Farrah Fawcett scores a "personal triumph" (Los Angeles Times) with a "riveting performance" (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) in this "gripping movie about a woman who takes incendiary revenge on her brutal husband" (Time). Based on actual events, this courageous story of a woman pushed to the edge is a "gut-wrenching" (All Movie Guide), eye-opening and shocking experience.
Francine Hughes (Fawcett) marries her small-town high-school sweetheart Mickey (Paul LeMat)...only to discover his temper is short and his behavior violent. Urged to hang in there by her family and a broken social welfare system, she suffers continuous abuse - until desperation leads her to cross a threshold from which neither she nor her husband can ever return.
"You make a hard bed, you have to lay in it."
In the case of movies like The Burning Bed, the story that inspired the film is far more important than the film itself. What is ostensibly a well-produced movie-event-of-the-week, The Burning Bed tells a harrowing tale of a violent man and the abuse he inflicted towards his wife. When the woman couldn't take any more, she took the law into her own hands in order to protect her children and herself. Featuring a standout performance by Charlie's Angels star Farrah Fawcett and Paul Le Mat, the true-life story of Francine Hughes, The Burning Bed tells an important story -- but the film's average T.V. movie budget and pacing hamper the dramatic thrust of an important story.
When Francine (Farrah Fawcett) met Mickey Hughes (Paul Le Mat), it was like any other dance, boys and girls getting to know each other in the comfort of a safe and chaperoned get together. Francine took to Mickey immediately. She was innocent, cute, and sixteen, he was eighteen, smoked, and carried a bad boy swagger. After pursuing her relentlessly, the pair has sex. When Francine gets pregnant, she drops out of school, the pair gets married, and move in with Mickey and his parents Berlin (James Callahan) and Flossie (Grace Zabriskie). What should have been the spring of young love and a family, turns into the beginnings of a violent nightmare for Francine. As Mickey forces Francine to endure years of abuse, she takes matters into her own hands and is now on trial for murder. Her court-assigned defense attorney Aryon Greydanus (Richard Masur) is stuck in the tough spot of defending a woman who killed her husband and refuses to speak to him making defending her nearly impossible.
Those with any passing knowledge of the story of Francine Hughes already know how the story turns out. The legal proceedings are a matter of public record so there really isn't much of a spoiler to this story when I say that Francine was exonerated as she was found not guilty by reason of temporary insanity. That reasoning was important because it allowed the jury to find sympathy for Francine as a victim and gave them a way out from sending a woman to prison for the rest of her life after enduring years of torment at the hands of her husband. This case set the legal precedent for spousal abuse cases allowing the legal system to find sympathetic grounds for the person being abused and any violent actions they take in self-defense. Like I said, the story is important, and The Burning Bed tries to make a convincing case cinematically, but its built-in foundations are rocky at best.
Granted, Farrah Fawcett and Paul Le Mat are terrific in their respective roles as Francine and Mickey. Fawcett goes for broke as the woman torn by love and fear while Le Mat gets to wrestle with a terrible person who was never mature enough to be in a position to support a family. While the principal leads are strong, the film's made-for-T.V. trappings hold things back a bit. For starters, Francine and Mickey were in their teens when they met and Fawcett and Le Mat were obviously too old to play convincing teenagers. If you didn't know the story going in, you'd swear they were supposed to be college graduates making the early conversations about having sex for the first time and those responsibilities sound a bit silly. Then when things turn dark for Francine, content limitations for an early 80s T.V. movie hold the film back and force a more overt presentation of the pain she endured. Save for a few scenes left for the dramatic finale in the courtroom, most things happen off-screen.
Another aspect holding the film back is the pacing. In school, I took a writing film-for-television course and this film along with the original Brian's Song were the lead structure examples my professor gave. T.V. movies have a very particular pace established in order to time dramatic events and plot points to coincide with ad breaks. As the film progresses the ad breaks become more frequent so the dramatic structure becomes more and more hurried. Where the film is almost languid and plodding at the outset, the conclusion feels like you're watching the 50-yard dash on high speed. We go long stretches where Richard Masur's frustrated defense attorney is a forgotten side note to point out when a commercial break is about to start to giving passionate speeches and becoming the central figure of the court case. While still a decent undertaking, the whole venture feels a bit disjointed.
Francine Hughes' story is an important one and would make a hell of a film. The Burning Bed does an amiable job at adapting her story and gives it's lead actors plenty of room to strut their stuff. As far as made-for-T.V. movies go, this one is pretty good. Its intentions are in the right place and you can see that the cast is giving it their all - especially Fawcett and Le Mat. Le Mat would snap up a Golden Globe for his efforts while Fawcett would only earn a nomination. Watching it, you can see that this was a solid effort that would set the bar for a dozen knockoff Lifetime Channel movies. It's a worthwhile watchable movie, even if it's not entirely as successful as it wants to be in depicting the events in question.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
The Burning Bed arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber and their Studio Classics label. Pressed onto a Region A BD-50 disc, the disc is housed in a standard sturdy Blu-ray case. Also included is a booklet containing cover images for other Kino Lorber Studio Classics releases. The disc loads to a static image main menu featuring traditional navigation options. In the setup menu you can choose between the original 1.33:1 television aspect ratio or the reframed 1.78:1 that appeared in international theatrical markets.
The Burning Bed is presented in 1080p in both the original 1.33:1 television aspect ratio and the reframed 1.78:1 presentation. If I had to choose one over the other, the 1.33:1 provides a more authentic viewing experience to the film's original presentation. In the reframing to 1.78:1, visual information along the top, bottom, and a hair around the left and right sides are cut off. While the stuff that's missing isn't necessary or an important detail to the story, I feel like the 1.33:1 is the more natural-looking version - but that's just me. Both offer up strong detail levels as an appreciable amount of film grain remains apparent. Colors enjoy rich primaries during the colorful flashback sequences while the prison and courtroom scenes are darker, relying more on browns, dark blues, and blacks. Black levels are strong throughout and give the image a great sense of depth. Slight speckling is the only damage worth noting. I didn't spot any banding or other compression anomalies.
The Burning Bed enjoys what could be described as a by-the-book English DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio mix. Given the production, this isn't the most sonically impressive mix ever put to disc, but it serves the needs of the film and works very well. Dialogue is the key element of the show and there is never any issue here. Conversations enjoy a lively exchange while the offscreen sounds of screams and abuse are appropriately effective. Scoring is subtle and used only to heighten the moment in question. Sound effects work is solid. The flashback scenes can sound like they're just going through the motions, but the scenes in the prison and courtroom offer up some more range and subtlety to give these scenes a sense of space and dimension.
Most Kino Lorber Studio Classics releases only come with a barebones package of bonus features, and The Burning Bed isn't an exception. While there may not be much here, what is here offers up a lot of insight into the film. The collection of trailers is always welcome even if they're not exactly relevant to the film itself.
Interview with Director Robert Greenwald (HD 15:54) Greenwald is a wealth of information about the film, the production, and offers a lot of great material as he was personally selected by Fawcett for the job.
Silkwood Trailer (SD 2:18)
The Crucible Trailer (SD 1:01)
Ulee's Gold Trailer (HD 1:56)
Hidden Agenda Trailer (HD 2:03)
Coming Home Trailer (SD 2:03)
The Burning Bed may not be the most important film ever made for television, but the story it intends to tell certainly is one worth experiencing. As a true story, the film was socially relevant when it aired in 1984 and remains so today. Farrah Fawcett dropped the glitz and glam she was known for and delivered what could be argued as the best performance of her career. The film itself may be held back by its structure, but it is still a solid watch. Kino Lorber Studio Classics brings The Burning Bed to Blu-ray in fine order. The video transfer gives you the option of watching the original 1.33:1 television broadcast framing or the 1.78:1 international theatrical presentation. A great interview with the director rounds out the bonus features. If you're a Fawcett fan or enjoy a decently made T.V. movie, The Burning Bed is certainly worth watching. I'm calling this one worth a look.