September 11, 1995 12:00 PM

HBO (Sat, Sept. 9, 8 p.m. ET)

A-

The reputation of our 33rd President gets another refurbishing in this reverential film portrait. Gary Sinise (Forrest Gump’s Lieutenant Dan) is outstanding as the farmer, World War I soldier, failed haberdasher and peppery, plainspoken Missouri Democrat whose political career has repeatedly been described as a “wild accident of history.”

Consider: Harry S. Truman was a regional party boss’s grudging fourth choice to run for the U.S. Senate in 1934. Truman himself only reluctantly agreed to serve as FDR’s Vice President in 1944. Then, just 82 days after being sworn in, he succeeded the late President in the Oval Office. In 1948, he won the Presidency on his own, defeating New York’s governor, Thomas Dewey, in a stunning upset.

Sinise plays Truman as a man of unshakable integrity or, as one exasperated pol (Pat Hingle) puts it: “a stubborn son of a bitch…. He don’t even like money.”

The film begins slowly but catches fire once Truman reaches the Senate and his forceful personality begins to assert itself. Truman’s major flaw is the short shrift it gives to a remarkably resonant performance by James Gammon as House Speaker Sam Rayburn. Considering how well this political drama turned out, maybe HBO’s next one could be Rayburn.

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