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A LAST CRY FOR HELP (1979).

1970s-era troubled teen dramas were often good for an unintentional laugh, but since the dilemma du jour of this ABC made-for-TV movie was adolescent suicide -- in some ways, a small-screen precursor to ORDINARY PEOPLE -- writer-director Hal Sitowitz wisely kept the overwrought hokum to a minimum. It was also aided immeasurably by the girl-next-door appeal of Linda Purl, who starred in such '70s telefilms as LITTLE LADIES OF THE NIGHT and BLACK MARKET BABY, and tackled stints on series ranging from HAPPY DAYS to the US version of THE OFFICE... At first glance, high school cheerleader Sharon Muir (Purl) seems to have a perfect life, with tons of friends and a comfy suburban home. Plus she was just asked out by a hunky classmate! But this chick is also severely troubled, and during one of her panicked freak-outs, she's nearly flattened by an oncoming 18-wheeler. Of course, her parents are useless -- mother (Shirley Jones) lacks empathy, dad (JAWS-mayor Murray Hamilton) is a spineless wuss -- and Sharon's melancholy only deepens after losing her virginity at a big beach party. Her grades suffer, she starts wearing black, plus when her beloved dog is suddenly put down, it's pill-popping suicide-attempt time! Enter Dr. Ben Abbott (THE FRENCH CONNECTION's Tony Lo Bianco), a streetwise physician who, with Sharon under hospital observation for 72 hours, hopes to rap about her problems and cut through the bullshit. While in lock-up, she also flirts with handsome college kid Jeff (EIGHT IS ENOUGH's Grant Goodeve), yet another botched suicide. Although it occasionally lurches toward simplistic-claptrap answers (i.e. can an equally messed-up guy save poor Sharon?), the teleplay admirably up-ends the misguided notion that love alone can save someone from clinical depression (particularly after Jeff drives his car off a cliff -- immediately after their one night together!)... Purl is quite effective, with Sharon's happy facade quickly crumbling into detached confusion; Lo Bianco brings a no-nonsense approach to his potentially clich├ęd role; plus it's amusing to see good ol' Mrs. Partridge playing a stone-cold bitch who refuses to acknowledge the problems within her perfect family. In supporting roles, Karen Lamm (two-time ex-wife of The Beach Boys' Dennis Wilson) is Sharon's older sis; COOL HAND LUKE's Morgan Woodward has one scene as Jeff's controlling dad; plus an unrecognizably young and svelte, 22-year-old Delta Burke plays a "Cheer Squad" member. Music snippets includes The Bee Gees' "More Than a Woman" and The Steve Miller Band's "Swingtown" during the beach shindig, plus James Taylor's "Handy Man" provides an Early Warning Sign of Sharon's growing depression.

© 2015 by Steven Puchalski.