Finney delivers bewitching performance in A&E adaptation of Amis' 'Green Man'

TELEVISION

June 01, 1991|By STEVE MCKERROW

Viewers of the weekend's most ambitious new cable offering, a BBC/Arts & Entertainment adaptation of the Kingsley Amis ghost novel "The Green Man," may be excused if they conjure up the ghost of Jack Nicholson as old Beelzebub in "The Witches of Eastwick."

Remember the 1987 movie? As the Evil One, Nicholson was outrageously, captivatingly hammy, somewhat salvaging a colorful mess of a film that never made much sense.

In "The Green Man" (premiering on A&E at 8 p.m. tomorrow) it is jowly veteran Albert Finney who wrings every drop from the juicy part of a randy English inn keeper dabbling in the supernatural. And if the final hour of the three-hour presentation is hard to fathom, it is a rich and frequently droll buildup that gets us there.

American viewers should know the title is a word play. In England, the Green Man is the equivalent of American folklore's bogyman; in the film, it is also the name of the country inn operated by Finney's character, Maurice, and his wife, Joyce (Linda Marlowe).

Hence, it is no surprise the inn is also reputedly haunted, as we learn in a cute local-angle scene when Maurice tells the tale to some guests, "the Klingers from Baltimore."

But it apparently really is haunted, as Maurice begins to see things that others don't -- either that, or he is suffering hallucinations from his steady drinking. When his father (Michael Hordern) falls dead at a dinner party, in apparent terror of something unseen, Maurice begins to probe the inn's dark history.

Of course, Maurice also is simultaneously seeking to bed his doctor's wife (Sarah Berger) and, when that is accomplished, to get her into bed with him and his wife. (The fantasy has an unanticipated outcome.)

Although not particularly graphic, the sexual content makes this adult fare, and it also has something to do with the theme. For the spirit ultimately contacted by Maurice is one Dr. Underhill, a 17th century type who reputedly materialized young women for his carnal pleasures, and also discovered the secret of spiritual immortality.

Maurice is entranced when the ghost promises, "I will show you )) the true shape of your desires," but learns there is a price to be paid. He also may have an encounter in store with the Creator himself, who is not at all what we might expect. (Among other things, he drinks scotch.)

A&E plans a repeat of "The Green Man" in two parts, at 9 p.m. June 6 and 7.

*

WET YOUR WHISTLE -- Speaking of cable offerings whose content is somewhat odd, the MTV network is premiering a new weekly series that highlights a variety of animation techniques. It is "Liquid Television," making its debut at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow on the rock video network.

Animation and other special effects on TV have been making new strides this season, what with "The Simpsons" "Dinosaurs," and daytime series such as Steven Spielberg's "Tiny Toons." But this is like no cartooning seen on TV before, at least judging from the first two episodes.

Each half-hour segment is a collection of short subjects with loosely repeating sequences in subsequent shows. They come across like something between the arcane comics you used to find in The City Paper and other "underground" periodicals and the slick, meticulously drawn and violent semi-erotica from Japanese comic books.

Of the latter, a segment called "Aeon Flux" is particularly arresting, with a scantily leather-clad heroine mowing down villains in a fantasy fortress.

Other sequences range from "Stick Figure Theater," in which stick figures are dramatized to the sound tracks of old movies, to "Art School Girls of Doom," a semi-live action deadpan collage kind of thing with satirical pop-culture content.

Weird? Definitely. Reminiscent of the quick-visual-fix already so prevalent on MTV's music videos? Certainly.

Worth watching? Well, maybe -- at least for viewers willing to explore some offbeat ways that TV can be used to make interesting, unconventional images.

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