Saturday, September 3, 2011

A Woman Scorned: The Betty Broderick Story


When "A Woman Scorned: The Betty Broderick Story" originally aired on CBS in 1992 (four years before the LMN was even born), no one could have known that it was destined to become a Lifetime movie classic--perhaps even the Lifetime movie classic. Its schmaltzy treatment of serious family problems of the muderin' sort isn't only stereotypical Lifetime, it may have even helped to create the entire Lifetime movie genre. (I have no basis for this statement, of course, but I am considered an expert source on TV tropes.) Played on Lifetime and the LMN more than five gajillion times, it has become even more famous (at least, the circles I run in, ahem) than the real-life court case that preceded it.

Dan Broderick shares a laugh
with his attractive secretary/
future second wife
Betty Broderick, as the name of her movie would suggest, is a woman scorned. After being married for sixteen years and having several lovable children, her balding husband leaves her for his secretary. Burn! But Betty is more than just pissed off. She's bat-shit crazy--like, Deadly and Fatal Vows crazy. And, since this is Lifetime, the movie starts at the end and the entire thing is a flashback. So even if you don't remember the real Betty Broderick trial, you already know that Betty is in jail for murdering both her husband and his secretary.

(Lunatic) + (Murder) = (Entertainment for women) has long been a formula for Lifetime movie success. If you ever watch LMN between the hours of noon and six you know that if they're showing a movie from the early 90s, there's a 60% chance it has a crazy lady in it. But the star-power in "A Woman Scorned" elevates it from the usual weekday rotation to something much more: marathon-worthy.

Betty's cheating husband (Dan), is played by Stephen Collins--and if that name doesn't ring any bells, how about the name "Reverend Eric Camden"? If you still said no, I don't believe you. Collins hugs his way through this movie even better than he did on 7th Heaven or It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, although he does suffer from that awful condition--being a man--that makes him lust after his secretary and marginalize his wife.

Betty's wardrobe is impeccable,
even when burning her husband's
Meanwhile, Meredith Baxter hams it up all the way to an Emmy nomination. Really, who doesn't want to see the mom from "Family Ties" lose it? (Even Betty Broderick herself approved.) And lose it Betty Baxter does. At first it's little things, like freaking out about her Christmas present or scheduling change. Soon, she's ruining a family vacation (and a veal roast), and setting Dan's clothes on fire in front of the house. You won't be surprised that it doesn't go too smoothly when Dan announces he wants a divorce. When he asks her why she'd even want to stay with him, she says, "Because you owe me." Whoa.

It isn't long before Dan has promoted his secretary (sorry, his "legal assistant"--when Dan's real secretary, the mom from "That 70s Show," quits because the woman Dan's screwing has only been there 6 months, has an office, and doesn't even know how to type, he helpfully informs her that she doesn't have to know how to type, because she's a legal assistant). He's also bought her a ring and moved her into the house. He won't put his love-life on hold to deal with his insane wife and three children, dammit! He has masquerade balls to attend, and the only thing that looks good with his top hat is a blonde.

The perfect outfit for a rampage?
A shiny green shirt, red-striped
jacket, mom jeans, and gold flats.
After Betty's 8-year-old son asks her to stop calling the house and leaving messages on the answering machine that contain phrases like "that oversexed syphilitic piece of white trash," she really has no choice but to break into the house, spray-paint the wall, and throw some vases around. But just when you think that's as wild as this props budget is going to get, Betty decides to interrupt family dinner by driving her blue Suburban through the living room wall. If you've never seen this classic bit of Lifetime cinema, you have to watch it below. If you have seen it, I know you need no prompting to watch it again--actually, you get to watch it three times, because they spliced the film to show the truck running into the house again, and again, and again, as if it's all one shot. (I also have my suspicions that the tire-squealing sound effects are the same ones they used in "Back to the Future.")




Well, it's all downhill from there. Betty steals the RSVP list for Dan and the blonde's upcoming wedding, and that's where they have to draw the line. They press charges, and Betty's only recourse is to show up in the middle of the night and discharge the prop gun. Even further downhill (cinematically speaking), is the two-hour follow-up movie: "Her Final Fury: Betty Broderick, The Last Chapter." Any Lifetime movie that takes place mostly in a courtroom sucks, but in the 2nd Betty movie it's especially worse because you don't get to see Meredith Baxter's crazy 90s outfits when she's in jail. There's significantly less "Golden Girls" music, and worst of all, there's not enough stuff in prison or court for Betty to destroy.

In the first movie there's
also an extensive collection
of 90s sunglasses

What makes "A Woman Scorned" not only the superior of the two movies, but cherished by every lover of cheesy TV films is more than just aesthetics and scenery. And it's not the Suburban through the side of the house either. (Go ahead, go watch it again. I'll wait.) Because of its cheap production values, (most) TV programming has always been a great barometer of the times--like how holding an old photograph gives you just as much sensory input as the photo itself. "A Woman Scorned" reminds us not only that swirly white type for the opening credits was very classy, but women coming to age in this generation had been talked into being wives without ever being told they might get divorced.

Early on in the movie, Betty and her friend run into a mutual acquaintance at the mall. When they find out she recently got divorced, they're fascinated and slightly, secretly scandalized, like a modern-day rich suburban lady might feel if a fellow member of the PTA announced that she had decided to start sleeping with women. As for Susan, Betty's divorced friend? She's happy, yet sad! Luckily, shopping helps.

Stephen Collins' hairline has remained
remarkably consistent over the years
That the advent of easy divorce is the fault of men is no surprise to anyone who's seen the many revenge movies that have been based on "A Woman Scorned." Pretty much everything that women don't like is the fault of men. From watching Lifetime, I've learned that men just don't appreciate women, whether they're not helping with the wedding, doing coke on their honeymoon, or killing escorts behind your back. And a woman who does anything other than sitting passively back is a woman who deserves to have her name in a Lifetime movie subtitle. There's no better symbol of this "look at what you made me do" mentality than Betty--Meredith Baxter herelf said she understood where Betty was coming from...until public sentiment changed and she went back to film the sequel.

Star Jones may remember best the scene where Betty lights Dan's clothes on fire, but my favorite will always be a short one sometime in the middle of the movie. Betty is sitting at the edge of her backyard pool in the middle of the night: dumped, alone, and wearing an impressive set of Asian-themed pajamas. She's eating potato chips, dipping each one into the pool like it's some kind of chlorine-flavored French onion dip. You can't help but feel sorry for her. But seriously...that bitch is crazy, people! Classic Lifetime.






2 comments:

  1. I had to watch this movie in high school when I took Mythology because it was parallel to Madea. I really liked the story, oddly, and the movie. I actually watched a different kind of story, more like a documentary, about her a few weeks ago.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I just discovered your blog - really like it :)

    ReplyDelete

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...