Picks and Pans Review: Mr. Halpern & Mr. Johnson

updated 08/29/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/29/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

HBO (8-9 p.m. ET)

Laurence Olivier is Mr. Halpern, a grief-stricken English Jew mourning the death of his wife, Florence. Jackie Gleason is Mr. Johnson, a dapper stranger who turns up at her funeral bearing a pink carnation, introducing himself to Olivier as merely an "old friend." Weeks later over drinks, Gleason reveals to a stunned Olivier that he had maintained a liaison with Florence for the past 46 years. Much to their surprise, each paints a strikingly different portrait of the woman. To Olivier she was a gossipy housewife, uninterested in the matters of the world. To Gleason she was a warm, vital woman who could embrace opera and world politics in an afternoon's conversation. By evening's end the two men have formed a curious bond, brought together by a woman neither seems to have totally understood. Since much of this two-character story is talk, lesser actors might have made a less intriguing hour. But an understated Gleason is surprisingly effective as Johnson. (He's probably thrilled not to be chasing Burt Reynolds.) And Olivier is, well, Olivier. Good company, indeed.

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