23 October 2002 | petershelleyau
Burnett does Bombeck
Produced by her husband Joe Hamilton who had also produced her variety series, Carol Burnett is Dorothy Benson, wife of advertising worker Jim (Charles Grodin), mother of three and would-be murder mystery writer, who instigates the family move from living in New York City to suburban Darkhaven Manners.
Based on the novel by Erma Bombeck, the premise allows for the Bensen's to find their new environment just as hostile as their previous one, with Dorothy's role as `hired hand' a worse form of drudgery than she seemed to have in the city. Although the following year's Friendly Fire is thought of as Burnett's dramatic debut, her Dorothy allows her to present a housewife's frustration, dis-empowerment, and contemplation of infidelity, all which she performs with subtlety and restraint. However, the material also allows Dorothy to be funny, which Friendly Fire doesn't.
Burnett is hysterical in the clown way she reacts to having gardening manure thrown on her, screaming and jumping in fear of a rebellious garbage disposal system, her forced smile of gratitude for being volunteered as a girl scouts cookie chairwoman, and reacting to a dog that is brought home and jumps on her- `What is it? It's a lion!'. (The manure and dog scenes are the only time that the vaudevillean music score of Peter Matz is appropriate). We also see her opening her mouth but not saying anything to an insult from Jim, smiling in the face of his depressive persona, noisely swallowing coffee at the accusation of her having an affair, and throwing Jim's gardening utensils and dirt off her work desk. Burnett has a strong rapport with her youngest son David (David Hollander), and intones `skews' amusingly to parody Jim's repeated use of the word.
The teleplay by Dick Clair and Jenna McMahon has many funny lines. `I knew I could be a brilliant writer, as soon as I wrote something'. `You guys wanna know something about F Scott Fitzgerald and Shakespeare? They weren't mothers'. `We had the only toilet seat in the city that was held together with silly putty', `A man doesn't notice that another man is attractive. Well, you can tell the difference between Cary Grant and Peter Lorre, can't you?'. `If the good Lord had meant for people to go nude, he never would have invented the whicker chair', `You're either bushed or you're washing your hair. You gotta try for some other moods'. `He got hold of a sponge and it expanded in his stomach. He'll be fine. We just can't give him water for a year', and `Hemmingway wrote in mens rooms. That might be just the inspiration I'm looking for'.
However all humor goes out the window when the narrative has Dorothy apologise to Jim for asking for some independence. Jim is allowed to have his garden as a hobby, but poor Dorothy can never get to her writing class. And Jim tells her that if she was any sort of a writer, she could write no matter what or where, ignoring Dorothy's mammoth domestic chores. The accusation against Dorothy having an affair with house husband and David's baseball coach Ralph Corliss (Alex Rocco) is paralled with Jim's fawning over the community sexpot Leslie (Linda Gray), with Jim's resultant behavior left unexplained.
Director Robert Day uses bad rear projection for a car scene of the move, and shoots one family dinner with the camera on Burnett's seeming hunchback.