Picks and Pans Review: Duet for One

updated 02/02/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/02/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

Ever since Julie Andrews won an Oscar for her 1964 film debut in Mary Poppins, she has been battling her sugarplum image. She was tough, terrific and, yes, sexy in her second film, The Americanization of Emily (still her best performance), but the public wanted her G-rated. Andrews worked very little for a decade after the expensive debacles of Star! and Darling Lili. But in 1979 her writer-director husband, Blake Edwards, launched her comeback in 10 as the older woman trying to win Dudley Moore from Bo Derek. Two more hits with Edwards followed, S.O.B. and her male drag role in Victor/Victoria. Last year she had the only memorable scene in Edwards' That's Life!, telling off a whining Jack Lemmon. First-rate performances, but all in comedies directed by her husband. At 51, Andrews was determined to test her mettle in a heavy (and we mean heavy) drama. She found her challenge in Duet for One, directed by Russia's Andrei (Runaway Train) Konchalovsky, playing a famed concert violinist stricken with multiple sclerosis. Konchalovsky mucks it up royally with portentous dream sequences, close-ups of rolling wheelchairs and ham acting from the usually reliable Max von Sydow, Alan Bates and Rupert Everett. He uses Andrews mostly for shock value: See Julie spout the f word. See Julie sprawling nude to seduce a junkman. See Julie hit the sack with her lesbian maid. See Julie swallow sleeping pills when she can't cope with her creeping paralysis. The way Andrews fights to maintain her grace (and her character) under the pressure of Konchalovsky's huffing and puffing may well rate the Oscar nomination being so vigorously campaigned for in the Hollywood trades. But the movie is claptrap. Our fair lady deserves to travel first-tier next time out. Her talent is something Julie Andrews need not labor to prove. By George, she's got it. (R)

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