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Forget all those sappy romantic movies involving notebooks and lip-locked couples who somehow manage to go to the great beyond together after a screen lifetime of over-simplified unrealistic romance. Forget all those shameless "dog gives its life to save its family" flicks (although I have to admit that I have a soft spot for them myself). Forget Ricky Schroeder already displaying his propensity to overact at a tender age (now that one WAS shameless!).
This TV-movie, which unfortunately never seems to get aired anymore, is the all-time champion of tear-jerkers, hands down. And a well-written and well-acted story to boot. Ann-Margret took a big chance in taking this role. Nothing flamboyant or sexy about her here, and that's a monumental achievement in itself. Based on a true story, she plays Lucile Fray, a terminally ill mother who chooses to struggle till her dying breath to find good homes for her ten children, instead of leaving them in the hands of unpredictable government agencies. Frederic Forrest does a great job as her husband, the good-hearted but unreliable breadwinner whose crippling arthritis and personal demons make him unable to care for the kids.
The film takes us through Lucile's heart-wrenching process of interviewing prospective parents and then watching her kids leave home. It also gives us the perspective of the children themselves, and of the father - grieving over the tragedy taking place now and the one sure to follow, and frustrated over his inability to do more. The scene in which the youngest of the children (Steven)is taken to his new home is the most heart-breaking I've ever watched. Now, I grew up as a "hopeless romantic", and have spent the many years since then growing myself a harder, more cynical shell. I usually find more to mock than to empathize with in the sentimental cinematic tripe foisted upon us these days. But this gem from the early 1980's still slays me.
I really wish that someone with a lick of marketing sense would release a DVD version of this drama. Among the special features one needs to include the Emmy Awards telecast the following year. A-M was nominated for this role, but the award for best dramatic actress went to Barbara Stanwyck for "Thorn Birds." In what has to be one of the greatest moments in what is now a truly drab awards show, Stanwyck broke into tears during her acceptance speech and gushed out, "Ann-Margret, I love you!", which brought Ann-M to tears.
One final note. The IMDb rating for "Who Will Love My Children" is 6.4 as of this writing. However, over 75% of the ratings are in the 8-10 range (mostly 10's). Whatever kind of handicapping system this site uses to modify the overall ratings of the movies listed by IMDb, it completely misses the mark on this one. This one is the "weeper" of all time, and a darn good TV-movie to boot.
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