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  Hide in Plain Sight Desperate Dad
Year: 1980
Director: James Caan
Stars: James Caan, Jill Eikenberry, Robert Viharo, Joe Grifasi, Barbra Rae, Kenneth McMillan, Josef Sommer, Danny Aiello, Thomas Hill, Chuck Hicks, Andy Fenwick, Heather Bicknell, David Clennon, Peter Maloney, Ken Sylk, David Margulies, Leonardo Cimino
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: In 1967, factory worker Thomas Hacklin (James Caan) has already suffered a bruising divorce, from Ruthie (Barbra Rae), which has seen her take custody of their two young children. He misses his kids desperately, but at least he can see them at the appointed time in the week, though he is wary about Ruthie's new husband Jack Scolese (Robert Viharo), who seems to be moving in shady circles. With good reason: Scolese is a member of the Mafia, and after he takes part in a bank robbery with his cohorts, there are repercussions for Hacklin as well as the family, for Scolese agrees to talk and is put on the Witness Protection Program - along with Hacklin's ex and the two children.

This means Hacklin cannot legally see his offspring, which would appear to make this true story prime material for a real weepie, the sort of thing that turns up as a TV movie rather than the kind you would visit a theatre to watch. And so it was: Hide in Plain Sight faltered at the box office thanks to subject matter that didn't impress as cinematic, not in 1980 anyway, and lukewarm reviews in the main that had potential audience staying away. On the other hand, the Caan name went on to attract curiosity seekers, for this was his first, and indeed only, try at directing a film, and given his screen image as a tough New Yorker his fans might have anticipated some muscular diversions.

As it was, this did pick up a cult following after a fashion, but more from the sort of person who wouldn't dream of settling down in front of Steel Magnolias or Beaches, but found themselves responding to a collection of pretty basic tugs on the heartstrings from the script Caan chose to use. For most, they would remain dry-eyed throughout, as Hacklin's portrayal was both driven to the point of obsession, and borderline dangerous, as if on the verge of violence whenever events do not go his way. In fact, in some scenes he steps over the line and starts shouting or behaving threateningly - late on he bashes a man full in the face with a spade, sending him through a window.

All this puts the audience in a strange position, as Hacklin patently loves his kids and is heartbroken that he may never see them again, so has our sympathies in that respect, yet he is not otherwise a sympathetic character, for he exudes a menace, that this is a man to be wary of and not someone to embrace as a lost soul, or even a rock in anyone's life. He does have a new woman in his life, schoolteacher Alisa (Jill Eikenberry), who does her best to be understanding, but then he gets her pregnant which comes across as less the act of a loving man and more a careless one; not helping is that he is still more interested in the kids he already has but are now absent than the baby that's on the way, not that we are entirely clear on how Alisa feels about all this - from what we can tell, she's not happy.

But then again, she is supportive, another example of uncertain writing that the acting tries to paper over any cracks arising from personalities that veer too close to cliché, aside from Hacklin who is more unformed, and would doubtless be even less appealing had Caan not conveyed a deep respect for the man (Caan had already been through two divorces by this stage, leaving two children). The American Government got a lot of stick from Hide in Plain Sight, as it does not entirely blame the reckless Scolese for the situation, more the authorities who more or less place the two little ones in his custody, as we are in no doubt he is a poor choice to look after anyone, going as far as beating Ruthie at one point. At no time is the Government accepted that it was struggling with a difficult family crisis for the Hacklins, only that these men in suits (and the occasional secretary) are on a par with the actual Mafia who have set this into motion in the first place. Whether this was unfair was left for the viewer to judge, as this was a murky melodrama at best: framing it in genre terms might have made it more appetising, though could have obscured the truth. Music by Leonard Rosenman.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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