Picks and Pans Review: Raggedy Man

updated 11/02/1981 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/02/1981 AT 01:00 AM EST

Jack Fisk is a first-time director whose debut is graced by the hauntingly gifted Sissy Spacek. She happens also to be his wife. Spacek plays Nita, a mother of two, who leaves her do-nothing husband and is forced to work as a phone operator to support the young 'uns in rural Texas. It's a lonely life until she meets a Navy man on furlough, played by Eric Roberts. Their brief fling lights up her life, but when the dust settles she's turned into the town outcast, hounded by two lecherous bullies. If the movie ended with Spacek's proud resolve to buy herself three bus tickets to shake off the town's scarlet fetters, it would have packed a wallop: Her weary struggle to survive and protect her children is compellingly believable. But scriptwriter William Wittliff can't leave well enough alone. Sissy has to be rescued from the bullies' sexual attack by the town's token eccentric, the Raggedy Man, played by Sam (Days of Heaven) Shepard. It's a plot convenience at best, designed to provide the one ironic twist that would tie everything together. But it doesn't work; the plot, like the title character, is too raggedy. It's an honest failure, though, and a creditable debut for Fisk behind the camera. Spacek is riveting; the 1940s set design and Ralf Bode's cinematography are simply glorious. (PG)

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