14 March 2015 | moonspinner55
The Middle-Age Spread, courtesy Ross Hunter
Wooden soap opera for television, originally shown in two parts, casts Donna Reed as a recently-widowed Los Angeles housewife getting on with her life after "that tomcatting husband of hers" has died of a heart attack (while picking up his dry cleaning!). The opening 45 minutes of this adaptation of Helen Van Slyke's book clumsily sets the stage for the requisite melodrama and knuckle-biting to follow. Producers Ross Hunter and Jacques Mapes have boxed themselves into a corner: in trying to be tasteful and 'classy', they have arrived at a glossy scenario passed its prime, one scrubbed clean of all reality (poor Donna can't even date an eligible doctor without announcing to her needling mother that she hasn't been to confession yet--but plans to go soon!). Although ridiculous from start to finish, the picture does give former-movie star Donna Reed a third-act opportunity to laugh and cry and be romanced; however, the younger players (including Stefanie Zimbalist and Timothy Hutton as two of Reed's children) are left looking like hopeless amateurs due to the hokey dialogue (which extends to everybody in the cast). As Donna's man-chasing gal-pal, Betty White cannot read a line straight; she has been so groomed by television that every inflection of hers is punched up for a laugh. As for Reed's paramours, Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. and John Phillip Law take turns being patient with Donna and her troubled brood (they would have to be saints to want to get in good with this family). Hunter has given work here to so many old friends (and their offspring) that one wants to appreciate the good intentions inherent in the project, if nothing else. Alas, it's another weepy nosegay for blue-hairs.