Sarah T. – Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic (1975)

The last film Richard Donner would make before The OmenSarah T. – Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic is a hard-hitting made for TV movie all about how easily teens in the 1970’s could become full-fledged alcoholics before they even graduated high school. It’s written by Richard and Esther Shapiro, who would go on to create Dynasty.

Sarah Travis (Linda Blair!) is fifteen and feels all alone. Her parents are divorced, with her drunk father (Larry Hagman!) being pretty much absent and her mother (Vera Bloom, Animal House) concentrating on her new marriage (William Daniels — the voice of KITT from Knight Rider — plays the stepfather).

Sarah feels overshadowed by her older sister Nancy (Laurette Spang-McCook, Cassiopeia from the original Battlestar Galactica) and tries to live with her father, but he can barely take care of himself.

As the movie starts, she’s already drinking at her mother’s parties and is dealing with major feelings of anxiety and feeling out of place. And when her mother sets up a blind date with Ken (Mark Hamill!), she really shows off how much she can handle at a series of parties. While her parents disapprove of the boy, they bond over his horse Daisy and become friends.

But Sarah’s alcoholism starts to impact others. She gets a maid fired who her mother blames for watering down their booze. And she already started to drink to get through school.

Things get much worse when Sarah tells Ken that she’s in love with him. He gently tells her that he’s not interested — honestly he looks and feels ten years older than her — and when her father rebuffs her again, Sarah goes off the deep end. From getting hammered while babysitting to riding Ken’s horse into traffic, our heroine is trapped in a downward spiral.

This is a great reminder of how made for TV movies once looked as good or better than theatrical films, particularly if they had a message like this one. Blair is quite good at conveying the tailspin that her character endures, another of her “girl in danger” roles like another great made for TV movie she made, Born Innocent.

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