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Despite corny story, James Cagney still shines in TV film

By Arthur Unger / March 22, 1984



It's predictible. It's manipulative. It's corny. Yet it's utterly delightful. I'm talking about Terrible Joe Moran (CBS, Tuesday, March 27, 9-11 p.m.) starring James Cagney in what many knowledgeable people predict may be his last film appearance.

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The all-too-familiar script by Frank Cucci is one part ''Little Lord Fauntleroy,'' one part ''Golden Boy,'' and one part ''Sunset Strip,'' with something of just about every Shirley Temple movie ever made thrown in. Some people may feel the show is a bit exploitive since there might be a bit too much of the real James Cagney in his character for comfort.

Joe Moran, a retired and lonely old boxing champion who is wheelchair-bound and spends much of his time looking at old movies of his successful bouts (actually film clips from Cagney movies in which he played a boxer). His only companion is an old boxing partner, played with exquisite subtlety by Art Carney. Then, who should come visiting Moran in his New York townhouse but his estranged granddaughter, in dire need of $55,000 to pay her boyfriend's debt to ''the mob.''

You know the rest: the growing love relationship between granddad and granddaughter; the sad parting; the reconciliation; the tears of discovery; the happy ending.

Oh, I know I really shouldn't tell you that much but, these days, isn't everybody looking for a good satisfying cry, culminating in an even more satisfying conclusion?

Well, ''Terrible Joe Moran'' provides viewers with all that. In addition there are cameo performances by Floyd Patterson and Mr. Mayor himself, Edward I. Koch, who proves to be as entertaining on screen as he is in city hall.

And then there is James Cagney! Perhaps there is some deja vu in watching the vintage Cagney perform. It's hard not to see the Cagney who combined toughness and tenderness so brilliantly in his prime. But, now, despite obvious difficulties with his speech (which are in character for the part), we have the opportunity to watch this mature but still stubbornly professional actor at the craft he mastered so often in the past.

It is worth your while to watch ''Terrible Joe Moran,'' if only for the privilege of seeing James Cagney at work again.