most actors it is a drag. Gallagher, Richard Jordan as his prosecutor and Rebecca Miller as his wife act as stiff and lifeless as corpses. Only Robert (Broadcast News) Prosky as a political boss and Paul Dooley as an eccentric detective break out of the show’s cold, period-piece mood and breathe like human beings. That’s a thin population of characters for a five-hour show—too thin.

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