Despite its generic title, Judge Christopher Kulik was moved by this forgotten little sleeper.
Could he choose between the family he loves and the son he never knew he had?
Largely ignored in 1983, Man, Woman and Child is an effective tearjerker that is more than competent. Based on a novel by Erich Segal (Love Story), and adapted by Segal and David Z. Goodman (Straw Dogs), this film is more than your average family-being-ripped apart drama. Now available on DVD courtesy of Legend Films, this is the right time to give it a second look.
University professor Bob Beckwith (Martin Sheen, The Departed) is a happily married man. He has two daughters and a loving, devoted wife named Sheila (Blythe Danner, Meet the Fockers). However, his "perfect" life is shattered when his past catches up with him.
One decade earlier, when his wife was pregnant with their first child, Bob had an affair with a stunning French beauty while on a business trip. Bob never told his wife, and now he has no choice when he is informed of the Frenchwoman's death…and learns she bore him a son named Jean-Claude! Feeling responsible, he considers going to France to visit the boy; instead, Sheila suggests taking him during Easter for a week. Various ramifications follow, some predictable, others heart-wrenching.
This family drama is no Ordinary People or Terms Of Endearment, and it doesn't attempt to be either. Much of the foreshadowing—from Sheila's consideration of an affair to Jean-Claude's effect on the Beckwith family—is obvious. And it's a little annoying when one particular scene (an early one in which Sheila and Jean-Claude are alone) is so powerful that the filmmakers never really build upon it.
Despite those scratches, Man, Woman and Child is an excellent film overall. The story unfolds in naturalistic fashion, and the deft, tender direction by Dick Richards (one of the producers of Tootsie) helps immensely. There are moments of humor that are (appropriately) light and warm. Plus, the film never overstays its welcome, with its 100-minute running time just right.
We are also treated to some fine performances, all of which make this a huge cut above a TV movie-of-the-week. Martin Sheen and the always-underrated Blythe Danner are superb as the Beckwiths, and we also have some solid supporting turns by Craig T. Nelson (Poltergeist) and the late David Hemmings (Gangs of New York). The girls playing the daughters are adorable, and even Sebastian Dungan (as Jean-Claude) has some scene-stealing moments.
Legend Films gives us another shoddy DVD package. The presentation is (once again) 1.78:1 Anamorphic widescreen, with the audio (once again) in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, and no extras. Once again. The film looks its age, being no worse than a old VHS copy, but it's still not a fatal flaw. The romantic, melancholy score by Oscar-winning French composer Georges Delarue (Platoon) has few hiccups. While I appreciate Legend for giving many of these neglected Paramount releases the digital treatment, I'm sick of their repetition. For once, could you guys give us something more than screen chapters?
Verdict: Not Guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Legend Films
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