Set in the Nebraska farmlands, this telefilm explores one Nebraska farm family’s secrets, which come to light after the matriarch dies of an apparent heart attack. Honest, substantial performances and the pairing of real-life dad and son Lloyd and Beau Bridges (who also directs) deepen the story, thus avoiding the pitfalls of patent domestic melodrama.
Chief of police Tom Thielman (Beau Bridges) finds his mother’s lifeless body sprawled on the sofa. He orders his colleagues to conduct a full investigation.
Also present is Tom’s ne’er-do-well older brother L.J. (Frederick Coffin). Their influential, distraught father, Louis Thielman (Lloyd Bridges), whispers to Tom, “I killed her.”
At first, Tom thinks these are the ravings of a grief-stricken old man. However, during a visit with his father, he notices cigarette butts rimmed with lipstick in the ashtray.
His suspicions aroused, Tom later finds his father sitting in the living room of Tom’s former lover, Lisa (Rhonda Reynolds). Tom arrests his father and must struggle with family loyalty and harsh public opinion as the case goes to trial.
What’s so enjoyable about this telefilm is that it isn’t an easy mystery to solve, and the identity of the killer isn’t revealed until the very end. Because of this, the viewer shares in Tom’s journey for truth, all the while experiencing his confusion and his almost steely determination.
Lloyd Bridges is amazing in the way he evolves from grieving older man into a handsome, robust lover.
Kudos to writer Lillian Samuel, whose script gives a realistic and painful depiction of a marriage on the verge of the grave, and the pathos of a father’s secret that threatens the relationships of those around him.
Samuel, director Beau Bridges and the producers use simple B&W photographs that come to life in flashback sequences to suggest the family’s more loving past. The result are moments filled with such yearning and wistfulness that they make Tom’s pain all the more real.