Thursday, March 12, 2009

Goodnight Sweet Wife: A Murder in Boston (1990) TV Movie

Review/Television; Murder, Manipulation and Racism
Published: Tuesday, September 25, 1990

Still a bit breathless from the effort, CBS can claim to be first on the entertainment scene with a dramatization of the story of Charles and Carol Stuart. The pregnant Mrs. Stuart was killed on the night of Oct. 23, 1989. Her husband, known as Chuck, was also shot and said the assailant, an armed robber, was a black man. Months later, the police investigation would come to focus on Chuck, who then apparently committed suicide. The case revealed unsettling truths about racial relations in Boston, and indeed in the United States.

"Good Night, Sweet Wife: A Murder in Boston" may be seen at 9 tonight. Like most other docudramas, it bobs and weaves in a manner that a good many students of the form find troubling. There are the usual composite and fictionalized characters. Crucial moments and stretches of dialogue are clearly reconstructed with an eye to dramatic impact. The case is not entirely settled, as far as the Stuarts' families are concerned, and its political ramifications in Boston are still being debated. In fact, this broadcast was first announced for Sept. 18 but was postponed because, as a network release delicately put it, that date "would have conflicted with the Massachusetts gubernatorial and senatorial primaries." Significantly, the film was made in Chicago.

The co-producers are CBS Entertainment and Shapiro Films.Arnold Shapiro is the producer of CBS's "Rescue 911," which happened to have a camera crew on the scene when the Stuarts were discovered in their car and taken to nearby hospitals. Using that footage, a subsequent episode of "Rescue 911" chalked up hefty ratings. CBS then wasted no time in pursuing the obvious. Directed by Jerrold Freedman and written by Dan Freudenberger, the docudrama treads carefully. The most salient details have been taken from published reports and interviews. Listed in the final credits as executive consultant is Michelle Caruso, a newspaper reporter who, from the very beginning, had doubts about Chuck Stuart's version of what happened, though, without certain official verifications, she was unable to get her doubts into print. Portrayed toughly by Margaret Colin, Ms. Caruso is a major player in the film, working with a fellow police reporter, Kim Tan (B. D. Wong).

Ken Olin ("Thirtysomething") depicts Mr. Stuart as a sullen, immature phony. At the start, the tone is objective. Chuck and Carol are seen leaving a childbirth class and getting into their car. Then the scene switches to the police, who receive Chuck's 911 call for help. A long sequence more or less duplicates what was used on the "Rescue 911" broadcast. What is made very clear is the willingness of most people to believe the husband's story, as well as the heavy-handed methods used by the police to round up, harass and even intimidate black suspects.
But even before leaving the hospital, Chuck attempts to resume a recent affair. And in a series of flashbacks, he turns out to be far from the ideal husband portrayed in the press. (The "Good Night, Sweet Wife" part of the title is taken from the eulogy he wrote to be read at Carol's funeral mass.) He treats his wife with contempt. He becomes involved in shady deals, always needing money to play the big spender. He even asks one stunned acquaintance to find a hit man because "I need someone to kill my wife," adding, "I told her to have an abortion, and she laughed at me." Viewers can only wonder why it took so long for Chuck to become the prime suspect. The film does not speculate. Going back to the night of the crime, it gets into the car and shows Chuck shooting Carol, removing her jewelry, shooting himself in the side, and then throwing the bag with the gun and jewelry to his brother, who, thinking he is involved only in some jewelry fencing, drives up in another car and leaves quickly. The authorities may not have entirely wrapped up the case, but that's not about to stop network television and its sometimes questionable pursuit of docudramas.

All of which, however, doesn't make the story of Charles and Carol Stuart any the less mesmerizing and horrifying. It is likely to survive as a dark classic.

Goodnight Sweet Wife: A Murder in Boston (1990) TV Movie
Cast: Annabella Price, B.D. Wong, Bruce McGill, Ken Olin, Margaret Colin, Michael C. Gwynne

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