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BOOKS AND THE CULTURE COMPROMISING POSITIONS is one of those lightweight movies which does not bear up well under the weight of heavy hype. Instead, it’s a descendant of the screwball comedies of the ’30s. You know the ones, movies where a smart-cookie heroine Roz Russell, say, or Katharine Hepburn, or Carole Lombard kicks up her high heels and misbehaves gloriously, puncturing more than a few stuffy social conventions along the way. The best of such movies, like the running jokes shared by close friends, say a lot about the things we often stumble over when we approach them seriously. Compromising Positions is not in quite the same class as His Girl Friday, another social satire in which a woman tries to leave journalism to become a housewife, but it comes awfully close. It seems that Judith Singer \(Susan Newsday seven years ago to raise a family on Long Island. When her philandering dentist \(smarmily porshe becomes fascinated with the case and realizes how much she misses the challenge of hunting down a good story. Despite her husband’s objections, she begins to investigate the murder on her own, hoping to come up with a story Newsday will print. Director Frank Perry, whose latest efforts were the excruciating Monsignor and the engrossing but high-camp Mommie Dearest, is hardly a master of subtlety, and he treats Judith’s boredom and need to get back into journalism with all the grace and insight of a Marine recruiting poster. As Judith’s husband, Bob, Edward Herrmann at first actually seems to have a part that will allow him to be more than a wimpy domestic tyrant. But no sooner does he protest, “Now don’t make me into some kind of insensitive clod who tunes out his wife!” than the movie does just that; despite a riveting speech or two and a Elise Nakhnikian reviews films for the Observer. noble effort at reading between the lines, Hermann is flattened into a two-dimensional drone. As for Judith’s children, they are so much a part of the scenery from the start that, when she finally begins to pursue her story in earnest, instead of feeling excited for her or understanding the trade-offs involved we only wonder what took her so long. COMPROMISING POSITIONS Directed by Frank Perry Yet the layers of wryly observed detail which saturate the screenplay, adapted by Susan Isaacs from her 1978 novel, keep seeping through. Judith’s investigation takes her into a series of Long Island homes and businesses. From the Cosmo girl-ish home overgrown with floral prints to the dentist’s office with a built-in electronic billboard in the waiting room that constantly flashes such messages as “THE DOCTOR IS IN,” each is exaggerated just enough to be very funny. And after a spate of sensationalist movies, like Perfect, which purport to be about journalism, it’s a great treat to see the atmosphere at Newsday and Judith’s relationship with her editor treated so believably. Better yet, even if we are not allowed to see enough of Bob’s good side, the movie has flashes of insight into marriage. After dulling hours of teenage melodrama, they look positively blinding: a decidedly unglamorous but attractive housewife is courted by a slightly pudgy but sexy man while her basically solid marriage goes through a rough period; she fights sporadically with her husband while fighting off her attraction to the other man. Like the classic screwball movie, Compromising Positions seems to see the thrill of a new romance as an automatic out. But it leaves a loophole for her to slip through if things don’t shape up at home a definite improvement on the formula. And, best of all and in the finest screwball tradition, the supporting characters are economically outlined and flawlessly portrayed, with understanding and enormous wit. Perry rounded up a gaggle of some of the best actors doing theater in New York, and the effort paid off. In the Eve Arden role of Nancy, the ideal best friend, West Texas native Judith Ivey drawls nearly all the best lines in the movie. Ivey accents every third or fourth syllable with suitably majestic irony as the loyal sophisticate who can sum up every other character with the perfect one-liner. Less flashy but equally impressive are Deborah Rush as the lavishly lacquered Brenda Dunck, Joan Allen as the genteelly manipulative Mary Alice \(she as the murdered dentist’s tautly distraught widow. And as the homicide detective who takes an interest in Judith, Raul Julia doesn’t have much to do but look tired and handsome, but he does that very well and his and Sarandon’s heavy-lidded, round eyes and flippant intelligence work well together. Add it all up and what do you get? A few laughs, a little suspense, and the occasional jolt of recognition. Not much? Maybe, but not bad, either, in this day of sequels, prequels, and teen Frankenstein clones, all aimed at the under-25 market. Not bad at all. Observer Bequests Austin attorney Vivian Mahlab has agreed to consult with those interested in including the Observer in their estate planning. For further information, contact Vivian Mahlab, attorney-at-law, P.C., at 617 Blanco, Austin, Texas 78703, or call 512-477-1700. Screwball Comedy By Elise Nakhnikian 20 SEPTEMBER 27, 1985