'Sea': Strong acting, stronger tale

Are you ready for yet another fascinating psycho in a made-for-TV dramatization of a real-life, ripped-from-the-headlines case?

We have only had about half a dozen of them this month -- most recently, "Deadly Intentions . . . Again" and "Love, Lies and Murder."


The last great entry in the menace-and-murder sweepstakes, CBS' "And The Sea Will Tell," arrives Sunday at 9 on WBAL (Channel 11).

It is based on the book of the same name by Vincent Bugliosi, who knows something about menace and murder. Bugliosi, the famed attorney, successfully prosecuted Charles Manson. Bugliosi, the author, then wrote the best seller about Manson, "Helter Skelter," which also was made into a television movie.


There is a lot of the Manson story in "And The Sea Will Tell." In fact, the themes and central character are so similar some viewers may wonder if Bugliosi saw the most recent tale as it really was or through skewed vision.

Richard Crenna, who plays Bugliosi, gets star billing in the two-part CBS miniseries. Crenna is one of the best actors on television, but this is not great Crenna. This is middle-range Crenna, which is still pretty good stuff.

The real starring performance here is by Hart Bochner as ex-con Buck Walker, who was convicted of killing an American couple, Mac and Muff Grant (James Brolin and Deidre Hall), on an uninhabited South Pacific island in 1975.

The story is a simple one. But the psychological and symbolic undertow is deep and powerful.

In 1974, the Grants sailed to the island of Palmyra, after Mac was laid off from his job. Though they were chasing a dream, they are portrayed as solid and middle-class. At the same time, Walker and his girlfriend (Rachel Ward) also sailed to the island, which they believed to be uninhabited. They are not portrayed as middle-class; he's portrayed as Mansonlike and constantly referred to as a "hippie."

In 1975, the Grants disappeared. Seven years later, Muff Grant's mutilated remains were washed ashore when the sunken trunk containing them floated up from the bottom of a lagoon.

In real life, Bugliosi defended the woman played by Ward, Walker's lover.

The story is compelling. The acting is great -- especially Bochner and Ward. But the "facts" are suspect. And some of the messages -- like the ones about hippies -- are borderline crackpot.


These days, that constitutes what many consider grade-A, four-star entertainment TV.