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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Ruth Warrick's Helen Mason is the seemingly perfect mom, a combination
of June Cleaver, Donna Reed, and Carol Brady. But Mrs. Mason has one
issue. She drinks. A lot. And when she starts to drink, she can't stop.
When her husband (Richard Travis) finds her one night passed out at the
kitchen table, it is very apparent that this isn't the first time he's
had to carry her to bed. After a drunken visit with an old musician
pal, Warrick gets so intoxicated that she shows up at her husband's
newspaper office, embarrassing him in front of his boss (an imperious
Thurstan Hall) who despises drunks and refuses to acknowledge that
alcoholism is a disease that its victims cannot control.
Even a stay in a rehab center doesn't help Warrick who disappears on a drunken toot while Travis is attempting to take her home. This puts their sensible daughter (Ginger Prince) in jeopardy when Warrick takes her for a drive and proceeds to pass out behind the steering wheel! The brave little girl actually takes over driving, and mommy ends up in the psycho ward of the local hospital. It is up to her husband to convince his boss with the help of some investors that the local hospital needs to add facilities to help victims of alcoholism, and this is where the movie's moral "message" comes into play.
The beloved Ruth Warrick dominated "All My Children" for over three decades as the imperious Phoebe Tyler, and while that character had her own bout with drinking problems, it is here where Warrick picked up the characteristics that made the matriarch of Pine Valley's descent into alcoholism so realistic. Travis is also excellent as the husband who at first seems to be in denial (in fact, he agrees with her morning drink to relieve "that hair of the dog"), while Prince is simply amazing as the heroic little girl who cries over nasty rumors at her school that mommy is a drunk, but never steps back when it comes to supporting her. Warrick's agitation at Prince's affections obviously build up her desire for a drink, and it shows the split personality effects that too much drinking can have, even between a mother and their child.
While this goes into great detail to explain the various issues which cause alcoholism and some general statistics, the film also pads its running time with some unnecessary musical interludes which seem totally out of place. Some of the minor characters add dramatic impact to the plot, particularly an alcoholic bartender who still serves liquor even though he can't drink it. It is Warrick's intense performance which holds this together, going into great detail to document how a nice person can become a totally different one thanks to something readily available. As one person points out, as long as there are plants to make alcohol out of, people will drink.
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