Deadly Relations,” drama based on true story of a domineering, sociopathic father who both terrorized and coddled his daughters, is not very engaging, in part because of rambling script and direction, but also because Robert Urich’s performance misses the mark.
Leonard John Fagot (Urich), a successful attorney, is both strict and loving towards his four daughters. When they are teenagers, the ex-Marine inspects their rooms daily, at the same time showering them with expensive gifts. As they grow up, he struggles to keep them near him, building houses for his daughters and their families after they marry.
While the daughters often rebel against their father’s protectiveness, they nevertheless fall under the spell of this obsessively controlling man. Meanwhile , Fagot’s wife Shirley (Shelley Fabares) suffers in silence for most of the marriage, secretly enduring his many extra-marital affairs.
However, when Fagot’s son-in-law dies in a mysterious fall, leaving Fagot as the sole beneficiary of a large insurance policy, his family becomes suspicious. When he confesses to his wife, she moves out, but is too frightened to report him to the police or file for divorce, and a series of violent and mysterious accidents ensue.
The story is riddled with unbelievable twists that strain credulity, even though the film is based in truth. It seems unlikely, for example, that neither the police nor the insurance companies would investigate any of the violent and bizarre events.
And while he terrorized his family into submission, the daughters are portrayed as virtual robots under his control. Only his wife, skillfully portrayed by Fabares, seems to be a fully developed character.
Urich, usually an immensely likable and appealing actor, telegraphs Fagot’s obsessional mania too obviously. From his first sneaky, demented smile, Urich paints the man as a villain, robbing the character of the seductive power the real Fagot obviously exercised over his children.
Film is otherwise well produced, with special praise due to production designer Barry Robinson and crew, who captured the feel of the 1960s and ’70s not only with accuracy, but also from an uncannily fresh point of view.