Kelly McGillis and Harry Hamlin star as Southern Gothic psychos in a two-part miniseries, with Keith Carradine as her husband and ultimate target of the pair’s wrath. Robert L. Freedman’s script takes its time, but those attracted by the subject matter should find their four hours entertainingly spent, despite the depressing conclusion.
Convoluted tale of intrafamily jealousy, murder and other sinister activity was filmed as “Bitter Blood,” the title of Jerry Bledsoe’s nonfiction book from which it was adapted. Evidently finding a leftover colon in their TV Movie Titles file, CBS at the last moment opted for the less catchy, more generic “In the Best of Families: Marriage, Pride and Madness.”
The murder of mother and sister (Louise Latham, Coleen Flynn) of dentist Tom Leary (Carradine) leads to a sort of whodunit — though the real mystery is why it takes Leary so long to figure out the killer’s identity.
When Tom’s marriage to Susie (McGillis) fails, she moves back home to North Carolina with their two sons, countering his endeavors to see them.
As the custody battle heightens, Susie enters into an affair with her first cousin Fritz (Hamlin), son of the town quack — a doctor who sees massive doses of vitamins as the cure for everything from the common cold to polio.
Fritz, who is not particularly bright, not only shares his father’s unconventional views of medicine but enjoys playing with weapons just a bit too much for anybody’s good.
Before long, he’s giving the boys their vitamins and preparing them for “combat,” while teaching Susie to fire machine guns at watermelons while picturing Tom.
Story is told very straight, though there are flashes of subtle wit in Freedman’s script. When Susie’s parents catch her and Fritz in bed, she justifies their actions: “Royal families of Europe marry their cousins all the time.”
The large cast turns in good work under Jeff Bleckner’s assured direction; it must have been difficult for some of them to keep straight faces during all these shenanigans.
Tristan Tate excels as a flighty youngster in some of the telepic’s most exciting scenes.