"Jane Doe," a CBS movie starring Karen Valentine and William Devane tonight at 9 on Channel 9, has nothing to do with the real-life story of a woman amnesiac of the same name who turned up in Florida last year. Which is too bad. Because what could have been a compelling psychodrama about the loss of a woman's memory and her struggle for a new identity turns out to be nothing more than a highly implausible, third-rate schlocker with less substance than a cup of nondairy creamer. In other words, just what the producers were aiming for.
It's enough to give amnesia a bad name.
The story begins when Valentine is found in a shallow grave, having been strangled almost to death. William Devane plays a grouchy, hard-boiled cop, Detective Quinn, who looks like a refugee from Gilligan's Island in his slicker and sou'wester. He keeps telling jokes about giving up coffee and calls women "dames." Naturally he is assigned to the case, and we learn that a psychopathic killer, dubbed "The Roadside Strangler," has been knocking off young women willy-nilly. Valentine appears to be the latest victim.
When she wakes up in the hospital--her bug eyes darting about--she doesn't remember her name, let alone how her neck got so black and blue. Is she married? Does she have kids? Whose wife is it anyway?
Enter the fluffy blond psychiatrist, Eva Marie Saint.
"It's all right to feel confused and frightened," she tells Valentine, who is confused and frightened.
The next session is no better.
"You're getting hysterical," Eva Marie Saint observes.
"Of course I'm hysterical," Valentine cries.
Who wouldn't be with a script like this?
Karen Valentine has mastered two emotions for her role: catatonic and hysterical. In all fairness, she hasn't been given much to work with. She gets to say things like, "I have to know what happened." In one scene, the only thing missing is the laugh track.
"Am I Victoria Schaffer?" she asks Eva Marie Saint.
"We don't know," the psychiatrist says.
"If you find out will you tell me?"
Later, she confronts William Devane.
"Lieutenant, was I raped?" she asks.
"No," he says.
"Thanks," she smiles.
It gets worse.
"Is the 'Roadside Strangler' trying to kill me?" Valentine asks Devane, whose face is frozen in a permanent leer.
"We don't know. But he can't get to you," he says.
Meantime, Mr. Strangler is walking in the hospital door.
After an hour of trumped-up suspense using Valentine as strangler bait, ending with a painfully obvious plot twist, Jane Doe's would-be killer--as well as the movie--is put to rest.