The face of genius

INCREDIBLY, The Elephant Man (World, 12.35am) was nominated for eight Oscars and won none, adding weight to a personal conspiracy theory that only films starring good-looking people win Academy Awards. The Elephant Man goes against the grain. It was filmed in black-and-white and stars John Hurt as a hideously deformed human being called John Merrick who spent much of his Victorian life as a circus sideshow freak. Hurt's performance is inspirational, particularly from a man unable to use his face or his mouth behind tracts of makeup. Anthony Hopkins, these days enjoying something of a second coming, is brilliant as the doctor who gives Merrick back some of his dignity, only to have his own motives called into question. Was he helping Merrick in the name of medical science, or to enhance his own reputation? The ending also excludes The Elephant Man from Oscar-bility.

It is a true story, so it is giving nothing away to reveal that Merrick meets his maker. There is some suggestion that he may have chosen to do so as the only way of escaping the misery of his existence. If there is a wrong note in this unique film - in performance, design, cinematography or script - then you will have to look hard to find it. Merrick's transition from horror movie come-on to a member of the fashionable society is handled with the right doses of loving kindness and latent doom. IN Double Impact (Pearl, 9.30pm) you get two Jean-Claude Van Dammes for the price of one, which merely doubles the incoherence of a very ordinary martial arts movie. Van Damme plays twin brothers, separated as babies in Hong Kong when their parents are filled full of lead in an unnecessarily violent gunfight.

The protagonists in these films do not seem to understand that the chief benefit of a large gun is its ability to kill with the minimum of fuss. Years later, back in Hong Kong, the Van Dammes get together for revenge. Featuring the usual quota of triads and cheongsam-clad, inscrutable women. EVERYTHING about El Cid (Pearl, 1.05pm) is lavish, particularly the budget, which gave director Anthony Mann the chance to recreate 11th century Spain on a parking lot and to acquire the part-time services of 5,000 Spanish troops and 35 life-size reconstructed ships. El Cid is also long and glum, but the action sequences have rarely been bettered. THE original A Star Is Born (STAR Plus, 2.00pm) is better than both the remakes, which were musicals and lost all the early Technicolour power of their predecessor.

It might be abrasive at times, but this romantic melodrama, about a young actress who meets Hollywood success and marries a famous leading man, is still the most accurate study of Tinseltown ever put on film. Janet Gaynor and Fredric March are the leads.

FILMS on Cable Movie Channel: Back Fire (11.00am). Instantly forgotten comedy from 1978 sees fire chief Robert Mitchum puzzled by a series of fires that break out in the toilets of New York City. Also starring Telly Savalas.

Fried Green Tomatoes (1.00pm). A pleasant wallow in nostalgia for a less complicated age as Jessica Tandy, an old woman in a nursing home, relates the story of her youth to frsutrated housewife Kathy Bates.

Mannequin On The Move (7.00pm). Feeble and idiotic fantasy, even worse than the original on which it is based. The plot - wait for it - revolves around a window dresser (William Ragsdale) who discovers that a mannequin holds the imprisoned spirit of a bewitched peasant girl (Kirsty Swanson).

Gangland Odyssey (5.00am). Violent Hong Kong actioner sees ex-cops fighting the Yakuza, who have kidnapped a friend's son.

THE Rugby World Cup (Prime Sports, 6.30pm) has reached the exciting bit, with sudden death for the losers. Prime is showing South Africa vs Samoa and Ireland vs France live. On Sunday, also at 6.30pm, is Scotland vs New Zealand and Australia vs England.