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Irwin Shaw stories -- they work better in The New Yorker

Slim literary sketches make good New Yorker reading but too often merely slim television dramas. That seemed to be true with early John O'Hara and early Dorothy Parker. Now it has also proved true with early Irwin Shaw: "The Girls in Their Summer Dresses" (PBS, Monday, 8-9:30 p.m., check local listings for premiere and repeats).

A joint BBC-WNET/NY production -- this one is really a working coproduction, not a WNET purchase from BBC, as is often the case -- these three sketches from Mr. Shaw's "Five Decades" prove that international cooperation is not always a boon to mankind.

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The first two stories -- "Girls" and "The Monument" -- are directed by Nick Havinga in New York and star Jeff Bridges, Carol Kane, and Charles Durning. Both sketches drag along ponderously, directed and acted as if the actors were mouthing priceless Shakespearean dialogue.

"Girls" concerns a young couple who start their Sunday with an interminable discussion as to why the husband looks longingly at other women. What seems to be a trivial discussion evolves into a shattering argument. If one wants to think of it as a parable, I guess that is possible.

"The Monument" is also a seemingly interminable discussion between a bartender and his boss as to whether or not he should serve house liquor. The matter is resolved with future silence. Good.

In the case of the third story, "The Man Who Married a French Wife," directed on location in Paris for BBC by John Glenister, the resolution is totally unbelievable. An American husband, played with bland earnestness by Bob Sherman and his French wife, played with bland fervor by Claudine Auger, are asked by her first boyfriend to do an illegal favor. The only excitement in the whole 90 minutes comes when the woman's French family engages in "typical" Gallic discussions over dinner.

All three sketches are overlong and unwieldy, while the original material calls for a delicate touch. If you want the true flavor of early Irwin Shaw sketches, filled with light but meaningful dialogue, read "Five Decades."

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