Tensions of a family spying on a spy. Ellen Burstyn, Teri Garr, and Alan Bates head cast of `Pack of Lies'
Pack of Lies CBS, Sunday, 9-11 p.m. ``Hallmark Hall of Fame'' drama starring Ellen Burstyn, Teri Garr, Alan Bates. Teleplay by Ralph Gallup, from the stage play by Hugh Whitemore. Sometimes just one look - like one picture - is worth a thousand words, especially when the look is on the face of an actor as capable as Ellen Burtsyn.
In ``Pack of Lies'' this happens when Miss Burstyn as Barbara Jackson peers through binoculars that a British agent has handed her. What she sees is a spy suspect leaving a nearby house - a house that belongs to Barbara's best friend.
Burstyn's expression brilliantly registers the complex emotional turmoil at the heart of this story - shocked discovery, torn allegiances, bitter duty, and betrayal. All these feelings run through this talky, intelligent drama about an innocuous suburban family who agree to let British counter-intelligence use their house.
The production does almost everything required to make this provocative story idea work. It sets up - elaborately and credibly - the cordial domestic world of the Jacksons and their neighbors, the Schaefers. The two wives - Barbara, a proper and slightly up-tight British housewife, and her friend Helen, a breezy and outspoken American - are the heart of this relationship, and they are seen shopping and chatting and generally being best friends.
The program also weaves the kind of silken web which viewers can readily believe such homebodies might be caught in. When Alan Bates as the agent first enters the Jackson house, he barely makes a ripple in this domesticity. There's this chap, you see, whom the authorities have become interested in. Could we use your bedroom as a lookout - just for a day or two, you understand.
Before long the Jacksons have been sucked into spying on their friends - and they aren't allowed to say anything about it. It's the way the family members show their evolving reactions to this moral crisis that carries you through the stagy production.
Barbara and Bob (Ronald Hines) are the model citizen patsies - decent, dutiful, and almost pitifully manipulable by the authorities. As official demands for cooperation mount, their incredulity and latent despair are skillfully captured. And as the resulting moral tension builds, Burstyn captures Barbara's anguish over her part in the police work - and over the dawning realization of what her good friend really is - with telling effect.
The dilemma is heightened by the soulless picture the drama draws of the authorities. They are intelligence officers, but they are also nameless agents of an alien force insidiously invading not only the Jacksons' lives, but their attitudes to each other and to friends.
Family fights reflect the corrupting influence of their complicity. ``Being fair has a very low priority just at the moment,'' Bates tells Burstyn. Nor does decency or almost any other civilian notion of good faith in dealing with other human beings.
You have the usual spy-story watcher's right, of course, to carp - even though only the top layer of this tale is about espionage. Wouldn't Helen have suspected something from Barbara's change in attitude? Could she have missed discovering the bedroom lookout? Wouldn't Barbara's knowledge that Helen was a spy have solved her moral dilemma?
Minor points in an absorbing story.