The Neon Ceiling (TV Movie 1971) - Plot Summary Poster

(1971 TV Movie)


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  • A housewife and her teenage daughter, fleeing their boring lives, stops in a diner in the California desert. She runs up against the diner's owner, a gruff, beer-drinking artist whose life's work are the neon sculptures he creates and attaches to the ceiling.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • Paula Miller(Denise Nickerson) rides in on her bike. She is carrying a bag a groceries and looks longingly at the group of children playing hopscotch. On entering the house, she notices, her mother is asleep on the sofa. Carrie Miller(Lee Grant) awakens when Paula blows in her face. Paula reminds her mother that Daddy will be home soon. Carrie takes the groceries and goes to start dinner. Doctor Miller(William Smithers) arrives in his Camaro. Carrie goes to the garage he is just sitting there. He comments on his new nurse being fat, fifty and dirty. Carrie says she wasn't prying. He tells her to stop talking to him. Carrie burns dinner and Paula offers to call the chicken place. Carrie says to order just for two and goes to her room. Over dinner the very adult acting Paula comments on her parents unhappy marriage. She is reading the book "Sex and Love in Marriage" Her father tells her not to read at the table and the book is outdated. In Bed, Carrie and her husband talk about the state of thier marriage. He says he had had many affairs and feels he is stuck with Carrie because she can't function on her own. Later Carrie enters Paula's room, wakens her, and begins packing for a trip with no destination. They leave in the middle of the night as Doctor Miller listens from bed. As the car travels thorugh the night, Carrie begins to sing. She has Paula honk the horn to awaken the sleeping people. In the daylight, they are taking and Paula says she doesn't like her parents together. Paula needs to use the bathroom so they stop at a little cafe. Carrie comments that it looks awful. The cafe is empty when they enter and Paula goes to get a drink from the faucet. The water is warm and she lets it run. This is when Jones(Gig Young) enters. He takes issue with Paula wasting water in the desert. Carrie is furious and storms out to the car not wanting to get gas, but Paula tells Jones to pump the gas. He does and goes back inside, but the old car will not start. Paula wants to go in and eat and Carrie decides to stay in the car. Inside, Paula and Jones talk where it is decided he will fix the car and the thirteen year old will waitress in exchange. Paula timidly takes her first order over and once delivered she gains confidence and gets to work. When she has finished she goes outside to find her mother passed out in the car from the heat. Jones and his friend Harry(Herb Edelman) Pull her out. Jones complains about his back. Carrie rests in the shade. It is decided that Carrie and Paula will stay in Jones's trailer until the car is fixed. He will sleep in the cafe. Jones shows them the Neon ceiling which he has collected over twenty years. They are enthralled by the shimmering lights. The stay extends as neither Jones nor Carrie ask the other about fixing the car. Paula is developing a crush on Jones, although he thinks of her as a daughter and wants Carrie to leave her when she goes back to the dentist. Jones teaches Paula to drive his old truck. Jones teaches Paula to dance and then dances with Carrie. Carrie is attracted to him and fights it. In the night, Paula goes to Jones's room and wants to know about his wife. He refuses to tell her saying it has to do with privacy. Carrie decides it is time to get the car fixed. They send Paula to the fair with Harry and a rainstorm hits. Paula is unhappy at the fair and after winning a panda goes to the top of the ferris wheel and reads her book. Jones fixes the car. Harry and Paula stay in a motel because of the storm and become blood brothers and she learns from him the Jones's wife is alive and in Las Vegas. Paula had thought he murdered her. When Harry goes to bed she asks him to leave the light on the door open. Back at the cafe, Jones and Carrie get closer and she runs in the bathroom and locks the door. He says he isn't going to break down the door he paid 39.95 for. Later she comes out and her wrist is cut. She asks him to fix her. In the morning, Paula returns and the couple announce that they want Paula to live with them. Paula is crushed. Carrie tells Jones that Paula expected to marry him. Paula takes her mother's car and races down the road as they try to stop her. Carrie calls her husband who asks what he is supposed to do with her and then says he will take her. The car pulls into the street. Paula gets out and begins to hopscotch where the children were before she left. She is unable to decide what she is going to do as the camera freezes on her face.

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