The Cracker Factory (1979)
Directed by Burt Brinckerhoff
Written by Joyce Burditt, Alan Shapiro
Produced by Richard Alan Shapiro, John A. Martinelli, Tony Converse, Roger Gimbel
Starring Natalie Wood, Perry King, Peter Haskell, Shelley Long, Vivian Blaine, Robert Perault, Juliet Mills, Marian Mercer, Shane Butterworth, David Comfort, Tonya Crowe, Art Evans, Donald Hotten, Sydney Lassick
Who better to play a loose, boozy housewife and mother thrice institutionalized than the functional genuine article? Neither Wood nor her character were strangers to rehab, and the waggish latter’s third turn of treatment at a psychiatric facility six months after her last finds her contending with bibulous lapses, the unpalatably astute advice of her psychiatrist (King) and an affair that’s become a comfortably irresponsible weekly reprieve from the mundane malaise of marriage and motherhood. Her camaraderie with a self-destructive, suicidal manic-depressive (Long), initiation into Alcoholics Anonymous and an averted domestic disaster right the wry outlook of a woman whose addiction and filial bitterness have beclouded what should be an idyllic life. Feistily fetching at forty, Wood snappily hits her marks even when the script doesn’t, and while her role is too often positioned to coruscate against her psychiatrical, marital (Haskell) and fraternal (Perault) foils, she also renders indispensable ballast to scenes where she bonds with hammy Long and Blaine. Comedic moments — esp. those involving the hospital’s colorful chronics — fall flat more often than not, but a few are genuinely amusing; alas, fubsily lovable Lassick was typecast here after his unforgettable frenzy in Cuckoo’s Nest, but he’s afforded as little screen time as activity. Hoary but wholesome, this televised adaptation of Burditt’s bestseller of semi-autobiographical authenticity skewers papal piety and aimless avowtry alike by emphasizing the necessity of matrimonial and maternal obligations — a refreshing antecedent of the careerist and stupidly sluttish significations predominate in its contemporary counterparts.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Smashed.

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