Period melodramas force a choice on some viewers. New version of the Anastasia story vies with an enactment of Poe mystery
Anastasia:The Story of Anna NBC, Sunday and Monday, 9-11 p.m. Amy Irving, Olivia de Havilland, Rex Harrison, Claire Bloom, Omar Sharif, Edward Fox. Writer: James A. Goldman. Producer/director: Marvin Chomsky. The Murders in the Rue Morgue CBS, Sunday, 9-11 p.m. George C. Scott, Rebecca de Mornay, Ian McShane. Writer: David Epstein, based on a short story by Edgar Allan Poe. Director: Jeannot Szwarc. Producer: Robert Halmi. Two period melodramas based on well-known classic tales are vying for the attention of TV drama buffs. Both ``The Murders in the Rue Morgue'' and ``Anastasia'' are well worth a tune-in, but unless you own a video cassette recorder, you'll have to be satisfied with one or the other, since they overlap on Sunday night.
One of the most dramatic historical mysteries of modern times concerns Anna Anderson, a young women who appeared in a Berlin mental institution in 1920 claiming to be Anastasia, the youngest daughter of the Romanov czar and czarina of Russia, supposedly killed with the whole family by revolutionaries in 1917-18.
The puzzling story of Anna/Anastasia's fight for recognition has been told before in a highly fictionalized form in a movie starring Ingrid Bergman.
This time around there is more of an attempt to separate fact from fiction, to present the facts as they unfolded from the time Anna surfaced to the series of court fights which never really resolved the question of the legitimacy of her claim.
The complexities of the motivation of Anna, as well as the people around her, are delved into like an extraordinarily complex detective story. By the time the film ends, the viewer is as confused as the courts must have been.
Was Anna the Princess Anastasia or a sick Polish woman with delusions of grandeur - or perhaps even a clever fraud?
An intelligently restrained but entertaining script by James Goldman allows actress Amy Irving to create an utterly believable Anna. Miss Irving juggles the various accents involved with amazing skill, making Anna a sad, sympathetic enigma, entangled in a web of international intrigue and confused psychological motivation.
A cast of international stars, some in small roles, play their parts with the kind of healthy gusto that indicates they are having fun in this Agatha Christie-like mystery.
``Anastasia'' is the quintessential ``whodunit.'' In this case, however, ``whoisit'' is more apt.
On CBS, meanwhile, Edgar Allan Poe's slight but hideously inventive short story ``The Murders in the Rue Morgue'' gets another cinematic outing. This time there are no surprises, of course, since the tale is so familiar to most mystery buffs.
What is most impressive, however, is the depth of character which George C. Scott manages to impart to the character he plays - the brilliant police inspector Auguste Dupin, forced into premature retirement by his archenemy, the prefect of police in the Paris of the 1800s.
As played by Scott, Inspector Dupin is depressed by his professional inactivity after 42 years of service, resigned to being considered a ``tiresome old meddling fool'' as he sits disconsolately at the chessboard, collecting pension checks.
But the illogical murders at the Rue Morgue convince his friends in the police to call him in for secret consultation, which he finds ``almost better than chess.''
Director Jeannot Szwarc resists the temptation to play the script broadly and it is just as well, because, as it is, every moment teeters nervously on the edge of high camp. It's good old-fashioned, maniacal, homicidal fun which no one will take seriously.
The most disturbing aspect of the whole production is the m'elange of accents, some English, some American, some unidentifiably European, all supposed to be French. The irascible Mr.Scott obviously decided against any ooh-la-la diction and sticks to his own recognizable one. Talent, he proves, needs no embellishment.
Somebody at CBS should convince Scott that a series built around Inspector Dupin, his daughter, and godson would make ideal TV programming. Network television desperately needs this marvelously idiosyncratic inspector, prowling around Paris, a character who seems just as lovingly gruff as George C. Scott himself.