EDSEL

An educated non-conformist who hated her mother, an open critic of the phoniness of Hollywood, an avid cop-hater, Frances Farmer was a beautiful if not willfully free-spirited actress whose infamous instability may have been sparked to tantrummy behavior not only by her private demons but perhaps also by an unrecognized intolerance to liquor. There’s no way to prove it now but as Kenneth Anger writes in Hollywood Babylon, Farmer’s loud anti-social eruptions and violent skirmishes with the law—clear warnings even then that she was headed for a breakdown—could have been intercepted by a perceptive lawyer who might have pleaded the Court’s mercy. Tragically, she had no Hollywood studio support and little if any serious legal representation—only a mother who, bent on control via power trips, signed away Frances’ legal protections, thus pushing her into the horror of the snake pit, where in succession she was given insulin and shock therapies, raped and may have been lobotomized. Looking at pictures of Farmer, there’s no question Jessica Lange in Frances comes close to resembling her—ratty hair, disheveled clothing, bruised lip and all the rest. More often, however, Lange suggests Tuesday Weld doing Farmer—and Tuesday, without inference, may be closer to her as an actress than Lange, whose healthiness and no-nonsense demeanor are like ballast keeping her stable. For the first hour or so, Lange is counterfeit—something’s missing, a connection to the character, and a connection to the audience; she’s a blank. Entering the nuthouse, becoming a recipient of its treatment methods, she has her small battle victories. By end, though, when Frances appears on This is Your Life as an ad for the wonders of psychiatric hocus pocus and is rewarded with an Edsel, she can’t really bring a convincing difference between Frances’ old fire and her new somnambulism because the nothingness had been there from the start. (Lange has better luck with the loons in Blue Sky and A Streetcar Named Desire.) With Kim Stanley, indicted as yet another Mommie Dearest. Directed by Graeme Clifford; produced by Mel Brooks, who’d likely have done wonders for the audience had he played the lobotomist.

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