It's tempting to dismiss "Call Me Anna" as just another triumph-over-affliction movie: child star is victimized by cruel managers, cracks up mentally as an adult, later rebuilds life and serves as positive example. Blah blah blah.
What elevates this turbulent ABC drama about actress Patty Duke above the crowd, however, are its wrenching depictions of that tragically bizarre childhood and her mental illness that seemed to surface only later.
Airing at 9 p.m. Sunday on Channels 7, 3, 10 and 42, "Call Me Anna" is based on Duke's autobiography (actually written by Times Interim Book Editor Kenneth Turan) and has Duke playing herself as an adult. This begs the question of whether she is actually acting or just reliving her life in front of the camera, in this case a life decimated by failed marriages and sharply veering mood swings, including depression so bottomless that at one point she attempted suicide.
In any event, Duke is especially effective in portraying both the wildly erratic, self-destructive behavior that epitomized her manic depression and, through her own recovery process, the woman offering hope to others suffering the same disorder.
However, it's the gnarled roots of Patty Duke--the Oscar-winning child actress (Ari Meyers) relinquished by her weak mother (Millie Perkins) to the abusive, perversely authoritarian control of personal managers John and Ethel Ross (Howard Hesseman and Deborah May)--that compellingly define this story, which was written and directed by Gilbert Cates. Even as a teen (Jenny Robertson) with her own network TV show, her life is dictated by the evil Rosses, who had earlier insisted she change her name to Patty from Anna.
It's a sad, tormented story whose rosy ending does not obscure the fact that Patty Duke, despite her life being on the upswing, remains a work in progress.