Some movies that purport to get inside the ”criminal mind” do it with cut-rate Freud. Then they try to relieve the viewer’s guilt at enjoying brutal scenes by blowing the bad guy away at the end. Made-for-TV films are especially prone to this gambit, but The Executioner’s Song, about armed robber-turned-murderer Gary Gilmore, doesn’t cut any corners off the complexities.
Norman Mailer adapted his popular 1979 book, and director Lawrence Schiller made everything look frank and unembellished. (It was Schiller who conceived the idea for the book, conducted interviews with Gilmore and his girlfiriend Nicole Baker, and packaged the film version for NBC-TV.)
This newly released tape is the three-hour TV version, and it’s less inviting than a two-hour cut of the movie (on the USA label) already in stores. For one thing, it has been recorded in Extended Play mode, compromising the visual and aural quality (a Standard Play version is available, but at twice the price). And what a difference a little cutting makes: The shorter edition, lacking a lot of draggy explication (and throwing in some sex not seen on TV), is elliptical, subtler, and all the better. TV version: B-; abridged version: B+