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Having just finished Suzanne Finstad's biography of Natalie Wood, I was eager to see The Cracker Factory because it was one of Natalie's favorite roles and a performance that she was very proud of. I have seen almost all of Natalie's films, and after watching this one, I can definitely say that it is perhaps her best work as an actress. Don't get me wrong, she was excellent in all of her films, but in The Cracker Factory, her acting was sheer brilliance. She was extremely convincing as Cassie, a depressed alcoholic housewife who drifts in and out of mental treatment. The role not only called for tough dramatic acting, which Wood of course tackles excellently, but also calls for an actress that has great comic timing due to Cassie's acerbic wit, which Natalie displays effortlessly and hilariously.
The supporting cast is also in top form. Peter Haskell is great as the distant husband, Perry King is good as Cassie's psychiatrist, Juliet Mills is excellent as a supportive nurse, and a young Shelley Long is superb as the manic depressive Cara. The film itself is very good overall, although the music and certain parts of the script make it obvious that it is a made for TV movie.
In a great production, however, the highest honors must go to Natalie Wood. In her biography, Finstad writes about how Natalie often felt that her acting was inferior to her peers that had studied Method Acting in New York at the Actor's Studio (like James Dean). Watching The Cracker Factory, it is obvious that she had no reason to feel that way, her acting was brilliant, as good and even better than many of the great Method actors. I only wish that Wood would have received the critical recognition for this performance that she so richly deserved.
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