by Cecil Smith, Times Television Critic; Los Angeles Times, December 16, 1970
An NBC world premiere Monday night from Universal-Arena Productions, directed by Daryl Duke. Screenplay by Jarrold Freedman, from a story by Richard Levinson and William Link. Produced by Edgar Small. Executive Producer Norman Felton. Music Roger Keilaway. Director of photography Richard C. Gleuner. Editor Robert F. Shugrue. Features Roy Thinnes, Pete Duel, Luther Adler, John Rubinstein, Joy Bang, Katherine Justice.
There was some executive concern last week that Norman Felton’s The Psychiatrist: God Bless the Children would not do well in its World Premiere showing Monday night. As one nabob explained, stories probing the drug epidemic among the young were rare when the movie was made a year ago but so many have been aired since that the subject has become, if you’ll forgive me, a drug on the market.
I hope this isn’t true. Few movies made for the little screen have had the raw intensity and compelling power of God Bless the Children. The film is a gut blow. You leave it murmuring, “God bless them, indeed — God help them…”
Users of Drugs
For the film is aimed not at the children but their parents — the sleek, affluent, self-serving social order who simply will not believe that a large percentage of their young are users of heavy drugs. Early on, Luther Adler, playing a psyciatric authority, lays it out for his younger protege, Roy Thinnes: “I wasted six hours today trying to talk to people who are barely aware the automobile has been invented. To hear them talk, Woodstock, Timothy Leary, and the Black Panther party are all figments of Life magazine’s imagination. I don’t know what kind of problem their kids have, but the parents sure have one.”
To further emphasize this thesis, Felton sent director Daryl Duke and his cast to film the story against the breathtaking beauty of the Monterey Peninsula and the Big Sur. Here the shining children come of the shining sands to a sea-blistered and tower where they stick shiny needles into their veins.
Prodded by Adler, Thinnes makes this scene, accompanied by a young junkie (Pete Duel) recently paroled from prison in his care. The junkie presumably will bridge the gap to the kids. He does, particularly through a pretty teeny-bopper played by a fine young actress with the incredible name of Joy Bang. Except when Duel bares his scars, the kids buy none of it.
Their leader (John Rubinstein) tells Duel: “I admire you, man. If you kicked the habit, you’ve got something going inside you. But that’s not where we’re at…”
“It’s not about licking or not licking it,” he says. “It’s about life, man… dirty air, worrying about money, ego hangups… We can’t change the world, but we can get our heads straight!” When Duel tells him, “You wouldn’t know how to listen if the world was falling apart at your feet,” he replies: “Look down, man, and tell me it isn’t…”
But what hits you is there are no answers, no solution, no endings here, happy or unhappy. The events of these shining kids in the shining city by the shining sea are played in counterpoint against group therapy sessions conducted with an almost savage ferocity by Thinnes, jabbing at the rot beneath the skin. On still another overlapping level, there’s an emotional involvement between the psychiatrist and a disturbed young woman, which is too fragmented and remote to be effective.
But much that is here is not only effective, but disturbing, often frightening. The movie is the prelude to six hour-long editions of The Psychiatrist as the fourth series in Four-in-One, beginning Feb. 3. If you live up to the model, television’s spring looks much less bleak.