On the basis of these adaptations of two of her novels, Danielle Steel seems to build her stories around women with mysterious pasts — women who don’t know who their real parents are, women establishing new identities after fleeing abusive husbands, women who are beautiful, wealthy, and yet lonely, who yearn to share their mysterious pasts with handsome, wealthy, good men.
In Kaleidoscope, Perry King (Riptide) plays a handsome, wealthy, good detective hired to find three sisters who don’t know they’re sisters — separated when they were very young, they’ve grown into beautiful, wealthy Women With Mysterious Pasts in different parts of the country. The most important of the three is star Jaclyn Smith (thinner, tanner, and happier- looking than she was in Christine Cromwell ), who falls in love with King even though he has lines like ”The truth does not always set us free.” Kaleidoscope has lots of weepy flashbacks showing the sisters’ miserable childhoods, and a World War II scene in which the sisters’ French mother says, ”I doan eat weeth sodas.” Turns out she’s saying, ”I don’t eat with soldiers,” but that sentence kept my mind off the turgid, campy Kaleidoscope for a mercifully long time.
In Fine Things, D.W. Moffett (An Early Frost) plays a handsome, wealthy, good retail executive who falls for a beautiful, good woman (Tracy Pollan) who, in a shocking breach of Danielle Steel formula, is not wealthy — in fact, she’s a schoolteacher, so she’s almost poor. Which, of course means that she must die of cancer halfway through the movie. By the time Pollan expires, she’s married to Moffett; they have a daughter by her previous marriage and a new baby of their own. Fortunately, Moffett then falls in love with a beautiful, wealthy (a doctor!), good woman (Judith Hoag). Where’s the suspense? Well, Tracy Pollan’s first husband (Darrell Larson as an abusive, drug-addled creep of an unemployed actor) shows up to reclaim his daughter, causing a fierce custody battle.
Of the two, I liked Fine Things more: because director Tom Moore respected Steel’s trashy fantasy enough to present it at a crisp pace without camp or irony; because Pollan really did seem like a good second-grade teacher; and because Larson does a fine job of portraying an exceptionally mean, bitter person. Both King in Kaleidoscope and Moffett in Fine Things speak too softly and lack character, which I ascribe to Steel’s assumption that her female audience craves men who don’t yell and are vaguely mysterious. This is shrewd as a literary device, but on TV it reduces the actors to handsome, wealthy, good logs of wood. Kaleidoscope: C- Fine Things: B-