Even Hepburn can't save this 'Christmas'

The names above the title -- Katharine Hepburn starring in Truman Capote's "One Christmas" -- are a little bit misleading.

In fact, Hepburn has a very small role in this adaptation of Capote's short story, which airs at 9 tonight on WMAR (Channel 2).


And there is not much Capote here either, if you think of a Capote story as one of charm, sadness and insight.

Certainly, there are almost no points of comparison between "One Christmas" and the classic "Christmas Memory," the brilliant adaptation by director Frank Perry of another Capote short story, which aired last week on A&E.;


The main problem with "One Christmas" is it's not sure if it's for children or adults, so it ends up being right for neither. It's a small film hanging in limbo -- or wherever particularly awful made-for-TV movies go after they first air on network TV.

The story centers on Buddy, a boy living with his older cousin, Sook, somewhere in the South of 60 years ago. One Christmas, Buddy goes to New Orleans to spend the holidays with his father, whom he rarely sees. (Buddy's mother is either in a rest home or taking the New York theater world by storm -- it's never clear in NBC's telling.)

The father (Henry Winkler), is a question mark -- another problem with the film. He's depicted as a mean, calculating drunk or a con man with a heart of gold or a vulnerable loser.

Whichever version he plays, Winkler is resoundingly unconvincing. In fact, this might be the worst performance delivered by an actor in any made-for-TV movie in 1994.

This is a movie about Southerners, but no one has a Southern accent. We go from the New England flavor of Hepburn's speech to the Middle American sound of Swoozie Kurtz to the accent-free voice of Buddy, as played by T. J. Lowther.

The only poignant note connected with "One Christmas" is that Hepburn has said this is her last performance, her final bit of acting in a great and distinguished career.

Let's hope she reconsiders. It doesn't seem right that a career like hers should end in a wretched little film like this.