Run, viewer, run from horrid 'Bambi'

May 18, 1992|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

You could call "Calendar Girl, Cop, Killer? The Bambi Bembenek Story" a cheap piece of network sweeps trash.

But it's not that good.

The ABC made-for-TV movie is worth noting, though, because it suggests how advanced the brain and talent drain has become at the broadcast networks: They can't even make good sweeps sleaze any more.

Most of the thinking on this film, which airs at 9 tonight on WJZ-Channel 13, appears to have gone into the advertising campaign. It features actress Lindsay Frost in fishnet stockings and a black bra with one of the shoulders straps worn off the shoulder. The copy says: "Ripped from the headlines. You read it in People. You saw it on the news. Now see the movie on ABC-TV. . . . She was a calendar girl. She was a cop. Was she a killer? You decide. The Bambi Bembenek story . . ."

For those who haven't read it in People or seen it on the news, Bambi Bembenek is a woman in Wisconsin who was convicted in 1981 of killing her husband's first wife. Ms. Bembenek, who had been a calendar model and police officer, said she was railroaded by the Milwaukee Police Department because of a sex discrimination lawsuit she brought against the department after being kicked off the force. At one point, after her conviction, Ms. Bembenek escaped from prison and fled to Canada. To some in Milwaukee she became a local hero, celebrated in the call, "Run, Bambi, run," from the movie "Bambi."She has since been recaptured.

All of which makes this movie twice cursed. It's not only trash, but it's docudrama trash -- trash based on a real-life case and presented as fact to give it more credibility and potentially give viewers a truly distorted view of the real world.

What's wrong with the film? Everything. The script, which relies on the hoary structure of a newspaper reporter going back to examine Ms. Bembenek's life for a story, literally is not as good as the better undergraduate writing in university TV and film programs. As for directorial priorities, the number of ultratight shots of Ms. Frost's tush in the opening prison escape sequence tells you most of what you need to know.

In real life, Ms. Bembenek has lost three appeals of her conviction. In the film, she is portrayed as innocent, a woman being punished for "believing women and men are equal," to quote the script. The film makes no real effort to support even a sliver of that claim, though.

Eighteen months ago, I wrote a story quoting ABC executives saying that the network was getting out of the docudrama business. "No more ripped-from-the-headlines movies on ABC," they promised.

Not only are they ripping 'em from the headlines again, now they're announcing and celebrating it in their ads.

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