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With The Exception Of One Scene This Remains A Goofy Waste Of Time
Emily Cates (Sally Struthers) - respectable and strait-laced (dorky even) businesswoman & wife of airline pilot Joe (David Ackroyd) is frightened about the skyrocketing crime rate. It is getting bad specifically in her neighbourhood - one plagued by a string of burglaries. Home alone with a young daughter she and Joe are justifiably concerned.
In diminutive and little-girl voiced Emily, a wishy-washy liberal, the audience is given a heroine with no discernible sense of threat. The tone of the narrative suggests she will inevitably find herself at the mercy of darker elements and lack even the inclination to try to defend herself.
The notion of purchasing a firearm for home protection is one she resists until she begins sensing suspicious activity around her house. Joe does not object to the purchase nor does he encourage the decision.
She gets one but must wait through a legislated time period. During that time she takes a course in how to use it and makes all the mistakes that neophytes make when first firing a gun.
Little does she know how quickly she will be called upon to use it. Little does she know that even in an encounter in which she is obviously the victim that she will zealously be persecuted as a victimizer by a tool of a flawed justice system in the person of the local district attorney (Jeffrey Tambor - very effective in a non-comedic role) - a warped incompetent with an axe to grind.
This CBS TV movie was very much a product of its time and circumstances. Aspects of legislation enacted to correct social inequity which was thought to create crime instead made the state a soft touch with criminal elements who were the actual cause. Crime was thus considerably worse especially from the late 1960s to the early 1990s when it rapidly declined.
NBC pioneered the genre of social issue made-for-TV flicks in the 1970s. Most of them were terrible. Some of them were good. A scant few were great. Whatever the quality they began to reliably deliver enough of an audience to continue to be made. The other networks took notice and delivered their own versions of varying quality.
As production of them evolved (or mutated) the most sensationalistic and alarmist of them tended to deliver the biggest audiences. In the case of this film there is such a lack of subtlety that there might just as well be an announcer's voice warning audiences that thugs are right outside their homes watching the movie with them through a window. That is fully the level of overstatement the narrative makes. You either accept that and keep watching or take it as an insult.
Many have said that this film features the finest acting performance Sally Struthers ever gave and I agree. It was likely the result of a great deal of hard work. Most importantly Struthers completely relinquished any evident sense of ego or vanity (not an easy thing to subdue in the minds of star actors of whatever level) in the key scene where she is actually called upon to use her gun.
In that one remarkable scene where is dehumanized by inexplicably hateful criminals and all that she holds dear faces a grisly ending she is transformed. It is a profound change in the character arc we see staged in but a few minutes of shocking screen time though it has been adequately foreshadowed in the lead up.
That scene is so effectively staged that no preconceived impression can endure. In that moment one forgets that Struthers portrayed Meathead's wife from All in the Family or that you never found her attractive or that her voice is irritating or that this is even an actress. We are given an uncomfortably close view of a human being pushed to the very brink.
Sadly almost everything else in the movie clumsily falls flat in attempts at crafting a heavy-handed morality play. Thus it is primarily of interest for the aforementioned key scene where she is confronted by the rapist/burglars and a surprising but not wholly unexpected result occurs.
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