Picks and Pans Review: Johnny Bull
updated 05/19/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT
•originally published 05/19/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT
It's been ages since I've seen a TV movie start with such promise. In 1959 Suzanna (Out of Africa) Hamilton, a bright-eyed cockney bride, arrives in America to be with her ex-Army husband, Peter (Sophie's Choice) MacNicol. She meets her in-laws: Jason Robards as a backward, backwoods immigrant coal miner who makes Archie Bunker look like a Kennedy; Colleen Dewhurst as the long-suffering Mom; and Kathy ('night, Mother) Bates as the simple-minded but mean sister-in-law. Poor Hamilton gets shocked in every scene—by a dead deer hanging on the porch, by Dad Robards carrying his shotgun everywhere or by a mad dog that threatens her on trips to the outhouse. Johnny Bull is filled with inventive humor and good writing: When MacNicol says he brought his English bride home as a sort of souvenir to cheer Mom up, Dewhurst says, in a heavy accent, "Why you didn't bring me ashtray like normal people?" The three women put in spectacular performances, all warm, touching, funny and human. But the men aren't allowed to do the same, and that's where Johnny Bull falls down. The men are incorrigible asses—sexist, violent, stupid—and the script goes too far to expose their obvious flaws and yell at them. So Johnny Bull ends up a double-edged sword: one edge sharp and shiny, the other blunt and dull. It's worth watching the first two-thirds to enjoy the sharp ones: Dewhurst, Hamilton and Bates.