............. Frank Perry's "Diary of a Mad Housewife" (1970) ............
............. and John Badham's "The Impatient Heart" (1971) ...........
The late Carrie Snodgress was an old-fashioned movie star - think Jean Arthur - who came along a little too late. She broke into movies in 1970 - with roles in Jack Smight's "Rabbit, Run" and Frank Perry's "Diary of a Mad Housewife" - at a time when the world was head over heels in love in Ali MacGraw, a movie star in a decidedly different mold.
Snodgress was better on screen, see, than in glossy magazine spreads - and so her stint in movies was modest and way too brief.
"Diary of a Mad Housewife," for which she was nominated for an Academy Award, remains her signature role, and I'm a little surprised by how shabbily Universal has treated this fine, prestige film. The studio drew a lot of negative attention when it butchered the film from 104 minutes to 95 minutes for its network TV sale, filling in the holes with newly filmed scenes of a talking-head psychiatrist (played by Lester Rawlins) analyzing Snodgress's put-upon character, Tina Balser. Exacerbating matters, Universal tried to be "arty" about it by shooting the shrink upside-down (supposedly from the point of view of the couch-bound Tina).
And now the film has seemingly disappeared. Is Hollywood still punishing Frank Perry (even in death) for having directed "Mommie Dearest"?
Well, none of this is anything new. Universal also abused Karel Reisz' "Isadora," which hasn't been seen in its original version since the 1968 Cannes Film Festival; James Goldsmith's "Red Sky at Morning" (adding arch "Waltons"-like narration for its TV sale) and, most notoriously, Terry Gilliam's "Brazil," which at least caused enough of a stir among film buffs to be rescued from the studio.
I haven't seen "Diary of a Mad Housewife" in years, thanks to its premature burial, and I've a hunch that it is seriously dated now. Or perhaps it is a relevant as ever. Who knows? But the performances of Snodgress and Richard Benjamin as her demanding, domineering prince-husband remain vivid in my imagination. I'd love to see it again.
As good as Snodgress is in "Diary," she's even more impressive in a TV movie that she made a year later - in 1971 - also for Universal. "The Impatient Heart" - directed by the estimable John Badham from a script by the great Alvin Sargent - is first-class all the way. Snodgress plays an edgy, driven social worker who embraces the people in her charge while she alienates those in her private life. A control freak, she finds that she can't motivate or, rather, manipulate the guy (played by Michael Brandon) who is right for her.
How "The Impatient Heart" ended up on TV and not in theaters is a mystery only Universal can answer. I sincerely hope to see it again one day.
Note in Passing: While we're at it, a word for "Rabbit, Run," Smight's very good adaptation of the John Updike book with James Caan as Rabbit Angstrom and Snodgress, in full Bette Davis mode, as his pathetic alcoholic wife, Janice. A great performance.
Cinema Obscura is a recurring feature of The Passionate Moviegoer, devoted to those films that have been largely forgotten. Suggestions welcome.
(Artwork: Poster for Universal's "Diary of a Mad Housewife," and Snodgress with Caan in "Rabbit, Run")