The Price of Heaven

Peter Bogdanovich directs an appealing, earnest, old-fashioned telefilm about a man whose values may or may not have been shaken by a mighty conflict and how someone from outside his world can quietly straighten him out. With a finely wrought study by Grant Show as returning Korea veteran Jerry Shand and Cicely Tyson notable as a good woman with purpose, Bogdanovich and writer Joyce Eliason probe innocence and standards. It's a honey of an experience. Soldier Shand's photo taken with Marilyn Monroe in Korea has appeared on the cover of Life mag, and he returns in 1954 to his small, Southern hometown a hero. He hasn't changed, and his sweetheart Leslie (Lori Loughlin), who's been running a newfangled Laundromat, is waiting. Fascinated by the shy hero, sexy Claire (Cari Shayne), the cotton mill owner's daughter, makes a pitch for him and makes a soft landing.

With:
Grant Snow, Cicely Tyson, Lori Loughlin, George Wendt, Cari Shayne, Allan Gurganus, Rebecca Koon, Bob King, L.B. Straten, Robby Preddy, Shannon Eubanks, Tommy Cresswell, Bart Hansard, Stephen Michael Ayres, Michael Flannery, Tony Higgins, Georgia Allen, John Lawhorn, Michelle Benjamin Cooper, Judy Simpson Cook, Brinley McClary, Antonia Bogdanovich, Bob Tyson, Helen Alexander, David Dwyer, Kate Finlayson, Lynn Llewelyn, Deborah Duke.

A financially strapped civilian, Shand has to work to get ahead, be a doctor or maybe a lawyer, what with the G.I. Bill and all. But he needs an income now, and, after a try at encyclopedia selling, he turns to selling funeral insurance to poor blacks who can scarcely scratch together the necessary $1.25 a week. His boss Sam (George Wendt, in an amusingly derivative Welles-Ives turn) warns him not to cover for his poor clients if they can’t make a payment, and if they can’t pay after two weeks, they lose everything they’ve put into the fund. There goes the gorgeous funeral, the ornate casket, the fancy limo ride to the cemetery — and friends standing up to have a last say.

Shand bumps into old Vesta Battle (Cicely Tyson), who draws him into tea, cookies and her life. Fond of her, he’s soon covering for her. Their scenes are rich with growing affection, and they have a sweet and touching adventure in the countryside where she once lived.

Shand and Leslie talk of marriage, but fetching Claire’s hot on his trail and his head’s turned. Vesta helps him make up his mind.

Taken from a story by Allan Gurganus, co-exec producer Eliason’s script doesn’t scrub any tenderness off the open, touching tale. Advantage of the vidpic and story is the purity and dependability of its traditional characters, its heart.

It’s a delight to see innocence and freshness and commitment in action again; “The Price of Heaven” does just that. There’s easy wit, amusing and endearing people, and Show’s vulnerable Jerry, Tyson’s slyly intuitive, stylized Vesta and Loughlin’s loyal Leslie.

All the actors shine, and Ronn Schmidt’s camerawork clearly conveys a 1950s air of cleanliness. It’s all helped by production designer Norm Baron’s insightful North Carolina locales.

The Price of Heaven

Sun.(17), 9-11 p.m., CBS

Production: Filmed in Charlotte, N.C., by Konigsberg Prods. Exec producers, Frank Konigsberg, Joyce Eliason; producer, Jack Clements; director, Peter Bogdanovich; writer, Eliason; based on a novella by Allan Gurganus

Crew: camera, Ronn Schmidt; editor, David Siegel; art director, Ward Preston; sound, Thomas Varga; music, Mark Snow; production designer, Norm Baron; casting, Susan Bluestein.

Cast: Grant Snow, Cicely Tyson, Lori Loughlin, George Wendt, Cari Shayne, Allan Gurganus, Rebecca Koon, Bob King, L.B. Straten, Robby Preddy, Shannon Eubanks, Tommy Cresswell, Bart Hansard, Stephen Michael Ayres, Michael Flannery, Tony Higgins, Georgia Allen, John Lawhorn, Michelle Benjamin Cooper, Judy Simpson Cook, Brinley McClary, Antonia Bogdanovich, Bob Tyson, Helen Alexander, David Dwyer, Kate Finlayson, Lynn Llewelyn, Deborah Duke.

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