The flashback is a staple of the biopic genre, often introduced by an awkward segue, wavy lines or a reflective star on the brink of a comeback. Haywire employs none of these methods, presenting them without forewarning, and only occasionally linking them to the subject at hand. It’s a bold move, and one that may have worked were they not accompanied by impassive performances in three crucial roles.
Aired over two nights, the first part of this biopic begins with the death of actress Margaret Sullavan. As her three adult children and ex-husband reunite for her funeral, old wounds are opened up. Sisters Brooke and Brigid bicker over each other's relationship with their mother, while brother Bill clashes with his father, producer Leland Hayward. The dysfunction on display is juxtaposed with scenes of happier times, when the most exciting place on earth was wherever mother was. The second half takes place eleven years later in the ailing Leland’s hospital room. Noticeable in her absence is the troubled Brigid.
Despite the sad outcome for many of this family’s members, there are no villains in this piece. Produced by Bill Hayward and based on his sister’s best-selling memoir, its refreshing to have the recollections of a star's child strive for balance. Yet its thrown off-kilter by the remoteness effected by Deborah Raffin, Dianne Hull and Hart Bochner. In contrast, Lee Remick and Jason Robards rise above the material, rendering believable characters adrift in a daytime soap opera.
The result is a well-intentioned bore beset by a sense of detachment both on and off the screen.
During the final time period of the film, 1971, Brooke Hayward mentions she has been married and divorced twice. Her second husband was actor Dennis Hopper.
Made in 1980, the biopic covers both Margaret Sullavan’s and her daughter Brigid Hayward’s death by an overdose of sleeping pills. In 2008 Margaret’s son Bill Hayward, who was an associate producer on Easy Rider (1969), also took his own life by a self-inflicted gunshot.
Only scene approaching a film recreation takes place on the Warner Brothers' lot. Sullavan recites a few lines about Times Square before bidding farewell to ‘Jimmy’ after the director calls cut. Sullavan co-starred with James Stewart in four films, Next Time We Live (1936), The Shopworn Angel (1938), The Mortal Storm (1940) and The Shop Around the Corner (1940), none of which were produced by Warner Brothers. The studio did however produce this biopic.