Ghost Dancing

Ghost Dancing ★★★

If you’ve ever wanted to see the mother from Old Yeller plant a bomb and blow up a reservoir, the 1983 TV movie Ghost Dancing is probably your only opportunity.

Dorothy McGuire, close to 70 at the time, plays Sarah, a flinty farm woman who, with her late husband, worked the land on their southwestern farm ( location shooting in Utah) for decades, establishing bonds with the local Native Americans and even adopting an orphaned Native girl. (In keeping with the time in which this film was made, Native Americans are called Indians here.)

The local water supply has been taken over by a municipality-appointed board that has drained the water tables of the outlying areas to supply the city and its hoped for development. Sarah and her neighbors are left with drying wells and worthless property and are being gouged by the city’s ever increasing fees for any assistance that will be provided. Enough is enough. She’s had it with petitions and hearings where the citizens are being fed a line of bull. Sarah knows her way around a stick of dynamite!

This is the type of flick that makes me love TV movies from the 70s and 80s. It’s slightly bananas, but unruffled by that and completely certain of the story it wants to tell. It hits other sweet spots of mine. It has a strong woman at its center (TV movies as a genre were always female-centric). It has terrific actors up and down the cast list (any flick with Richard Farnsworth, Bo Hopkins, and Bruce Davison isn’t effing around). And it gets you involved with the story and its protagonist, who is given a final scene that would make Thelma and Louise proud.

McGuire played a lot of faithful wives and mothers over the years, and you suspect she relished playing a lady who, in her genteel way, won’t take anymore s—t. But then there was always a hint of steel behind her gentle manner (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn comes to mind). The fact that she was left off the Academy’s In Memoriam in 2002 . . . well, the Oscars have been a joke for years.

It’s too bad this isn’t available in a better print than what’s on right now. The upload from an old broadcast freezes at several points, including one of the most suspenseful. A better upload to YouTube, anyone?

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