19 January 2013 | Putzberger
If It Happened To Liz Montgomery, it can happen to anyone.
That's the subtle message of this remarkably restrained made-for-TV docudrama, which features the "Bewitched" star as a sort of real-world Samantha Stephens - Ellen Harrod, a stylish California housewife with an adorable blonde daughter and an affable mope for a husband (in this film played by Ronny Cox as opposed to Dicks Sargent or York), but no magic powers. Ellen is, however, just as smart and self-possessed as Samantha, and her lack of histrionics makes all the abuse she endures in this movie -- two sexual assaults, a callous medical establishment and an actively hostile legal system -- even more disturbing. Liz Montgomery almost always played superior to type. In "Bewitched," both she and the audience were in on the central joke of the premise, which was that she was light-years above Darren's league and could have turned him into a ferret if she wanted (not that it would have made much difference) . In "A Case of Rape," she plays a victim who steadfastly refuses to act like a victim, but is so disgusted by everyone's willful blindness to her ordeal that she finally gets up and screams about it.
In her early scenes of playfully sparring with Cox and dabbling with painting, Liz establishes Ellen as sexy, sharp-witted, and creative, the kind of woman whom it was all too easy to stereotype as a bored housewife secretly bored by her life and seek excitement in infidelity. Which is exactly how doctors and cops treat Ellen after her assailant tricks his way into her home one night, sexually assaults her while her daughter is sleeping, and attacks her again in the parking lot of her apartment complex a couple of days later. The rest of the movie is calculated outrage, but since public attitudes toward rape weren't all that progressive in 1974, such plot devices as the cynical prosecutor who treats Ellen's case like a mundane chore and Cox's pitifully inadequate attempts to be supportive ("he did this to both of us!") were probably necessary, and the filmmakers are to be commended for not sensationalizing the subject matter with cat-and-mouse chase scenes or hysterical breakdowns. Still, it's a rough couple of hours. Liz is so isolated in this movie that she doesn't even get sympathy from her best friend, a frumpy neighbor who, in one sickening scene, hints that she wants Liz to share every titillating detail of the assault. Less secure human beings would explode or sob at such ill treatment. Liz, being Liz, drops a cool bon mot, thanks her for the coffee, and leaves. She's a great advocate for the dignity of sexual assault survivors, and that alone makes "A Case of Rape" worth watching.