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The Tiny Screen: He Had It Coming:

Why it took so many years to bring Jean Harris’ story to the small screen is a big wonder. HBO Films is currently airing Mrs. Harris, with Annette Bening delivering a powerhouse performance as the woman who would not be ignored. Bening’s Harris is a sharp-tongued, high riding bitch who had the unfortunate luck to fall for a man who didn’t really care whether she lived or died in the end, just so long as he was able to use her up while he needed her.As one of the characters in the fabulous, underrated film Dolores Claiborne once said, “Sometimes being a bitch is all a woman has to hold to.” And indeed, in the face of hideous opportunities our men have to dump our reliable old selves for younger models, what else is there to say? Such was the unacceptable truth sandwich Jean Harris was almost forced to swallow until she bought a scorned gal’s best friend: a pistol.None other than Ben Kingsley plays Herman Tarnower, the author of the best-selling Scarsdale Diet. In the film he calls himself “just a country doctor” who caters to a rich clientele. He was also an infamous bachelor, never committing to any one woman. In fact, at one point when Jean confronts him for flaunting an affair with Lynne Tryforos (Chloe Sevigny) he spits out the ugly truth, “I don’t love anybody.” To which Jean replies “Why don’t you stop hurting all these women, Hi. Why not concentrating on hurting just me.” The moral toad that he was, Tarnower did as he pleased and women could either like it or lump it. Jean liked it. Too much. The film bookends the fateful love story with two versions of the infamous events. In the first, we see the story as Jean Harris told the court – she really just went up there to kill herself. They struggled and the gun went off. She didn’t mean to hurt him. And by the end of the film, when we see the way the prosecution thought it happened, suddenly everything becomes clear.The helpless, obsessed Jean becomes triumphant when she plugs Tarnower with one bullet, then two. And when he dismisses her to call the police she plugs him again. Bening is magnificent as the two Jeans – in both her pathetic version at the beginning and her murderous self at the end. Mrs. Harris works because it never takes itself too seriously; it sees that Jean brought all of this on herself because of her own weakness for bad men. She likes the way Tarnower treats her. She likes that “he does as he pleases.” Her only explanation for her obsession with this silly man was “I love him.” If ever there was a sentence that ought to be stricken from the female vocabulary, it’s that one. It always leads to trouble. Trouble with a traveling bullet. But Jean loved him. Even when she could have used his tasteless behavior to help her case she refused to let her lawyer say one bad work about “Hi.” Some women, it would seem, have an endless supply of love to give all the wrong people. The supporting players are all top notch, from Brett Butler as one of his exes, to Cloris Leachman as the devoted sister. Sevigny is suitably dumb-as-a-post as the other woman. Kingsley brings his mischievous charm to Tarnower – hard to resist, self-centered creep that he was. But it is Bening’s show. In part, because she delivers Jean’s barbs so well, nailing it every time. And in part because Jean’s barbs were so funny to begin with. She shows snobbery for the common people, particularly Lynne, whom she seems to take a special delight in taking down a notch. What is a brilliant woman like Jean Harris supposed to do when competing with youth and beauty? What can she do? She can pull out her best and only weapon, well, other than the pistol: her wit and intelligence. The funny thing is, by the end of the film we’re left wondering why so many bright, successful, promising women invest so much of themselves in men who just aren’t worth it in the end. Men who could just as easily toss them aside for a newer model as if they were trading in a car. Surely Harris was smart enough to know what Tarnower had in store for her. It wasn’t like he lied about who he was.In the end, Mrs. Harris takes us into a world of one woman’s mad obsession. A woman who, as the head mistress of a fancy girls school, was tightly wound around a moral code, and a woman who, eventually, abandoned all of her morals because she loved him. Because she loved him. You know girls, that just isn’t a good enough reason. Mrs. Harris is currently playing on HBO.Notable TV This Week Turner Classic Movies’ superlative “360 Degrees of Oscar,” which began on February 1, ends on Friday, but some very rich film fare remains to be seen – including From Here to Eternity, Woman of the Year, Lonelyhearts, Raintree County, The Last Picture Show and Bells Are Ringing. For the complete schedule, go to www.turnerclassicmovies. com.Thursday, March 2Roy Orbison & Friends, 8 p.m., KCET.Sweet Home Alabama (**), with Reese Witherspoon, 8 p.m., ABC.Paper Moon (****), 9 p.m., TCM.Skating with Celebrities, 9 p.m., FOX.Friday, March 3The Alamo (***), 8 p.m., TCM.The Blues Brothers (***), 8 p.m., VH1.Carrie (***), 8 p.m., AMC. 37th NAACP Awards, 8 p.m., FOX.Saturday, March 4A Beautiful Mind (***), 8 p.m., ABC. Heathers (****), 8 p.m., SUNDANCE.Misery (****), 8 p.m., OXYGEN.Panic Room (***), 8 p.m., CBS.2006 Independent Spirit Awards Show, Live, 2 p.m. taped, 9 p.m., IFC.Sunday, March 5 The 78th Academy Awards, 5:30 p.m., ABC.8 Mile (***), 7:30 p.m., WB.An Evening at the Academy Awards: The Winners, 8 p.m., ABC.Mulan (***), 8 p.m., DISNEY. Monday, March 6At Close Range (***), 8 p.m., IFC.The River Wild (**), Meryl Streep, 8 p.m., AMC.The Wedding Singer (***), 8 p.m., VH1.When Harry Met Sally (***), 8 p.m., OXYGEN.Tuesday, March 7The Philadelphia Story (****), 7:30 p.m., TCM.Reality Bites (***), 7:30 p.m., VH1.American Idol, 8 p.m., FOX. The Unit, premieres, 9 p.m., CBS.Wednesday, March 8Jackie Gleason: Genius at Work, 8 p.m., KCET.Storytelling (***), 8 p.m., IFC. Criminal Minds, all new, 9 p.m., CBS.Man Trouble (**), 9 p.m., FMC.

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