VoicesWithinRemember the Sally Field starring, multiple personality themed, based on fact small screen thriller SYBIL? Well, here’s its vastly inferior counterpart, a 1990 TV movie based on the harrowing story of Trudi Chase, a woman who, due to unimaginable childhood abuse, lived with 18 different personalities. Naturally, such a story would need a strong actress at its center, and yet in this film Trudi is played by…SHELLEY LONG???

Yes, that Shelley Long, the onetime CHEERS starlet who went on to a failed movie career (in bombs like HELLO AGAIN and TROOP BEVERLY HILLS). She also starred in this TV movie that attempted to dramatize the book WHEN RABBIT HOWLS by “The troops for Trudi Chase” (in other words, her 18 personalities). Shown in 1990 on ABC as a two night, four-hour extravaganza (and then edited down to 107 minutes for Canadian video), the film is a bummer, paying scant lip service to the book. Instead, in tried-and-true TV movie fashion, it concentrates mostly on Trudi’s problems with her hubby, and ends with her being “cured” by psychiatrist Tom Conti and confronting her abusive father for the obligatory “uplifting” coda.

As for Ms. Long, she’s not as bad as you might think-but then, she’s certainly not very good. Semi-competent is the word I’d use for her emoting here, meaning that it won’t satisfy trash movie fans, but it’s not nearly good enough to match Sally Field’s justifiably renowned work in SYBIL.

Trudi is an attractive young woman with a seemingly bright future: she lands a cushy job and has an affair with her boss. Marriage follows, and a daughter, but her “mood swings” pose a problem. Having been abused as a child (presented as flashbacks that have, naturally, been severely truncated from the near-unimaginable horrors presented in the book), she has eighteen personalities jostling around in her head. In short order, her hubby dumps her and she has a nervous breakdown, ending up in the office of a supershrink. There follow several screaming and crying sessions in the psychiatrist’s office (think of similar scenes in ORDINARY PEOPLE or—yes—SYBIL), which inspire her to confront her father and make everything better (yeah, right!).

Lamont Johnson was the director (and co-producer) and does pretty much what you’d expect: turns out a competent product unencumbered by surprise, energy, imagination or any trace of individuality. Despite the subject matter, the film is so bland it’s difficult to see what TV audiences ever saw in it (and I understand the ratings were respectable)—of course, like most TV movies, it’s pretty dated by now, meaning that the majority of the millions of viewers who originally tuned in probably feel the same way.

Vital Statistics

Itzbinso Long productions/P.A. Productions, Inc.

Director: Lamont Johnson
Producers: Harry R. Sherman, Lamont Johnson
Screenplay: E. Jack Neuman
(Based upon the book WHEN RABBIT HOWLS by “The Troops for Trudi Chase”)
Cinematography: William Wages
Editor: Susan B. Browdy
Cast: Shelley Long, Tom Conti, John Rubinstein, Alan Fudge, Jamie Rose, Christine Healy, Ernie Lively, Frank Converse