NOT WITHOUT My Daughter'' is the kind of drama that has become commonplace on television. Fortunately, this one was done for the larger screen, carefully, brightly and with more suspense than any film really needs.
''Not Without My Daughter'' is based on a true story, and that adds to its suspense, even if we know how it turned out. The woman, played by Sally Field in the film, told her story to Barbara Walters on television. She also wrote a book about her experiences.
Familiarity with the facts, however, does not diminish the worth of the film.
Betty Mahmoody is an American woman, living in Michigan with her husband, an Iranian-born doctor who has been in the United States for 20 years. He is not happy working at the hospital. Members of the staff, sounding like 1940s bigots, make insulting remarks about the Iranian, and when his family suggests that he return to his home country, he persuades his wife to return with him. They and their daughter will remain there for only two weeks, he says.
He is, of course, lying, and when Mahmoody gets to Iran, she becomes a virtual prisoner. In time, she is told she may leave, but she won't be able to take her daughter with her.
Mahmoody also learns that she must always wear the traditional dress and not show her hair outside her home. Should she go out on the street with her hair uncovered, she may be arrested. Women do not occupy a glorified position in 1984 Iran.
The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee may find some of this objectionable, but the film is not that heavy-handed. It is explained that Mahmoody's in-laws are from the provinces and are far more fanatical than most Moslems, and Betty Mahmoody does meet a number of good people, Iranians willing to risk their lives to help her escape. Without them, she could never have made it.
Field does more Oscar-winning work as the American woman who desperately wants to leave her husband's country. She still looks like a little girl but is good enough to makes us overlook her appearance.
Alfred Molina, a British actor, is the woman's husband, a wife-beater who prefers the Iranian culture to that of the United States, though you might wonder why. Even there, he meets resentment, resentment from other Iranian doctors who do not like the fact that he has trained in the United States.
''Not Without My Daughter'' opens here today. It is a tightly made, thoroughly engrossing film, one that has been evenly directed by Brian Gilbert, whose last film was ''Vice Versa,'' a comedy.
''Not Without My Daughter''
**** An American woman finds herself prisoner in Iran when she returns there for a visit with her husband's relatives.
CAST: Sally Field, Alfred Molina, Sheila Rosenthal
DIRECTOR: Brian Gilbert
RATING: PG-13 (violence)
RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes