There’s a stigma to TV movies by cinephiles as if somehow they don’t count for anything. As if somehow you didn’t make a feature length drama. As if the crew was smaller or used something other than 35mm film. As if your actors or directors weren’t up to snuff like theatrical actors. But during the ’70s, more people watched TV movies than a majority of movies that were out in the theater. Of course it helped that back then the major networks loved running them during primetime. After stunning audiences as the possessed girl in The Exorcist, Linda Blair became a sensation when her first movie starring movie that didn’t co-star Satan aired on NBC. Born Innocent was such a smash that Linda returned the next year with the Sarah T. – Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic.
Sarah (Blair) seems like just a happy go lucky teenage girl helping out at a party held by her stepfather (Boy Meets World‘s William Daniels) and mother (High Plains Drifter‘s Verna Bloom). But she secretly finishing off the drinks abandoned by the adults. This isn’t her first time getting quietly drunk. Turns out Sarah has a major issue with alcohol. She knows how to sneak shots out of stepdad’s bottles and water them down to make them not look empty. She does the old “mom’s in the shower” trick to buy bottles from liquor store delivery guys. Why does she drink? For many reasons. First is her parents’ divorce and mother’s remarrying. She also has an alcoholic father (Dallas‘ Larry Hagman) who is on the road as a travelling salesman. This is compounded because she had to move and be in a new school. Plus the normal insecurities that come from being a teenage girl makes getting drunk alluring. Things at school seem a little better when Ken (Star Wars‘ Mark Hamill) takes a liking to her. He even introduces her to his horse. However her drinking becomes an issue in the relationship. When several of her tricks to get booze implode, she starts to meltdown. She wasn’t just a party drinker, Sarah T. was a teenage alcoholic. Could she have any hope of recovery?
It’s would be easy to scoff this film away as a TV movie except there’s so much major league talent on both sides of the camera. First off is Richard Donner who at this point was responsible at directing the “Danger Island” serial movie in The Banana Splits. After Sarah T., Donner would become a sensation with his own film about a kid and Satan in The Omen. Director of photography Gayne Rescher would go on to shoot Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. While screenwriters Richard and Esther Shapiro wouldn’t have a major theatrical career, they did strike gold with Dynasty. The cast even includes Michael Lerner (Barton Fink) and M. Emmet Walsh (Blade Runner). Sarah T. is a real movie that ran on television. Even more important is that Sarah T. is still a pertinent movie as teenagers are still having drinking problems.
The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The transfer looks better than what people saw with their rabbit ears on the TV back in 1975. It’s fun to see a young Mark Hamill before he blasted off in Star Wars and Linda Blair after she escaped the devil. The audio is DTS-HD MA Mono. The mix is fine so you don’t miss any of Linda’s monologues. The movie is subtitled.
Linda B. on Sarah T. (16:53) has Linda Blair talk about how she got involved in the movie. She talks about how doing movies for primetime was a lot more edgy than the After School Specials. She talks about how she wasn’t a trained actress and the monologues from Sarah T were a challenge. She got a lot of help from Richard Donner and Mark Hamill. She was in awe in playing Larry Hagman’s daughter. She was dating Rick Springfield at this time.
Richard D. and David L. Portrait of a TV Movie (19:30) sits down with director Richard Donner and producer David Levinson. Donner talks about how there were topics that couldn’t work in theatrical releases because you couldn’t get people to buy tickets to see. But TV opened things up. Sarah T happened because an NBC executive had found out someone close to them was an alcoholic and they wanted a film about it. At the end of the movie, they ran a number for kids who needed help and they hotlines rang.
Still Gallery (4:01) includes lots of publicity pics.
Shout! Factory presents Sarah T. Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic. Directed by Richard Donner. Screenplay by: Richard and Esther Shapiro. Starring: Linda Blair, Larry Hagman, Verna Bloom, William Daniels & Mark Hamill. Rated: Unrated. Running Time: 95 minutes. Released: January 29, 2019.
Tags: Linda Blair, mark hamill, Shout! Factory, Star Wars