Against A Hostile Environment, He Works To Repair His Ruined
rsoonsa | Lake Isabella, California | 10/28/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"A most common phylum within the Theatre of Paranoia cinema genre revolves about innocent men who are in the wrong place at the wrong time, causing diligent law enforcement agencies to pay close notice of them, thus radically changing the smooth tenor of their lives, with perhaps the most renowned example being THE WRONG MAN by Hitchcock; this film, produced for television, is one of the best of the lot, thanks to the contributions of a fine cast and above standard production characteristics. In an imaginary small southern California city of Santa Luisa, four young girls have been abducted and murdered over a period of several years, with no suspect having been identified until a chain of circumstantial events, in combination with a vague witness description, casts suspicion upon respectable family man and local business executive Frank Staplin (Mike Farrell) who had purchased Girl Scout cookies from the recent victim, he being the last person observed with the child while she was alive. Frank has come to the attention of the Santa Luisa Police Department due to his act as a good citizen of reporting to detectives that he had purchased the cookies, believing by his statement that the physical location of the victim when last seen could be utilized as valuable data, but the investigators soon find cause and opportunity to concentrate their efforts upon the unfortunate Samaritan. His personal life now dramatically altered by being a homicide suspect, Frank, along with his bewildered wife and child are most deeply distressed by rabid media attention to them, primarily from a local television station's news division that fosters the customary streamlined journalistic mode concerning the notorious serial murder case, although telecaster Amy McCleary (Teri Garr) feels contrition as she becomes more knowledgeable of the Staplin family's fresh misery, and she attempts to actively aid the falsely accused man as he sets about proving that he is free from guilt. The work is scripted well with naturalistic dialogue, but there are some obvious problems with continuity, such as when the latest victim, lured by the anonymous killer, is seen entering a vehicle that is a close match of that driven by Staplin, this scene and the automobile connection therewith dropped during ragged post-production editing, and the role of Amy is erratically handled, apparently because the character's significance is being shifted during filming. Nonetheless, even with these shortcomings, and an obtrusively cookie cutter score, the film generates interest in a viewer from the start, with the direction, cinematography and design all being top-flight notwithstanding a small budget, and there is an abundance of solid playing throughout, notably by the versatile Farrell and Garr, with Lane Smith and Barry Corbin impressive as zealous supervisory police personnel, the acting laurels earned here by Veronica Cartright as Staplin's wife, as she is affecting in each of her scenes despite a lack of retakes.