Archive for September 24, 1991

Murder in New Hampshire

September 24, 1991

This quickie (and I mean quickie — it was televised six months after Pamela Smart was convicted in March 1991) TV movie should be a lot more fun than it is, given its cast. Start with Helen Hunt (the year before Mad About You started) in terrible ’80s hair (someone is credited with making her hair extensions) as Pam Smart, who to this day claims she did not persuade her high-school-age lover Billy Flynn (Chad Allen) to murder her husband Gregg (Hank Stratton). Toss in Howard Hesseman as the prosecutor in the case, Larry Drake as Pam’s defense attorney, and Ken Howard and Michael Learned as Gregg’s parents, and you have an interesting TV-veteran cast trying to work with a klutzy script with unbelievably flat dialogue.

The idea of a pre-Oscar Helen Hunt as Pam Smart sounds a lot more guiltily pleasurable than what you end up getting. I wish I could say I had a good time with it; maybe the material needed a more farcical, irreverent touch, as in HBO’s The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom or The Rat Pack. I also wish I could say that director Joyce Chopra, who seems to have done a lot of true-crime TV movies since her acclaimed Smooth Talk in 1985, brings much sensibility — or sensitivity — to this story. Gus Van Sant’s flawed To Die For may be the best (fictionalized) telling of the Pam Smart case. Hunt is good if necessarily unappealing in the role; fans who want to see her shine in a TV movie ought to seek out 1983’s Quarterback Princess.

Pam Smart is still serving her life-without-parole sentence in a New York prison. A decade or so ago, a couple of fellow inmates beat her up pretty badly. She and her mother continue to argue her innocence; in October 2002, a New Hampshire judge denied her third appeal.