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Dancing in the Dark

Notable are Principal, in a choice role that gives her the opportunity to fly , and ever-reliable villain Vaughn as a lecherous, hard-drinking influential judge who sexually assaults his son's emotionally fragile but comely wife in an empty rehearsal studio where she teaches ballet.

Notable are Principal, in a choice role that gives her the opportunity to fly , and ever-reliable villain Vaughn as a lecherous, hard-drinking influential judge who sexually assaults his son’s emotionally fragile but comely wife in an empty rehearsal studio where she teaches ballet.

That’s just for openers. The script is inspired by real events, at least insofar as the plot’s main building blocks are concerned. (In reality, Vaughn’s nasty character, for example, was not a judge and the events did not occur in the scripted New England but in Texas.) What counts, of course, are the unexpected twists that propel the exposition and the dialogue.

Principal, already shaken by two miscarriages (mercifully, history before the movie opens), is emotionally fragile prior to the sexual ambush. In a scene radically out of character but a hoot nevertheless, she plots a strategy to invigorate her sex life.

Opening with cinematographer Ron Stannett’s deliciously tight shot of her ankles, pic shows Principal descending a nightclub staircase, finding a “stranger” at the bar and brazenly vamping him. In fact, we later learn, the man is her husband. (The idea is certainly not original but it seldom fails, however improbable it may be in this case.)

Following her attack by the slobbering Vaughn, she hysterically informs her upwardly mobile lawyer husband (credibly limned by Nicholas Campbell). Deeply respectful of his father, the husband dismisses the charge as outlandish.

Seguing into its fourth or so gear, the production hustles the by-now isolated Principal to a mental hospital in a collusion negotiated between the manipulative Vaughn and a corrupt shrink (Kenneth Welsh). The heroine’s husband, though well-intentioned and loving, naively supports the idea. Now the real horror begins.

Viewers may think that institutions such as the one depicted here went out with “The Snake Pit” or “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” but this hospital existed (within the last 10 years anyway, according to Lifetime). An insurance scam, as dramatized and exposed by the husband’s legal snooping, made it a money pit.

Drugged and put on a suicide watch, Principal scores without overplaying it. A hatchet-faced Nurse Ratched-type (Sheila Brand) is a cliche that happens to work dramatically.

The wife’s release and recovery, under the care of the obligatory good shrink (the softly smiling, mellowed-out Geraint Wyn Davies), is tersely conveyed. In fact, one of the show’s strengths is its lack of padding.

But the production’s best ammo is a concluding, terrif confrontation at the in-laws’ let’s-bury-the-past-and-make-up dinner party. With Principal, Campbell, Vaughn and the latter’s unwitting wife (a well-focused portrait by Dawn Greenhalgh), the vidpic’s payoff, sidestepping easy melodrama, is right on target.

Dancing in the Dark

(Wed. (5), 9-10 p.m., Lifetime)

Production: Filmed in Toronto by Power Pictures-Dream City Films in association with Hearst Entertainment for Lifetime. Exec producers, Heidi Wall, Harry Chandler; producer, Julian Marks; director, Bill Corcoran; writers, Jacqueline Feather, David Seidler; camera, Ron Stannett; editor, Pia DiCiaula; production design, Gerry Holmes; art direction, Alistair Macrae; sound, Brian Day; music, Maribeth Solomon, Micky Erbe. #Cast: Victoria Principal, Nicholas Campbell, Robert Vaughn, Kenneth Welsh, Geraint Wyn Davies, Dawn Greenhalgh, Sheila Brand, Anna Louise Richardson, Jenna Preston, Maggie Huculak, Marcia Bennett, Michael Dyson, George Robertson, John Bekavac, Wayne McNamara. Lifetime, modestly revving up its production of original movies with a new monthly slate of made-fors, delivers a winner in the psychological drama "Dancing in the Dark." Although tilling dysfunctional domestic network soil "based on real events"-- in this instance, a wife (Victoria Principal) sexually attacked by her father-in-law (Robert Vaughn) -- the production sails under the crisp direction of Bill Corcoran and the solidly crafted script by Jacqueline Feather and David Seidler.

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