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Monday, January 20, 2014

'The Portrait' DVD: The Gregory Pecks Do the Henry Fondas' 'On Golden Pond'

The Portrait
Warner Archive's recent DVD release of the 1993 TNT original production "The Portrait" provides an additional chance to experience the wide variety of films from that era in that series of made-for-TV-movies. Past productions that Unreal TV has reviewed include "Young Catherine" about Russian ruler Catherine the Great and "Dinner at Eight," which is a remake of a classic '30s comedy.

The release of "Portrait" coincides with the release off the soon-to-be reviewed "Orpheus Descending," which can be considered Tennessee Williams' "Cougar Town."  Both films star British actress Vanessa Redgrave.

The numerous parallels between "Portrait" and the 1981 theatrical classic "On Golden Pond" start with "Portrait" star Gregory Peck co-starring with his real-life daughter Cecilia, who is not an agent of Satan, and "Pond" star Henry Fonda co-starring with his real-life daughter "Hanoi" Jane Fonda. Additionally Peck's Gardner Church is as much a WASPy retired college professor as Fonda's Norman Thayer.

The parallels continue with each man having devoted and loving wives. Lauren Bacall plays Gardener's former teaching assistant cum spouse Fanny Church, and Katherine Hepburn portrays Edith Thayer. A related connection is that Bacall starred in an '80s stage production of Hepburn's classic 1942 film "Woman of the Year."

The similarities continue with Cecila's character Mags having the same form of strained relationship with her elderly parents that Jane's Chelsea experiences with Norman and Ethel and that inspired the folk song "Teach Your Children Well." Further, both films revolve around those offspring having an extended visit with their cabin-owning mother and father.

The impetus for Mags to come home again is that she is an artist whose opportunity to struggle a little less hinges on completing an unfinished portrait of her parents. A pleasant mother and child reunion that is less than a phone call away turns ugly within a few minutes due to Mags learning that her parents sold her childhood home without informing her and are in the final stages of packing up to permanently move to their aforementioned cabin.

This ensuing "portrait" of this sometimes-Loud family depicts a couple that enjoys a closeness that inadvertently shuts out their child, a daughter whose work does not earn her parents' respect, and a father who seems oblivious to these dynamics.

Gardner angrily telling Mags that he is sorry that he and Fanny are not the parents that Mags hoped to have is painfully relevant to folks whose parent does not realize and/or care that even adults would like a nice relationship with the people who raised them.

Bacall steals the show in the same manner as she does in "Dinner," "Woman," and everything else that she does. This is due to her amazing ability to simultaneously play tough, goofy, and sentimental.

Peck's role all-around seems to be that of a husband there to hold his wife's purse. He and Bacall have decent chemistry, and he gamely goes along with what her character initiates. Another way of saying this is that I know Atticus Finch, and Gardner Church is no Atticus Finch.

Aside from Bacall and Peck, "Portrait" comes across as a perfectly respectable Hallmark Channel film. The elements described above are standard for those movies.

Additional scenes that include artist Mags' amusingly awkward date with an investment banker who Fanny pushes her to have dinner with and in which faculty wives gossip about Fanny at a college event are equally typical for the movies that Hallmark sandwiches between reruns of "The Golden Girls" and "Frasier."

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, begins with the end of the aforementioned date; the next scene in this sample does an excellent job showing the state of the relationship between the Churches.

All of this boils down to "Portrait" being an above-average made-for-TV movie that gets adults thinking about their own relationships with their elderly parents but does not necessarily inspire picking up the cell to reach out and touch them.

Anyone with questions about "Portrait" is welcome to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.