Filmed in Austin, Texas, by the Frederick S. Pierce Co. Executive producers, Frederick S. Pierce, Stan Daniels, Keith Pierce, Richard Pierson Pierce; producer, Michael O. Gallant; associate producer, Andrew Golov; director, Peter Werner; writer, Daniels; At a time when it seems that most TV movies aim square and often solely at a female demographic, it’s nice to see one that’s some kind of male-fantasy fulfillment. Forced to divide his attentions between Lea Thompson and Farrah Fawcett, Peter Weller somehow manages — with their help. The story is so good-natured that women should wind up more entertained than offended by Stan Daniels’ witty and ultimately touching script, which echoes the 1950 Margaret Sullavan vehicle “No Sad Songs for Me.”
Setup has plucky frontier wife Amy Hightower (Thompson) knockin’ on heaven’s door, diagnosed as having only two months to live. Knowing that devoted hubby Martin (Weller) won’t be able to raise their four children alone, Amy sets out to find him a new wife. After scouring the countryside, the best she can do in the way of unmarried women is working girl Pearl (Fawcett), who signs on, anxious to leave the Life.
Daniels and director Peter Werner aim for no more authenticity than “Bad Girls,” and “The Substitute Wife” often has the same kind of loopy charm, starting with doughty Amy’s search for a bride; at one point she crashes a funeral to ask the widow if she’d marry Martin.
Fawcett’s fetchingly amusing as the hooker, introduced gnawing on a fried chicken leg. Pearl is, by her own appraisal, “a damned good whore … In California, miners would pay $ 500 for half an hour of my time.
“Of course,” she admits, sotto voce, “coffee was $ 80.”
Strongest onscreen relationship is that between Amy and Pearl. Werner’s direction and Martin Nicholson’s editing keep the jokes sharp without hitting the audience over the head with the gags; Neil Roach’s camera, Cary White’s production design and Mark Snow’s music are strong.