When something comes along like "Unspeakable Acts" (at 9 tonight on Channels 7, 3, 10 and 42), it raises anew the problem of how to assess the television docudrama with which we have been blessed/cursed these last decades of the century.
This movie covers, with meticulous care, the horrific child rapes in Country Walk, Fla., circa 1984, and the subsequent trial, which ended with the first successful prosecution in the nation of a day-care operator on multiple abuse charges.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday January 16, 1990 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 3 Column 1 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 21 words Type of Material: Correction
TV review--In Monday's review of the ABC movie "Unspeakable Acts," the name of the screenwriter was misspelled. Alan Landsburg wrote the script.
In one prereview, a national magazine gave the film a "C" because it lacks "dramatic tension." Which is like saying that Vietnam wasn't a very good war because not enough people got killed.
You wonder, what are the best camera angles to tell the assassination in Dallas?
Or, how important is good lighting and cohesive editing in order for us to enjoy the depiction of life at Auschwitz?
Is the play the thing or the facts of the matter?
In "Unspeakable Acts," Ellen Landsburg's script reflects the deadly accuracy of the exhaustive book of the same name by Jan Hollingsworth. Linda Otto, who produced "Adam," directs with dynamic effect and coaxes especially affecting performances from the several children. The film is testimony that such matters can successfully be brought to trial. That's the dramatic tension: that this is all too unrelentingly true.
The story begins with suspicions spreading through the little suburb--then exploding into denial, then confusion, then panic. Dade County has the luck and/or wisdom to summon Miami child psychologists Laurie and Joe Braga (played by Jill Clayburgh and Brad Davis), who figured this might be some sort of minor molesting.
But the succession of one child after another--through patient, delicate questioning, 49 video tapes worth--reveals the scope of the scandal. Prosecutors relate that the children's statements allege more than 500 counts of sexual abuse--but they will avoid what they refer to as the "mistakes made in the McMartin case," among them limiting the charges to a few dozen.
This case took 15 months from arrest to conviction, including five weeks for trial. The courts have had the McMartin Pre-School molestation case--Southern California's contribution to such repugnant affairs--for more than six years. A decision is expected this week.
When the McMartin case comes to its inevitable re-enactment on TV, someone's surely going to come along and say that the script needs tightening. . . .