Monday, January 3, 2011

The Perfect Nanny (Happy Home Productions, World International Network, Lifetime, 2000)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2011 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

This morning I watched a Lifetime TV-movie, The Perfect Nanny, which came between The Perfect Husband and The Perfect Teacher on their “Perfect Sunday” marathon December 26. This one was a bit different from the others in that it was relatively early in the cycle (2000), and while Christine Conradt’s name was on the writing credits, three other people’s were too: Mark Castaldo was credited with the story and Richard Gilbert-Hill and Victor Schiller co-credited with Conradt on the script. (Maybe she wasn’t yet conversant enough with the clichés to write this one solo.) This time we know for certain the supposedly “perfect” nanny is in fact psychopathically crazy from the get-go: the first we see of her, Andrea McBride Hatfield (Tracy Nelson) is her stealing into her husband’s bedroom, holding a knife, intent on surprising him in flagrante delicto with his alternate girlfriend and either killing, mutilating or just scaring him, we’re not sure which and we don’t get to find out because hubby Troy Hatfield (Darren Gray Ward) overpowers her, gets the knife away, calls the cops and Andrea ends up in California’s Camarillo State Mental Hospital (where Charlie Parker famously “relaxed” in 1946-47 after his nervous breakdown in L.A.).

Released early, she’s determined to hook a rich man and seduce him along the lines of the plots of the Harlequin-style romance novels she reads incessantly, including one called The Story of Molly which she takes as a life lesson because its heroine is a governess who lands a fabulously wealthy plantation owner in New England in 1870 (a ridiculous plot premise even for a story-within-a-story and one Conradt and her colleagues probably enjoyed coming up with). She gets a job as a receptionist at an employment agency specializing in placing domestics and steals the application of Dr. James Lewis (Bruce Boxleitner, who also executive-produced), who’s looking for a nanny for his two kids, college-age daughter Fawn (Dana Barron) and precocious 10-year-old son Ben (Scott Terra). Dr. Lewis is seemingly available since he’s a widower — his wife died a year before, we’re never told what of — and it looks at first like he’s not going to hire Andrea, who’s using the name “Nikki Harcourt,” because there’s a candidate ahead of her and he wants someone who speaks, and can teach his son, Spanish. No problem: Nikki simply traces the other applicant to her home and pushes a heavy bookcase on top of her, killing her, and gets the job with Dr. Lewis now that she’s eliminated the competition.

Nikki continues to wipe out — literally — anyone she sees as a threat to her seduction and marriage of the good doctor, including his girlfriend and hospital colleague Dr. Julia Bruning (Susan Blakely); an older doctor named Conrad (Scott Alan Smith) who’s the head of the hospital’s medical board and is lining up the other members to approve a sale to an HMO, which will mean closure of Dr. Lewis’s brain surgery unit; her estranged husband Troy, who returns and wants a piece of whatever ill-gotten gains she’s setting up for herself; and her own mother (Katherine Helmond), who catches on and shows up at the good doctor’s home and tries to blackmail her daughter. The Perfect Nanny resembles the weakest thrillers of 1940’s Hollywood in the virtual absence of law enforcement; just as the cops in 1941’s The Invisible Ghost from Monogram never bothered to make Dr. Charles Kessler (Bela Lugosi) a suspect even though all the murder victims whose killings they were investigating were members of Kessler’s household staff, so this time out none of the police seem to catch on to the fact that the victims were all involved with Dr. Lewis and/or his nanny.

Had The Perfect Nanny been plotted as more of a whodunit — had its makers made Nikki appear to be a genuinely good person and nanny and delayed the revelation that she was actually a maniac — this would have been an even better movie than it was, but even as it stood it was nice good clean dirty fun, punctuated by a good psycho performance by Nelson even though the rest of the cast was little to write home about: Bruce Boxleitner hardly seemed worth saving and the other people were just pathetic — except for Dana Barron as Fawn, who seems just pettily jealous of Nikki and of the ill-fated Dr. Bruning and anyone else who gets too close to her dad, but by the end of the movie she’s become the “sleuth” character, putting together and showing up at home on the climactic (in more ways than one) night in which Nikki finally planned to seduce Dr. Lewis; she and Nikki end up wrestling each other with knives in hand before Nikki is finally subdued and all ends well except for the minor characters who’ve already been collateral damage in Nikki’s scheme. Relentlessly overdirected by Robert Malefactor — oops, I mean Malenfant — with too many sinister close-ups and too much doomy music telegraphing every major plot point way too soon, The Perfect Nanny is one of those Lifetime movies that entertains precisely because it’s so gloriously over-the-top.