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John Thompson strangles Eleanor DiCarlo, the unbearably manipulative, overbearing mother of his lover Traci, in her bedroom. Trough his and other persons' testimony to lawyers, police and in court and elaborate flashbacks, we and next he come to understand Traci set him up no less wickedly and sacrifices him without a hesitation. John is condemned to 34 years for the murder. A year later, his sentence is halved in exchange as crown witness in her trial, where lawyer Jake Meletti does a brilliant job overemphasizing Eleanor's wickedness.Written by
Victoria Principal is billed with `special appearance by' as Eleanor DiCarlo, the escrow businesswoman and mother of 18 year old pianist Traci (Emily Warfield) who is murdered by Traci's boyfriend John Thompson (Henry Thomas). John is charged with murder and Traci conspiracy to commit murder. Will they be found guilty?
Eleanor is presented as an abusive mother, seen in the opening scenes before her murder then in flashback, and as an unsympathetic neurotic character, she represents a change of pace role for Principal. That Principal isn't quite successful in playing her, a woman that requires a character actress who speaks in a pretentious faux-English accent and is psychologically unstable, still works for Principal in the treatment since she is about the only interesting element. Principal might have worked better without using the accent since it adds a camp element to Eleanor, who wants to use her daughter for upward social mobility, dresses only in red and wears her short brown hair in a stiff style. Although we see Principal slapping Traci, amusingly force-feeding her cake, and given the camp line `Is it a crime for a mother to love her daughter as much as I love mine?', Principal's best moments are a gutteral yell at Traci as she plays in the rain, calling her ex-husband James (Vince Metcalfe) an `animal' when he pushes her out of a hospital room, and funny with her line re John `He contributes nothing to fine conversation'. Principal also supplies Eleanor with tears in one of her schizophrenic moments, though we cut away too quickly from it.
Based on the book by Richard Hammer which reported the true story of Joyce Aparo and her daughter Karin in Glastonbury Connecticut, the teleplay by Eugenia Bostwick-Singer and Raymond Singer is full of cliches. `Enough is enough', `You've got to pull it together', `I was her knight in shining armour and I saved her from the dragon', `The police were squeezing her', `It's not an option. It's an order', `I can't stay with you if you are unfaithful to our love', `Don't promise freedom when you don't have the keys to the cage', and `It was a concentration camp with Eleanor the sole commandant'. The latter is said by Traci's defence lawyer Jake Meletti (Joe Regalbuto) in his summation in a mountain of cliches. The defence case, which centres on Traci's testimony, also reads like an extended therapy session, a situation which defies all crediblity. Eleanor's behaviour is said to stem from her depresson as a presumed abuse victim, where she is described as `self-centred and controlling' and `mean and vicious', a person who is concerned with things being `flawless' and `purity', who suffers from migraine headaches, is quick to be negative and even stoops to killing fish and threatening a cat. Traci's duplicitous nature is therefore thought to be inherited, with repeated accusations that she is `just like your mother'. Although the narrative's use of flashbacks is clumsy, the cake force-feeding scene features an inspired pay-off when the next day Eleanor stocks her frig full of more cakes as a continued attack on Traci.
Director David Greene slows the pace to an agonising crawl for the trial scenes, with only the flashbacks with Principal and also featuring subjective camera, the performance of Warfield and the music of Peter Manning Robinson rising above the ordinary.
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