Picks and Pans Review: Hemingway

updated 05/16/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/16/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

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Imagine you are the announcer on one of those drag-strip commercials—you know, the loud "Sunday! Sunday!" type. Now read these lines, fast and furious: "Hemingway, the man, the legend, the adventurer! Hemingway, a man who lived a hundred lives, each more incredible than the next!" Don't pause to try to make sense of that sentence. Just keep reading: "The man they called Papa was much more than a man of words! Ernest Hemingway was a man of action!" That is only the introduction to this six-hour mini about the life of Papa. It is also, by far, the most thrilling moment in the show. Writing, I admit, is not a terribly entertaining vocation to witness. Watching a writer at work is like watching a terribly slow and forgetful secretary at a typewriter. So, of course, this mini could not show Hemingway doing what he did best. Instead, it shows what he did worst—that is, anything involving male hormones: seducing and marrying women, killing animals, fighting men, getting drunk and generally being an Esquire kind of guy, which today looks pretty anachronistic. This man-of-action stuff is supposed to be exciting, but it quickly becomes as tedious as typing. That's because, unlike a story by Hemingway, this story about Hemingway has no sense of drama. It is merely an outline of a biography, a skeleton with no flesh, with no special view of the man or his work. Stacy Keach plays Hemingway with admirable energy. He has to carry scene after scene, and he survives without humiliation, even when he utters humiliating lines: "I would like to write about landscapes the way that Cézanne painted them." "He painted truth," Gertrude Stein offers. "That's what it's all about," he concludes, "truth." Gag. Like the mini about Goetz, this one makes the mistake of thinking that dramatic scenes alone add up to drama. Hemingway knew better.

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