In the early stages of "Amy," an inspirational sedative from the Disney studio, a buckboard approached a covered bridge, prompting my daughters to sing out, "Hey, that's from 'Little House on the Prairie'!" I had no reason to doubt it, especially after "Amy" ended up resembling nothing so much as a turgid episode of "Litle House on the Prairie"
Undeniably well-meaning but skimpily dramatized, "Amy" starts the prim, lusterless Jenny Agutter as an extranged upper-class wife who leaves her patronizing socialite husband (Chris Robinson) in order to seek fulfilment as a speech teacher at a school for deaf and blind youngsters. The setting is alleged to be somewhere in Appalchia in 1913. Upon joining the faculty of the Parker School for the Deaf and Blind, the heroine encounters a potential antagonist in a matronly colleague, played by Nanette Fabray, who champions sign language. She regards the heroine's experiments in articulation as a waster of time, promising only "frustration and heartache" to deaf children.
Screenwriter Noreen Stone also tries to put this ongoing educational dispute in perspective by having Lou Fant as the director of the school point out that "a fierce battle has raged between manualists and oralists." "Any" is not animated by a compelling expression of this battle. It's the victim of minimalism, an undernourished approach to melodrama.
The pedagogical conflict dissolves into a vague truce after one brief flareup. Amy's efforts in the classroom are depicted with fleeting superficiality. The whole arduous process implied by what she hopes to accomplish is reduced to showing a star pupil articulating two words, "kite" and "mother." If anyone involved in this project hoped to recall the stirring teacher-pupil struggles that distinguished "The Miracle Worker" and "The Wild Child," the deed has fallen lamentably short of the wish.
The script keeps getting distracted -- with the illness of one pupil, the formaion of a school football team (not an unwelcome change of pace for a movie inclined to petrify in oppressive TV closeups), the blossoming of romance between Agutter and country doctor Barry Newman, who make the tamest, drabbest set of lovers.
I gather that Otto Rechenberg, the personable young man who plays the star pupil, Henry Watkins, was one of several cast members recruited from the California School for the Deaf in Riverside. He's certainly the best reason for seeing the film, which shares a double-bill at several area theaters with the 1953 animated feature "Alice in Wonderland," an electrifying pick-me-up after the longueurs of "Amy."
It should also be noted that "Amy" is being shown in a print with closed-captions at White Flint. A subtitling technique designed especially for hearing-impaired spectators, closed-captions have been used on the Disney television show. The studio prepared 10 prints of "Amy" with closed-captions for national release, and one of these was reserved for the Washington market. This thoughtful innovation may turn out to be the only attribute of "Amy" with an abiding claim on human or cinematic interest.