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THE GATHERING/THE GATHERING II

For Hicksflicks.com, Dec. 6, 2013

"The Gathering" is a made-for-TV movie that initially aired on ABC in 1977, one of those wonderful little pictures that has flown under the radar in recent years but deserves to be seen, a superior Christmas film about forgiveness and love, perfect in the weeks running up to the day we celebrate the Savior's birth.

Edward Asner is brilliant as a cranky businessman estranged from his family when he learns that he has only a short time to live. So he attempts to reunite with the family he deserted years earlier.

With the help of his ex-wife (Maureen Stapleton), he attempts to gather his adult children for one last Christmas together, although some are more than reluctant to give him the time of day.

The story of a workaholic dad who has pushed his kids away and seeks redemption at the end of his life has been done to death now — but in 1977 it wasn't such a worn-out plot. Asner and Stapleton are very good in their roles and the film is sentimental without being mawkish.

The supporting cast includes Bruce Davison, Veronica Hamel, Gregory Harrison and Stephanie Zimbalist, and everyone is quite good.

"The Gathering II" (1979) is a so-so sequel, suffering primarily from Asner's absence, but the cast is good, led by Stapleton and most of the same supporting players as the first film.

Efrem Zimbalist Jr. is Mom's new love interest — but does he really care about her or does he just want to get his hands on the family business?

The sequel has been packaged with the original in a set available from the manufacture-on-demand website Warner Archive.