As noted in this month's turner this month - bravo! post, the premiere cable channel is having fun with its Mother's Day line up, mischievously scheduling as Mervyn LeRoy's "Gypsy" and Graeme Clifford's "Frances," two films in which the mothers are decidedly unmotherly.
Turner would have had an ideal trilogy if it had included Paul Newman's "The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds" (1972), a major achievement in filmmaking and acting that has been casually, inexplicably, neglected by 20th Century-Fox, for more than 35 years now. It's also Newman's best directorial effort.
It's easy to see why Newman snagged Paul Zindel's delicious play for his wife Joanne Woodward. It's a showcase role this side of Tennessee Williams. Sada Thompson starred on stage as Beatrice Hunsdorfer - better known in her neighborhood as "Betty the Loon" for her odd behavior - a woman who is in way over her head as a mother.
Her daughters on stage were played by Swoosie Kurtz and Pamela Peyton-Wright, both in their late 20s at the time.
For the film, Newman enlisted more age-appropriate actresses - his own daughter Elinor Teresa Newman, billed as Nell Potts, as the sensitive Matilda (Peyton-Wright onstage) and Roberta Wallach, daughter of Anne Jackson and Eli Wallach, as the troubled and troublesome Ruth (Kurtz).
But Woodward is the titanic supporting structure here, carrying the film in a performance that is at once heartfelt and hateful. The great Alvin Sargent did the adaptation, enlarging the play ever-so-slightly, and his fidelity to Zindel's words is heartening; reliable Adam Holender did the evocative cinematography, and Maurice Jarre wrote the moody, tinkly score.
Put it out on DVD already!