The Cracker Factory (1979 TV Movie)
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The film itself rises above the 70's telemovie 'disease of the week' cliche, although it would have made an interesting feature film under the right director.
It's a shame that Natalie died two years after this film, it would have been fascinating to watch her grow and mature as an actress. We have such a great gallery of portraits from her - from child parts (Tomorrow is Forever, Miracle on 34th St) to ingenue roles (Rebel Without a Cause) to the leading lady material of Splendor in the Grass and Love with the Proper Stranger. She didn't do too many films in the 70's or 80's - but The Cracker Factory shows how well she had developed.
Great support by Shelley Long, Juliet Mills etc... (the music score is a little distracting though - esp. during her speech to Perry King)
I have seen the movie several times and am floored by Wood's performance each time. Highly recommended.
Though it's a little dated and the variety of psychiatric stereotypes is a little annoying, but really it's a very good TV movie that I wish were available on video. It's one of Natalie Wood's best performances and she captures the Cassie Barrett character right on. The Cleveland setting gives it a great middle America setting and Marian Mercer, Shelley Long (before "Cheers") and the supporting cast are as up for this as is Natalie.
It's about alcoholism and promotes AA but doesn't go overboard in preaching to us. To the contrary, The "Cassie" character, thanks to the writing and to Natalie Wood, kick the wind out of the "typical" therapy people and methods.
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.
Anyway, 'The Cracker Factory' is about a troubled housewife, and in the part I think that Natalie Wood as Cassie Barrett, gives it all she's got. The character has mental problems and is also struggling to curb her alcoholism in the hope that she will not become a permanent mental patient and lose her husband and family. Shelly Long has a supporting part as an inmate of Wood's in the 'cracker factory' of the title. This is a true obscurity and is not listed in any film guide or credit listing of Natalie Wood's that I can get my hands on. It was made for television but looks good and has a believable script, contributions to a project that seems to have had a lot of thought put into it, unlike a lot of other movies specially made for television.
Wood gives a bravura performance reminiscent of her part in 'Splendour in the Grass', but while she was young in that film, here she is a middle aged woman struggling to maintain her sanity with an unsympathetic mother and demands at home from spouse and children that she is simply emotionally incapable of fulfilling. As a result she ends up in the 'cracker factory', and not for the first time. This situation I think is far more interesting than 'Splendour in the Grass', as the story is seen within the context of adults attempting to adjust to life's demands as they already exist, as opposed to how they are going to do so in the future. 'Splendour in the Grass' was a portrayal of life in a small town, and the social pressures on young people to avoid sex in order that they not bear the responsibility of having children too young. The roles Natalie Wood plays in both films are similar, the difference being that they are a generation apart from one another. Cassie Barrett appears to be Wilma, that is if she had ever been allowed by her mother to grow up and move away from that small Kansas town.
There is no explanation as to why Cassie gets to be in such a predicament of drinking too much, and living as if she has no responsibilities in life. Whilst in the hospital, Wood's character has a confrontation with a Catholic priest where she attempts to explain her bewilderment and despair, but it becomes obvious that the priest has no idea what she is talking about. Cassie appears to be a lapsed Catholic, but as a final straw attempts to find some answers from the church. For a Catholic priest, a woman's place is in the home with a husband and children and the priest rebuffs her as a shameful alcoholic. Character actor John Harkins gives a great performance as the staid and unfeeling man of the cloth, but the sequence in question, as well as the rest of the film belongs to Natalie. The denouement is ambiguous with Wood returning to her family for Thanksgiving with the audience not knowing how long the truce she has anxiously cobbled together with her husband is going to last.
This is a thoughtful and illuminating film which examines the effects of alcoholism and mental illness on individuals and society in a non-judgmental manner. It is very frank, and definitely for adults only. It is also a very good film that deserves to be seen by Wood fans as well as others who appreciate insightful entertainment, and comes with a high recommendation.