Presumably controversial story about a Houston mouthpiece defending two accused murderers in separate cases boils down to circles within circles: the man's standing altercation with an arrogant, antagonistic, appallingly self-assured femme judge Parker (played tensively by a luminous Jill Clayburgh); his involvements with the two defendants; and a soapsy marital stalemate in which his wife's unfaithful and he can't let go. Despite top direction by Paul Wendkos and a superior cast, "Trial: The Price of Passion" comes off as mighty contrived.

Presumably controversial story about a Houston mouthpiece defending two accused murderers in separate cases boils down to circles within circles: the man’s standing altercation with an arrogant, antagonistic, appallingly self-assured femme judge Parker (played tensively by a luminous Jill Clayburgh); his involvements with the two defendants; and a soapsy marital stalemate in which his wife’s unfaithful and he can’t let go. Despite top direction by Paul Wendkos and a superior cast, “Trial: The Price of Passion” comes off as mighty contrived.

Lawyer Warren Blackburn (a deadly serious portrayal by Peter Strauss of a willing sufferer), out of commission for a stretch because he believed a defendant’s story and lied to Judge Parker, returns to be assigned as public defender for Mexican Hector Quintana (Marco Rodriguez), accused of killing an Oriental shot in the victim’s car.

Flamboyant Texan attorney Scoot Shepherd (Ned Beatty) also hires him to be his aide defending full-blown, hotsy-totsy Johnnie Faye Boudreau (Beverly D’Angelo), bigoted girlie club owner who claims self-defense for gunning down her wealthy lover.

Coincidences run rampant. Far-fetched action, such as Blackburn’s mean-spirited wife Charm (strikingly played by Laila Robins) interrupting a business conference between her husband and Boudreau, is a headshaker.

Miniseries almost makes it all the way through without a trite writhing-in-bed scene, but luck doesn’t hold out–the sheets-and-shoulders exercise shows up late in the proceedings.

Courtroom scenes are dramatically successful as Blackburn adroitly handles his assignments.

Blackburn, treated like dirt by three women in the telepic, finds court reporter Maria (Colleen Flynn, presenting an effective naturalism) faithful and willing.

Terry O’Quinn as the ambitious prosecutor on the Boudreau case, Lorraine Toussaint as the responsible d.a. are pro.

D’Angelo rings bells as the sexy nitery owner, but her top contribution is her witness chair appearance–it’s a pip. Rodriguez quietly convinces, and Beatty works up a hackneyed interp of the extravagant Texan.

Designer Paul Peters develops a succession of credible images as background for the weighted stories Blackburn strides glumly through, and tech credits for the production are good. Charles Bernstein’s score is okay, considering the action.

Trial: The Price of Passion --Parts I & II

(Sun.(3), Mon.(4), 9-11 p.m., NBC)

Production

Filmed in Houston and Angleton, Texas, by the Sokolow Co. in association with TriStar TV. Exec producers, Mel and Diane Sokolow; producer, Harry Sherman; director, Paul Wendkos; writer, John Gay; based on novel "Trial" by Clifford Irving.

Crew

Camera, Ronald M. Lautore; editor, David Beatty; art director, John Frick; sound, Stacy Brownrigg; music, Charles Bernstein; production designer, Paul Peters.

Cast

Cast: Peter Strauss, Bevery D'Angelo, Ned Beatty, Jill Clayburgh, Laila Robins, Colleen Flynn, Terry O'Quinn, Marco Rodriguez, Lorraine Toussaint, Brandon Smith, Jeff Imada, Bill Bolender, Eloy Casados, Jorge Cervera Jr., Lily Chen, Blue Deckert, Woody Watson, Neeta Ajay, Howard Winningham, Felix Salazar Jr., Brady Coleman, Da Thao, Ellis Posey, Jon Bruno, Randolph Holford, Dennis Letts, Will Christopher, Jeff Imada, Suzanne Savoy, Charles Mooneyhan, Barbara Lasater, Louanne Stephens, Paige Witte, Kirk Griffith, Jim Gough, Doran Ingram, Lourdes Regala, Brad Leland, Alex Allen Morris, Paul Menzel, Rick Stokes, Billy J. Kaiser.
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