Thursday, March 26, 2009

Between the Darkness and the Dawn (1985) TV Movie

Published: December 23, 1985

JUST in time to qualify as a candidate for worst television movie of the year, "Between the Darkness and the Dawn" is being slipped into the NBC schedule tonight at 9. Elizabeth Montgomery, who made her television debut in 1953 as an ingenue on her father's series, "Robert Montgomery Presents," tries to play a 37-year-old woman awakening from a coma that has lasted 20 years.

The teleplay by N. Richard Nash and Dennis Turner opens in 1964 with 17-year-old Abigail, a cheerleader in a small California town, being very much in love with David, the local football hero. When Abby faints in front of her school locker, it turns out that she has a rare encephalitis virus. "I haven't seen one like it in years," the doctor tells Abby's puzzled mother (Dorothy McGuire). Cut to 1984, when the mother still has to feed Abby. Mom is convinced Abby can be helped with new drugs, especially L-dopa. The doctor is perfectly noncommittal: "It's possible Abigail can come out of this and lead a normal, productive life. Some people have, some people don't."

Needless to say, Miss Montgomery is not about to spend an entire television-movie being a vegetable. Responding miraculously to the drugs, Abby springs to life and asks, "How long have I been asleep, Mama?" Perhaps weary from her years of devotion, Mom replies, "Come down and have some hot chocolate, dear."

In a scene crying out for the inspired comedy of Gilda Radner, Abby is brought up to date on what happened while she wasn't looking. Among other things, her younger sister and rival sibling Ellen (Karen Grassle) managed to snare David (Michael Goodwin) for her husband. Overwhelmed, Abby cries out: "Oh my God, I missed it all, didn't I?"

Entering ordinary life again, Abby spends a few moments getting used to such new contraptions as electronic bank tellers, aerobic exercise classes and stereo headphones. But, this being television of the blatantly exploitative variety, she soon becomes obsessed with sexual matters. Everything is just so much more permissive these days.

She gazes at herself undressed before a mirror and begins an affair with the well-preserved high school coach (James Naughton) who remembers her from before her illness. Seeing most of her friends with their ideals and ambitions compromised, Abby asks, "What's happened to everyone?" Jack unhesitatingly replies: "Life."

Directed by Peter Levin, "Between the Darkness and the Dawn" takes itself very solemnly indeed, even as it seems hopelessly confused about where it wants to go. One rare bit of humor is attempted when Abby hears that Ronald Reagan is President and breaks into uncontrollable giggling. The rest, though, is as leaden as Miss Montgomery's performance.

Between the Darkness and the Dawn (1985) TV Movie
Cast: Dorothy McGuire, Elizabeth Montgomery, James Naughton, Jennifer Smith, Karen Grassle, Lori Birdsong, Michael Bacall, Michael Goodwin

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