For Cassie Barrett, suburban wife, mother, attractive woman, etc., life has become so unpinned that even grocery shopping is an obstacle. "The Cracker Factory," airing tonight at 9 on Channel 7, establishes that quickly in a riveting opening scene.
But the rest of the two-hour movie about the emotional disturbance of this woman, played by Natalie Wood, loses much of the intensity.
The movie focuses on Cassie Barrett's stay (one of many) in a local psychiatric ward, a suburban version of the hospital in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."
The scenes are meant to be funny in many cases, and sometimes they are. But for the most part "The Cracker Factory" comes off like a situation comedy without a laugh track. "I'm devoting my life to being a psychiatric patient" says one young woman patient to Barrett. "It's a vocation, you know. Sort of like being a nun, only more expensive." Or, when Barrett wants to get rid of another patient who is trailing around after her, she says, "Norma, just buzz off -- go have a sexual fantasy or something."
Such irreverence at a time when psychiatrists are sometimes treated as gurus, makes one laugh in spite of the silliness.
Wood is attractive in the part, but she's too smart and too sharp-tongued much of the time. Sometimes it works, as when her doctor asks her to name American presidents. She does it quickly, and then turns on him: "Now, would you please name for me all the presidents of the Menninger clinic after Carl Federick Menninger?"
Problems she's got: alcoholism, a horrible mother, a wishy-washy husband, a nightmare of a priest -- but viewers will wonder if she really needed a psychiatric ward.