Steamy Southern thriller

March 07, 1992|By Steve McKerrow | Steve McKerrow,Staff Writer

Young men, never, ever place yourselves between a bitter, man-starved mama and her blossoming teen daughter -- especially in the middle of a long, hot Georgia summer.

"The Nightman," this weekend's "NBC World Premiere Movie" (at 9 p.m. tomorrow, WMAR, Channel 2), delivers that message in fairly diverting, sensuous style, albeit more than a little derivative in atmosphere of the Faulkner-based "The Long Hot Summer" (1958).

Joanna Kerns, who plays the upright mother of the sitcom series "Growing Pains," provides surprising intrigue. She acts decidedly against type in a succession of filmy garments, which she mostly discards a couple of times for some steamy sex scenes.

But the film takes a while to get to her. First, in an overlong opening sequence, we meet Jenny Robertson as Dr. Margaret Rhodes, an icily stylish young physician living in a loft condo. In the early going, a substitute elevator operator in her building seems threateningly familiar, and she complains to prison officials the man convicted of killing her mother 19 years earlier is now stalking her.

Could be, for it turns out the guy is newly out on parole.

Edgily smoking cigarettes in the way of films of the '40s, the doctor drifts back in memory to the events of the early 1970s at the resort hotel operated by her mother, Eve (Ms. Kerns). The woman has kept the place going since the death of her husband.

Enter the title character. Ted Marcoux plays Tom Wolfe, a Vietnam vet released from two years of hospital treatment, who hires on as the night manager of the resort. He goes shirtless a lot, bringing a heavy air of sexuality into the place (just as Paul Newman did in "The Long Hot Summer").

Will both mother and daughter -- the teen-age Maggie is also portrayed convincingly by Ms. Robertson -- find themselves drawn to the poor guy? And will the triangle ultimately turn tragic?

Hey, what steamy Southern thriller wouldn't?

The movie switches back and forth (not always smoothly) from Maggie's memories to her current perceived danger, and ultimately resolves the situation with a present-day confrontation and surprise revelation.

Most viewers will see it coming, but "The Nightman" nonetheless sustains the simmering sense of inevitability required by the tragic romance genre. And in a nice, subtle touch, every now and then we hear snatches of the Watergate hearings playing on background radios.

The film was produced and directed by Charles Haid, who played Officer Renko of "Hill Street Blues."

*

HISSSSSS! -- Stop reading if you suffer a phobia of snakes. World of Discovery," ABC's periodic nature series, delves into the fascinating "Realm of the Serpent" this weekend (at 7 p.m. tomorrow, WJZ-TV, Channel 13).

Although the script is a little hyperbolic, especially as intoned by E. G. Marshall, the show's photography offers stunning glimpses of a creature whose relationship with humans ranges from the adoring to the abhorrent.

Did you know about 3,000 species inhabit every continent on Earth except Antarctica? And that the ancient Mayan calendar system may have been based on the physiology of the rattlesnake?

Across much of Asia, people survive on the income from performing "snake charming" acts on the street, as we see a mother teaching her daughter the art of kissing a deadly cobra.

In many cultures, people dine regularly on snakes, some Texans turn rattlesnake roundups into social events, and in the Transvaal region of Africa, people ritually dance in imitation of a long, coiling serpent.

The show's best sequence captures the hatching of an infant green tree serpent. Surprisingly, the baby emerges orange with dark spots, and doesn't turn green until reaching 6 months old.

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