by Laura Tucker
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Thirty-two years after its original release, Warner Brothers is releasing The Gathering on DVD, along with its sequel The Gathering II. I have to admit it gave me the warm fuzzies, and I don’t even remember it from the first time around. Not that I’m not old enough, but my mom was trying to force me to watch PBS specials, and I was only wanting to watch The Love Boat and Happy Days. Of course, the old B&W Zenith I had in my bedroom only got ABC anyway. It’s the only thing the rabbit ears could lock in on.
What gave me the warm fuzzies watching this old TV movie was just seeing all those faces. Those were the faces that were showing up on The Love Boat and later Fantasy Island and in nearly every TV movie. Ed Asner stars, but to me he’ll always be Lou Grant, and I picture him telling everyone they have spunk and that he hates spunk. His estranged wife was played by Maureen Stapleton, a literal acting maven of the times. Most of the actors and actresses I “knew” but couldn’t name, but certainly spotted a pre-Trapper John Gregory Harrison, and a pre-Remington Steele Stephanie Zimbalist.
Asner stars as Adam Thornton, a business mogul who seems to have have had his head in his business far more often than with his family. His long-suffering wife, Kate (Stapleton), suffered even more as he walked out on her one day after the kids had all moved out. He gets estranged not just from her, but from his two daughters and two sons as well, with only his business to keep him company. Shortly before Christmas one year, he finds out he has only a few months to live and knows he needs to set things right with his kids first.
Adam needs the help of Kate to get back together with his kids. He doesn’t even have their addresses or phone numbers. She finds out he’s dying and promises to help. He doesn’t allow her to tell the kids he’s dying, and she has to try and get them to dump their own holiday plans last minute and come home for Christmas. It isn’t an easy sell without the knowledge that their father is dying. One of his sons is a chip off the old block and doesn’t want to do things Dad’s way. Both of his daughters want to come home for the holiday, but neither of their husbands can bear it. The last time Adam saw his son, Bud (Harrison), was when he told his dad he was moving to Canada to dodge the draft, a definitely unpopular move with his dad. No one even has a phone number for Bud.
Of course, this all came about before “Dysfunctional” was even part of our lingo. But in a way it’s a sign of the times. Dads didn’t used to be as involved as they are now. Everybody’s FIne in theatres right now deals with the same thing. The father (Robert DeNiro) finds himself widowed and doesn’t know how to keep in touch with his kids, as his wife always did that. I have to admit I don’t even think one of my gandfathers would have known my name if he saw me walking down the street. He’d know I was his grandchild and possibly that I was the daughter of his eldest son, but with eight kids in the family and countless grandchildren, and no attention on his part, I don’t think he could place me beyond that.
That’s what makes The Gathering interesting to watch now. It was big enough in the 70s to warrant a sequel, so it still had some very powerful things to say, but I think examining this TV movie thirty plus years later says even more, as it shows how far we’ve come in family roles.
The Gathering and The Gathering II are available as a special two-disc DVD set and can be purchased from the WB Shop.
Laura Tucker is the webmaster of Reality Shack, and its accompanying Reality Shack Blog, and is a freelance writer providing reviews of movies and television, among other things, at Viewpoints. She is also an Associate Instructor and 2nd dan black belt in tae kwon do with South Elgin Martial Arts. Laura can be reached at LauraBelle@realityshack.com
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