Nutcracker: Money, Madness and Murder (1987)

Here we have the ripped-from-the-headlines sensationalized miniseries, but not hiding behind fake names like the Dominick Dunne stories.  Oh, no.  Frances Schreuder’s case was very real, but very bizarre.  Made in 1987, “Nutcracker: Money, Madness and Murder” would probably nowadays be just a “Law and Order” plot line, but it was quite sensational at the time.

In the wrong hands, this movie could go entirely off-kilter and seem just plain exploitative.  Think of Betty Broderick as not played by Meredith Baxter, just some lunatic killer who couldn’t let go of her husband.  But here, Frances should be honored to be played by Lee Remick, one of film’s all-time greatest actresses giving a dazzling performance.  Where other actresses might be content to just have fun playing a lunatic, Lee gives it all she has.  Those who prize the performances of her early career may object, but I would rate this as one of her finest acting gigs.  There isn’t a trick she doesn’t use, and her arsenal of them is more than most actresses could ever dream of.  As sadistic and cruel as her Frances Schreuder is, she’s also utterly captivating and when she’s not in a scene, you just can’t wait until her return.

To be fair, everyone here is excellent, from Tate Donovan as Frances’ Oedipally-confused son to Elizabeth Wilson as her dimwitted mother and Inga Swenson as her rational sister.  As always, one can count on John Glover to ace his role, this time that of Frances’ ultra-wacko best friend.

By 1987, the American miniseries had seen its best entries, no doubt about it, but that doesn’t mean that it was a completely flaccid genre.  “Nutcracker: Money, Madness and Murder” does not have the historical sweep or grand romantic passion of the most beloved miniseries titles, but it is certainly one of the best, a model of tight construction, an engaging story and sublime acting.  Five hours fly by, with very little in the way of fat to be trimmed.

The opening is a montage of scenes, of a crying child, of the ballet and a trial.  It’s as confusing as the mind of a madwoman, the perfect intro to the story of one.  Things start to make sense with a flashback to Frances Schreuder’s college days at Bryn Mawr.  Okay, Lee is a bit old for a college student, but actually, she looks better than any of the gals in “Lace” who tried a similar gimmick.  Talking to her roommate over drinks, Frances suddenly goes into a rage, yelling “I don’t care what you think” and pounding on the walls to her roommate Paula’s (Zina Bethune) shock.  After that, Frances is off to the school guidance counselor, where we find out she’s once swallowed an entire bottle of aspirin and is generally a hot-headed pushy know-it-all.  It all goes back to her childhood, where her mother called her “a difficult child,” such a big crier that the entire family had to sing to her to try to get her to sleep.

Intercut with the past are scenes from Frances’ trial.  First to testify is her sister Marilyn (Inga Swenson).  Marilyn says the two had a wonderful relationship for most of their lives.  Then things started to change, and not for the better.  She became, in the words of the lawyer, “nervous” and “upset,” and Marilyn can’t argue.

Frances realizes her dream of moving to New York City, which she considers the center of the world, but having grown up in Salt Lake City, that’s certainly understandable.  Lunching with Paula one afternoon, Frances meets Vittorio (Tony Musante), a ridiculously cheesy Italian who drenches every line with sexual overtones.  Paula knows when she’s had enough of these two high-strung people and when she leaves, Frances shouts, “you were more fun when you drank” and “you can be a real drag sometimes, Paula!”  Frances switches personalities faster than slimy Vittorio gets her into his car.  After a night with him, Frances bounces off to Marilyn, who has to pay for everything and remind Frances of the bills she’s rung up in everyone else’s name.  No one else is brave enough to talk to Frances about it, lest she make one of her “fusses,” as Marilyn politely calls them.

In bed with Vittorio, Frances prattles on, jumping from the subject of a married sister to her brother’s lobotomy to her father’s incredible wealth, all of which seems to bore Vittorio somewhat.  “I’ll be fabulously wealthy when he dies,” she says of her father, though Vittorio only wants her to drink more champagne.

Frances is tossed out of college and it’s Marilyn who brings her obviously psycho sister home to recover, not to mention avoid a slew of criminal charges.  Her parents (Elizabeth Wilson, at her grandest and creepiest and G.D. Spradlin) and sister Elaine (Linda Kelsey) are not the most sympathetic bunch.  Mother Berenice is against getting Frances any help, preferring a wait-and-see method, to which Elaine snaps, “why don’t we all just go and sing to her?”  After getting her uncle to cover for one of the crimes involving faked stock certificates, she slips away from home and flies back to NYC and Vittorio.  “You are a liar and a cheat and you tried to steal my money…and I am mortified that everyone here knows what you did,” Father Franklin tells her, nearly having a heart attack spitting out the words.  His rage is matched by Frances over the phone, who barks that she no longer needs his money.  “My husband will support me,” she says and hangs up, leaving Franklin puzzled.

Berenice is completely blind to her daughter’s issues, calling Elaine to crow about the upcoming wedding.  “All I can say is ‘praise the Lord!’ I think all our troubles are over,” she wails, though Elaine knows trouble is coming.  Soon Frances and Vittorio are the parents of two boys.  The marriage doesn’t last since Frances can’t stop her wild ways and stay put.  Frances sure as hell knows how to argue!  Coming home at 2am one night, she and Vittorio have a huge blow-up, and she comes up with a classic line that most spouses wouldn’t dare use: “If you’re so insanely jealous that you’re checking up on me, you deserve what you get.  You deserve to think all the filthy things you think!”  Wow, that’s a good one!  They hit each other and then Frances tries to jump out of the window, with her young boys watching.  Vittorio thinks she’s calm, but then she reaches for a bottle of pills and downs as many as she can.

And Frances has a lot more crazy to dish out.  Vittorio comes home one day to find the apartment bare, with “Heil Mussolini” and “Heil Hitler” scrawled on the walls.

Called to testify is Richard Behrens (John Glover), who met Frances in the early 60s in church.  Richard picks up on Frances not being “shy and retiring” as she jokes, an equally forward man.  “DICK…Behrens,” he introduces himself, and Frances counters with a flirty handshake and an introduction of her name, “at least until my divorce is final.”  “I only know three French phrases and I don’t know you well enough to say the other two,” Frances chirps as Richard gives her a cigarette at the church coffee social.

Give Frances a witness stand, and she lights up!  In 1964, she’s divorcing Vittorio and seems delighted by the proceedings.  After telling the court they had sex only once in nearly a year and a half, she claims he told her he “had an allergy to sex” and lists the men Vittorio accused her of having sex with (she says none of it is true, but she’s awfully proud when listing).  During the trial, she’s upset that she has to get up early to take care of the kids.  However, even fresh out of bed, Frances is capable of one hell of an argument, going rounds with her mother while the boys eat breakfast.

Frances’ father receives information “sent in confidence” proving Frances’ bad actions, time with men, etc. and when she hears about it, she goes bonkers, first on her mother and then on her father.  Vittorio moves back to Italy after the divorce since he’s bankrupt and loses contact with his sons for over five years.  Marilyn has even reported Frances to the police because she had disappeared and when Marilyn went to check on her, found “the door wide open” and the boys looking “like a couple of animals…eating chocolate cake and french fries.  They had gone down to the deli and begged for food.”  Marilyn and her mother decide “something had to be done,” but Berenice refuses to think of hospitalization due to the issues with her son.

While Frances lunches with Richard and they try to remember what happened during recent drunken binges, Marilyn and Berenice steal the kids.  Berenice leaves a note, but Frances doesn’t discover it immediately because she has brought a strange man home.  Once she does find out, however, she books an airline ticket while stabbing the note with a huge kitchen knife.  To say Frances is pissed when she arrives in Salt Lake City is an understatement.  She physically assaults her mother, pushing her against a class China cabinet and takes her kids.  On the flight back, Frances pens a letter to her mother, not only full of rage, but also claiming that she’s a better mother because she actually loves her kids and they love her, calling them “sincere emotions.”

Time shows that Frances’ children are seriously disturbed.  She puts one in a special school, where he is diagnosed with “psychosis,” but Frances doesn’t pay the school’s bills.  Is it any wonder?  Frances and Richard discuss this diagnosis over Chinese food (Frances doesn’t cook) with both kids present.  She even compares her son to “The Bad Seed.”  The poor kid believes what he hears, even though his brother tries to comfort him.  He won’t sleep, instead banging his head against the bed, acting crazy like everyone says he is.  He has every reason to be worried, because in the next room, Frances is telling Richard that not only is she going to send the boys to Utah for the summer (sending them to the family she so despises, just to get rid of them), and plans to leave Lorenzo there because “he’s getting to be an evil influence on Marco.”

The boys actually flourish in Utah, allowed to have fun and enjoying the quiet.  “It’s not so noisy…like New York,” Marco says, with “New York” meaning “Mom.”  Both sons are very upset when they hear Lorenzo is not to return to New York, though Lorenzo tries to pretend he’s okay with it.  The look in his eyes when Marco leaves looks like a killer in the making.

Meanwhile, Frances marries again, to a Dutch businessman named Frederick Schreuder (Charles Howerton).  Someone had the fantastic idea to condense Frederick’s ordeal to a wacky medley that shows a smiling wedding and a screaming couple in alternating snippets.  Frances is full on lunatic, destroying rooms, swallowing pills, a “best of” crazy Frances antics.  The union produces a child and her older boys are now called Marc and Larry, though officially adopted by Frederick, who never actually gets a line.

In the hospital, Berenice prattles on that she finally convinced her husband to make a will and Frances only wants to know how much she’s going to get of the $50 million Berenice claims her husband must have.  “A question never asked is a question never answered” she tells a clucking Marilyn when Frances asks how much, but refuses to give any details.  At the end of the monologue about money, without taking a breath, Berenice says to Frances, “you look sort of depressed.”  “She seems sort of Frances to me,” Marilyn says with a withering demeanor.

The movie hits a definitely snag whenever it comes to the topic of money, but the snags are unfortunately necessary to understand the family dynamics regarding money.  Basically, Franklin is a “miser,” Berenice wants to spend all of their money on her children and grandchildren and it gets so bad that Frances sues Franklin for stocks she believes are hers.  He counter sues, claiming Frances’ “fiscal irresponsibility.”  “I don’t know how much longer this family can go on unless that crazy old man kicks the bucket,” Frances says to herself, decked out wonderfully by the ocean on Fire Island.

At the trial, it’s Marc’s (Tate Donovan) turn to testify.  He testifies that he lived under constant pressure from his mother.  “You just don’t say no to Mom,” he says, “and if you did say no, she would scream and yell and go into hysterics and threaten to…” without finishing with “commit suicide.”

As the boys grow up (Larry is played by Frank Military), life stays as unbalanced as ever.  Frances never pays the bills and Marc has to hide a camera he bought in triple suitcases with locks so she won’t hock it.  When Larry comes for a visit, he makes the mistake of not only mentioning Frederick, but also Aunt Marilyn, saying he wants to visit the latter.  “If you do, don’t expect to come back here.  Is that understood?” Frances threatens.

Frances is ever the manipulator.  Upon hearing Franklin is sick with the flu, she dictates a flowery letter for Marc to write, gushing over his ailing grandfather, who thinks it’s “the nicest darn letter I’ve ever received.”  Everyone believes it’s real!  This comes about because there are rumors Franklin discussed rewriting his will to cut out Frances and her kids.  Frances, on a grand bed with a tray of food and plenty of luxury, gripes to Marc that if money doesn’t come from her parents soon, she’ll have to move to Harlem, although she prefers that to Salt Lake City when Marc suggests that as an option.  In this same conversation, she also talks for the first time of her father dying of “unnatural causes.”

Our darling Frances actually means it.  She asks Richard to get her a gun because “she wanted to kill her father.”

As daughter Ariadne is becoming a little girl, Frances decides “you’re going to be a dancer,” tossing around the room with her mother.  Ariadne isn’t sure if she wants to do it, but Frances has already decided it’s to be.  She’s just as nutso with Marc, who is quite the school brainiac.  On a phone call, she treats him almost like a lover, but also wants to discuss a certain subject that Marc is hoping to avoid.  It can’t be mentioned over the phone, because a drinking and pill-popping Frances thinks her phones are tapped.  “The discussion part of the situation is rapidly drawing to a close,” she says.

Frances has a howler of a conversation with Richard.  It starts with getting Ariadne into a proper elementary school and then moves on to her favorite topic of patricide.  Richard jokes she should get a hit man, but Frances says, “I have two,” her sons, “although they don’t know it yet.  It’s time they did something for their mother after all the sacrifices I’ve made for them” and then finishes that sentence back on the topic of her daughter’s education.

By the mid-70s, Vittorio is back.  “I’d say money-wise, your new wife did a lot better than I did,” Frances says to him as they try to have a friendly lunch.  The argue a bit about Larry and she talks of plans for a house in The Hamptons.  He wonders where the money is coming from, but she remains coy.  She certainly acts like a woman with money.  When she takes her daughter to be enrolled in a fancy school, she hires a limousine to do it!

Back on the witness stand, Marc tells the court that in the summer of 1977, they were sent to Salt Lake City.  Why?  “We came out to steal some money for Mom and at the same time, we were supposed to kill Grandfather,” he says.  Well, that’s succinct.  How she got them to do it is really just her old manipulation tricks.  She guilts them about going to fancy schools while “your little sister and I will walk the streets of Harlem.”  Frances assures them that “if you do it right, you won’t get caught.  Do you know how many people do that to each other every day and never get caught?”  Playing cards later, she tells them to pretend it’s an intruder.  No, Granny will wake up.  How about setting fire to the warehouse when he’s alone?  Larry seems to get into it, wanting to do it in the bathtub.  Ideas come, ideas go, but one finally sticks.  “We were supposed to put amphetamines in his food…to induce a heart attack,” Marc testifies.  Larry doesn’t want to do it, but Marc tells him “we’ll be locked out forever” if they don’t.

With pills sewn into stuffed animals, the boys head to Salt Lake City as planned.  Marc finds stealing money very easy, and Frances is thrilled.  “What about the primary objective?…I want a progress report every day!” she tells Marc, as if this is a precise military action.  She’s downright giddy with all that’s going on.  Of course, it helps that she’s at an opulent summer home, the kind of place that makes anyone giddy, preparing for murder or not.  When the murder is constantly delayed, Frances goes on a tirade, berating Marc into tears, but the movie is mute, playing music instead of dialogue, a very clever device.

Franklin figures out the boys have been ripping him off.  He throws the boys out of the warehouse.  The bank is willing to replace the money, but only if Franklin deals with “the federal offense” of theft.  Unbelievably, Franklin is still conflicted, because “it’s still family.”  He does add a rider to his will cutting out Frances and the boys.  “If Larry had only done what he was supposed to do, none of this would have happened.  He blew it!” she bellows at Richard.  After dealing with “amateurs,” Frances decides “it’s time to go professional” and wants Richard to find someone.  She even tells Vittorio proudly, but he doesn’t take any action to stop her.

Frances blows through the stolen money in no time and calls her mother for money.  She lists all of her bills, but her mother says she can’t afford to pay them.  Frances says she’s sending the bills to her mother “return mail and if you don’t pay them, I will never speak to you again!”  Her mother does forge checks in her husband’s name.

Through Richard, Frances meets Waring (Harris Laskawy), who is to do the hit.  He asks a lot of questions she doesn’t want to answer, so she contents him by saying it’s a financial matter.  “It usually is,” he says dryly.  Once again, as the plan is put in motion, the dialogue is muted, but we get the point as Frances hands Waring pictures and cash.  According to his testimony, he never actually intended to do it, “that it couldn’t be done.”  Frances, though upset at being ripped off, is not finished with the idea of bumping off her father.

Any of you who read about “North and South” in this column will remember the power of Inga Swenson’s Christmas Sing-a-Long, and wouldn’t you know, she gets to repeat the act here!  This time, it’s the 1970s and she’s with her parents in Salt Lake City, but there is our girl, belting out Christmas numbers to cheer her family.  Afterwards, Marilyn and her mother discuss Frances and her kids, who have stopped talked to the rest of the family (except for Larry).  Marilyn asks if Franklin ever revised his will formally and Berenice doesn’t know, but if he did, “that certainly puts you in the cat bird seat,” without realizing how frightening that is, since the new will would make her executor, and therefore the target of Frances’ ire.

Back in New York, things are getting worse.  Larry is locked out of the apartment.  Why?  His grades.  “I told him a 4.0.  A 3.7 just doesn’t cut it in this family,” Frances rages as Larry bangs at the door and Marc pleads with his mother to allow Larry inside.  When Marc lets him in, Frances has perhaps her scariest moment of the movie yet.  “Okay, Marc, you let him in, you get him out…or you will be out too.  Out,” she says, but with a calm demeanor belied only by flashing intense eyes.  It’s worse than one of her tirades!

When it comes to her father’s money, Frances is obsessed.  She’s back to the idea of killing him and the only one who can do it is Marc, who somehow stays loyal to his insane mother.  He wants to know why he has to do it.  “You’re the only one I can trust.  I’ve told you that a thousand times,” she coos before planting a lingering kiss on his lips.  “Life wouldn’t be worth living under the current circumstances,” she also says, once again threatening to kill herself, which is something Marc can’t fathom.  “You want that on your conscience for the rest of your life?” she says, pushing it one step further.  A montage of silent scenes follow, with plans being made, Marc vacillating and finally being thrown out of the house as well, more suicide attempts and lots of Ariadne’s dancing.

Finally, Marc caves, calls a friend in Texas to help him buy a gun and then heads West.  He practices using a gun, spends a nervous night in a motel and then goes to Franklin’s warehouse on a Sunday morning when no one else is there but his unsuspecting grandfather.  The tension is high as Franklin chit chats while making a pot of coffee and Marc stands behind him, gun ready.  We don’t see the shooting, but we hear it.  We only see Marc leaving the warehouse.

When the police come to question Berenice, Elizabeth Wilson’s hysterics are dead on.  She never gives up her daughter, never suggests there is anything but harmony in the family, though she does admit the will is universally detested.  Larry even seems a bit brainwashed.  “He was a very nice man,” he tells the police of his grandfather, also saying he can’t think of anyone who would do such a thing.  The police do ask about Frances, but Larry is fairly vague.

Marc arrives home to a jubilant Frances, though she wants to make sure there were no “hitches.”  She tells him to get rid of the gun and he cracks, “you might need it again sometime,” to which she icily replies, “I’m going to overlook that impertinent remark and attribute it to the extenuating circumstances of your mental state.  No one saw you at all, right?”  Her motherly affection has its limits.  She’s not any smarter than her son when it comes to the gun.  She brings it to Richard to get rid of.  He asks, logically, why she didn’t just throw it in the river?  She claims not to be thinking right.  “I only have this dope’s word for it that it went all right,” she tells Richard, nodding backward at poor Marc.  She’s only worried about herself.  Despite Marc’s assurances that everything went smoothly, she is only focused on Richard getting rid of the gun.

Marilyn takes the will to the Detective Campbell (Robert Shenkkan), who begin to hear some stories about Frances and her sons, but only enough to wonder a little.  Even Frances goes to Salt Lake City with her sisters for the funeral.  Elizabeth Wilson gets another great scene with her three girls assembled, crying that after 50 years of marriage, they never had wedding rings.  However, Lee Remick isn’t about to let anyone steal so much as a scene from her, so her acting at the funeral is a downright hoot!  Drenched in black, veil at all, she sobs uncontrollably, so much so that everyone in the church, including the police, focus their attention on her.

Frances then goes to Campbell, still in the veil, and when asked what she knows about the murder, she says only that “he never knew what hit him,” which the police find a bit strange.  She turns into a chatterbox about her glamorous life in Europe with Frederick.  She is asked about the stealing of the previous summer and at first pretends to know nothing of it, but at the crucial moment when the cop thinks she is about to spill all, Frances says of the forged checks, “my mother has been doing that for years!”  Campbell is stunned, and, knowing she’s gotten him off the scent, at least for now, she puts back on the veil and says she can’t talk about it.  Masterful!  Frances claims that, “I knew my father better than anyone else, including my mother!”  She tries just about anything she can to keep the cop thinking of others instead of her.

Marilyn and Elaine try to get their mother to see the truth, suggesting Larry could have easily pulled off the murder, but Berenice is blind to it (she’s his alibi, and she’s actually right in her defense of him).  Why would he do it, she wants to know.  “Because someone asked him to,” Marilyn says, trading looks with Elaine that come right out of a classic film noir.

Back in NYC, Frances has one of the most interesting therapy sessions I’ve ever seen.  She pretty much has herself convinced that her father was killed during a robbery like everyone else.  She jumps from that to the state of the NYC subway system and then to the $3000 a month she is receiving from the estate until the will is sorted out.  That’s hardly enough, she claims.

To Marilyn’s dismay, Larry passes a lie detector test.  It proves that he did not commit the crime, but it does say that he has “undisclosed knowledge” that means very little since polygraphs do not tell much.  The police are still investigating, but they have gotten nowhere in five months.

Flush with cash, and speaking like a dictionary on crack, Frances tells her latest suitor that she’s been invited to underwrite a New York City Ballet gala.  At the same time, sister Elaine has called the FBI and given them all the information she has on Frances.

But we have to watch out for Richard.  He takes Marc for a walk and ask him “what did it feel like?”  Marc is so brainwashed that he says he had to do it since his mother “is my only friend.”  Richard pushes the issue, demanding to know what it actually felt to like to kill another human being.

Frances does indeed get her gala, but the old guard of the ballet board doesn’t like her.  “She’s prepared to buy her way onto the board,” one old dame croaks.  “It would set the ballet back a generation.”  But, Frances is having too much fun playing the rich diva to even notice.  She almost brings the party to a halt when she yells at her mother in an argument about Ariadne’s behavior.

A year and a half after the murder, the Campbell admit to Marilyn that the case is “on the back burner,” but she is still convinced Larry did it.  She extracts gossip from her mother that Marc couldn’t go to college because he was caught stealing high school property, but that Larry is doing wonderfully in college.

Really?  After sex with a girl, he tells her she’s the first he’s ever had “without having to pay for it” and that his “roommate is really messing with my head…he’s sending out all these alpha waves…I think he’s trying to turn me into a girl.”  Riiiiiiiiight.

Richard asks Frances to open a joint bank account with him because he needs to hide some money in order to get a loan.

Larry snaps over the whole alpha wave issue and bludgeons his roommate with a hammer.  He’s locked up in an institution, where Frances treats him like a failure still.  “I don’t know why you didn’t kill him, which I what I assume your intentions were,” she says and then laughs about the alpha waves.  “I suppose a psychotic episode was inevitable sooner or later,” she quips.  Berenice still won’t believe Larry capable of actual murder when Marilyn uses this as evidence that Larry must have killed his grandfather.

Back at the ballet, Frances is still being tolerated by everyone because she throws around money.  She ponies up $350K for a new Balanchine piece and can’t even pronounce the man’s name right.  “I’ve really begun to think of him as my spiritual father,” she says in another great moment of self-delusion.

The bank informs Richard that $3K is missing from the joint account and he’s furious, wanting it back, but Frances refuses to say she took it.  “Call the police, mother!” she bellows and storms out.  Making an enemy out of Richard is not going to be a good idea.  You can see where this is leading.  Marc has little sympathy for him, saying he should never have gone into a financial venture with Frances of all people (oh, and they mention in passing that Larry got 2-5 years for the attempted murder of his roommate).  Fuming, Richard contacts everyone about the money, including Marilyn.  In one of his many phone calls, Richard tells her that Larry didn’t murder Franklin, that Marc did.  He tells her he even has the gun and gives it to her.

Marilyn takes the gun to the police in New York City, who contact the Salt Lake City police.  She promises Richard she will not tell anyone where she got the gun and sticks to that when Campbell from Utah come to New York.  The cop’s next stop is Marc at college, though Marc keeps saying he must want his brother, in jail already for attempted murder.  It should be easy to sell his insane brother down the river.  Marc panics and calls his mother as Campbell goes off to Texas to trace Marc’s gun purchase.  Frances is too upset to deal with the news because John Lennon has just been shot.  Her attachment to reality is really slipping.  Finally, Marilyn has to tell the police about Richard.  He’s the missing link.

Naturally, Richard tells all.  “I suddenly realized I was the only person who knew about this,” he says, going further that he was worried that Frances has a habit of turning on people and he worried he could be next.  This proves to be enough evidence to arrest Marc.  “Do you know what happens to attractive young boys in jail?” Frances asks her mother, before demanding $125K in bail money.  And she gets it!  Richard and Frances meet, where she berates him for being stupid since he’s so involved, but Richard says he has in writing that he is immune from prosecution.  “You’ve made the most terrible mistake.  I feel really sorry for you,” she tells Richard and then tells him to say that none of it is true.  He still wants his money, but she comes up with a great retort for that: “They are out there testing the trap door for the gallows for my son and all you can think about is money!”  Saying “I’m not a nasty person by nature,” she threatens Richard that if he doesn’t recant, she will tell the cops about his involvement and then goes one very scary step further, that Marc has murdered once in a “drastic situation.”  Richard gulps big time hearing that.

Richard recants his story under threat from Frances.  Campbell is furious and another detective, Mike George (Daniel Hugh Kelly) is brought in to help.  However, the police aren’t finished with Richard and arrest him on obstruction of justice.

Frances, who somehow got herself a position on the ballet board, worries now about Ariadne’s audition to its dance company.  She won’t let Ariadne eat and when the poor kid asks for a piece of toast, she goes into one of her rambling tirades.  “Can you imagine her eating one of your meals that makes her little tummy bloat like a fatso?” she asks her mother while Ariadne, looking painfully thin and sick, is still at the table.  “Today is the day you become the youngest member of the American Ballet Company and if you don’t, I’ll put you up for adoption,” Frances says with a giggle.  Ariadne is understandably horrified.  Luckily, they take Ariadne, because if they hadn’t, one can only guess what Frances would have done!

The police finally have enough evidence to arrest Marc.  How does Frances react to this?  “It’s an outrage…luckily it wasn’t in the papers, only the Daily News.  I don’t know anyone who reads the Daily News.  If it had been The New York Times, I’d have been ruined!”  Basically, just what you would expect from her at this point.  Mike George is given the task of visiting Larry in the institution, but he’s of little help until Mike mentions Frances.  At that point, he gets scared.  “My mom has a real irresistible personality,” he says.

The net is closing in on Frances, who threatens Marc that if he gives her up, “I’ll be of no used to you if I’m incarcerated.”  But, Marilyn is convinced of Frances’ guilt and so is Vittorio, who has no idea his son has been arrested until Mike George shows up in his office.  Marc wants to move from his flop house into Frances’ apartment, but Frances is resolute, saying “the less you’re around me, the better for the both of us.”  “It’s me they’re trying to nail, not you,” Marc says and then Frances has the most chilling line of the whole crazy movie: “And that’s the way I want to keep it!”  She tries to slither out of that, but we all know it’s true.  With a lingering kiss, she sends Marc off, saying “you’ve been here too long already.”  Marc’s lawyer insists that Frances was involved and begs Marc to give her up.  His nerves shot, he finally admits it.  At the same time, Richard, promised immunity, tells Mike George his story, recanting his recantation, and tells them even more than they ever expected.

The police finally arrive to arrest Frances and she tries jumping out the window to avoid arrest.  Marc is extradited to Utah and Frances posts bail at Riker’s Island, snapping at the limo driver for being late.  However, once back at home, she’s off in her alternate universe!  She delights over the cards sent to her by everyone at the ballet.  She even got a note from Balanchine, but has also heard rumors that they want her off the board.  She celebrates her freedom with her mother and daughter, forcing the latter to eat caviar because one has to learn to love it.

It’s decided to try Marc and Frances separately, but Marc refuses to testify against his mother.  So, his new lawyers decide to put his old lawyer on the stand, with his permission.  Finally, the truth is heard in open court.  Berenice still sticks by her daughter, but Frances of course tells her that Marc is lying and she had no involvement.  Frances continues with life as normal, buying jewelry and soaking her mother for millions.  Marc is sentenced to prison and Frances is doing the social whirl.

A year later, the police ask Marc to reconsider testifying against his mother.  “You help us and we’ll help you,” they tell him, knowing that he’s not exactly enjoying prison!  He agrees and Frances is summoned to Utah for a trial.  Bits of the testimony are repeated in a quick montage.  Frances watches it all, toying with a cigarette lighter and seemingly nonchalant until Marc actually arrives to testify, something she thought would never actually happen.  Frances breaks down during the testimony, and unbelievably, her mother reaches to calm her down.  Berenice still believes Frances will go free because it’s all lies.  Wow, the power of self-deception is staggering!

Frances is found guilty.  She has no reaction to the verdict and is spared the death penalty for life in prison.

Crime like this was once the lifeblood of TV movies, but this one does it differently.  This one relies on the fascinating character at the center of the horrible crime rather than the crime itself.  The combination of Frances Schreuder and Lee Remick playing her is unbeatable!

Categories: Historical Miniseries

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