Although "Fatal Judgement," starring Patty Duke, Tom Scotti and Joe Regalbuto was first produced 12 years ago, I have only recently had the great pleasure of viewing this excellent "torn from the headlines" TV film. If you have not had the opportunity to see this film, I encourage you to go out of your way to find it ... and do so.
This smarter-than-average script concerns a smarter-than-average Boston-area LPN, Anne Capute. As the "low-on-the-totem-pole" nurse, she juggles her family's needs and the work she loves - to tenderly care for her patients. But hospital administrators, local politics and media combine to thwart her, turning her life's-work-dream into a real-life nightmare overnight. At first, she is only suspended from her hospital job. Then the powers that be collude to initiate a series of half-truths and scapegoating tactics, resulting in her being indicted for murdering a terminally ill patient.
As always, Patty Duke is completely compelling to watch as this compelling hospital/courtroom drama unfolds. Ms. Duke's ever-engaging ability as an actress is at full-force work once again, as she cracks into the core of thi s role and the character's sometimes wise-cracking persona. It's no wonder that Ms. Duke has frequently been referred to by the critics and public alike as the "Queen of TV Movies." If you are lucky enough to view this film, you will more than likely have to check for it on the Lifetime Channel for re-airing.
In supporting roles, Tom Scotti is the uptown lawyer who comes to Capute's defense. His portrayal of the attorney, who is convinced of her innocence before she is, is wonderfully underplayed and appealing to watch. And Joe Regalbuto (of Murphy Brown fame) turns in a fine performance as the working-class husband who wants to help but is tentative, and frightened, by the changes that impact him and his family.
This is a production that features extremely smart scripting, above-par acting and intelligent direction. Within the first ten or fifteen minutes of the film, Ms. Duke's character and plight are tightly drawn through scant, aptly written, dialogue (augmeted by believable, Boston accents and attitudes by the full cast. The writing is similarly tight in its action, accomplished by parallel establishing scenes that quickly draw the audience in to this worth-watching, realistic drama. As Duke exits a car driven up to her house after an initial "media encounter," she pushes through a barrage of TV reporters camped on her lawn, yelling back at them "Leave me alone. I hafta go make dinnah!" Later, in a the first courtroom scene where TV cameras are allowed to videotape, another could-have been-throw-away-line is handled to perfection again by Duke: "Maybe they should get Jane Fawndah to play me, hah?" Another little piece of perfection and example of pretty perfect writing ... perfectly perfomed. There are lots of word-jewels in this splendid script.
In keeping with the terse scenario, veteran director Gil Cates allows the actors to perform without having them "appear" to perform ... and likewise allows the writer's words and well-written characters to emerge, be heard, and impact the audience.
If you haven't seen this film, I encourage you to find it. You will not be sorry to have spent time searching for it on Lifetime - or for the 120 enjoyable minutes of your life you'll gain from watching it. A better-than-average film experience.
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