Carol Burnett is book publisher Vivian Levinson Goldstein, the wife of Ezra (George Segal), and whose drug addict daughter Ellen (Jill Teed) has abandoned her son, 7 year old David (Eric Lloyd). Vivian is said to have carried on an affair with Ezra for 25 years whilst married to Ellen’s father, so the appearance of David naturally disturbs the time Ezra thought he and Vivian would finally have together.
Burnett presents Vivian as a humorless woman, a gangster’s moll who conceals her passion. At a party she wears a back-less black dress, which leads to Ezra kissing her back, and Vivian playfully putting one of her earrings on his ear. She and Segal play off each other beautifully, their subtle reactions and looks a brilliant demonstration of understatement. When it is heard that someone has died, Ezra holds Vivian from behind as she sobs, and Burnett listens painfully as Ellen tells her a story of her husband’s reaction when Vivian finally left the family.
The teleplay by Robbyn Burger presents Ellen as a shadowy figure, the doomed addict who returns to claim David. Vivian tells Ellen she is more like her than she would want to admit, and the parallel reinforces how Vivian too abandoned Ellen as child, in favour of illicit love with Ezra. The relationship between Ezra and Vivian has deteriorated since they have married and been `legitimised’, and it is David’s influence that brings the couple to realise how they care for each other.
Director Lee Grant uses Day of the Triffids on Ellen’s TV, and de-sentiments David so that he is never painfully cute or bratty, though the music score of Marvin Hamlisch veers close in the montage of David’s 8th birthday party. Vivian’s damning answering machine message is repeated when she visits Ellen’s apartment, but thankfully Vivian angrily messing Ellen’s collection of drugs isn’t made too much of. Segal is particularly funny in his reading of a love letter he finds written by Vivian to Alfred (Malcolm McDowell), a writer whose memoirs she is editing. —IMDb