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Cbs Tuesday Movie Judgment Day: The John List Story

The dynamic Robert Blake is back after seven years, this time as murderer John List, who wiped out his mother, wife and three teenage youngsters in 1971. Dennis Turner's banal script and Bobby Roth's direction bury the drama in astory that doesn't bear re-telling; originally told on "America's Most Wanted," once was enough.

The dynamic Robert Blake is back after seven years, this time as murderer John List, who wiped out his mother, wife and three teenage youngsters in 1971. Dennis Turner’s banal script and Bobby Roth’s direction bury the drama in astory that doesn’t bear re-telling; originally told on “America’s Most Wanted,” once was enough.

The grim tell-nearly-all drama begins with List eating a solitary supper in his handsome New Jersey mansion while the family members lie shot dead in the next room; walking out with a valise, List turns into Robert Clark of Denver.

The police and an indifferent FBI (according to this version) lose interest — as does everyone but hometown Chief Richland (David Caruso), who won’t let the case go.

The dead wife’s sister, Jean (Alice Krige), and her husband keep the faith, but that’s about it.

Vid folds back into why the murders took place, with much of the blame laid hamfistedly on List’s domineering mother, Alma (Carroll Baker), while the father’s story is ignored. An ardent Lutheran all his life, his palms at times bear unexplained stigmata.

Alma’s seen pouring verbal poison into the ears of boy List while she bathes him, and vidpic shows how, once he’s married to widow Helen (Beverly D’Angelo), she still controls him.

Helen, who boozes it up and is ailing, hates Alma; the youngsters don’t show up much until a messy finale when they’re shot down one by one.

List marries innocent Eleanor (Melinda Dillon), who unquestioningly loves him despite his unseemly outbursts.

The meller spins on its appointed rounds, drenched in designer Michael B. Jornson’s admirable atmosphere and cameraman Shelly Johnson’s deliberate filming.

The drama itself, backed by a helpful score by Craig Safan, isn’t worth the trouble.

Blake makes List a blank central figure, but there’s nothing much else to be done with the character as written. D’Angelo turns in an interesting if not unique portrayal of the first wife.

Blake and D’Angelo are shoved into a clumsily written and even more clumsily directed scene in which she plays the drunken wife in public and tells List she’s pregnant. Krige and vidpic husband (David Pudom) share an awkward expository scene at a buffet luncheon.

Baker plays the mean, one-dimensional mama evenly, and Dillon’s second wife interp is good. Caruso’s chief is credible; Gina Gallego as List’s civvy boss is terrif.

Some will find this a fascinating report of a killer who got away with his crimes for 17 years and, at last faced by his ex-sister-in-law, tells what drove him to his carnage.

Those who find the telefilm worth plowing through will also probably buy a final, sentimental scene in which the sister, husband and the police chief meet at the graves of the victims to comfort one another; it’s a shallow conclusion to a glum telefilm.

Cbs Tuesday Movie Judgment Day: The John List Story

(Tues.(23), 9-11 p.m., CBS-TV)

  • Production: Filmed in Vancouver by Republic Pictures. Exec producer, Chuck McLain; director, Bobby Roth; writer, Dennis Turner.
  • Crew: Camera, Shelly Johnson; editor, Henk Van Eeghen; production designer, Michael B. Jornson; art director, Marina Demakopoulos; sound, Don Cohen; music, Craig Safan.
  • Cast: Cast: Robert Blake, Beverly D'Angelo, David Caruso, Melinda Dillon, Alice Krige, David Purdom, Carroll Baker, Gabrielle Miller, Tygh Runyan, Jesse Moss, Eric Schneider, David Schickele, Rebecca Toolan, Janie Woods-Morris, Robert Wisdom, Alan C. Peterson, Lorena Gale, Kevin McNulty, Garry Chalk, Lalainia Lindbjeerg, Deryl Hayes, Roark Critchlow, David Hay, Fulvio Cecere, Roger Cross, Gina Gallego, Micole Mercurio, Codie Lucas Wilbee, Barney McFadden.