Graeme Clifford's exceedingly mediocre film on the tragic life of actress Frances Farmer provided the breakthrough role for Jessica Lange, who gives one of the finest performances of the decade. Whether one accepts the filmmakers' notion that Farmer was a great actress and the tragic victim of a retrograde Hollywood, incapable of handling a very smart, troubled, and willful woman, there's seems little doubt that her nightmarishly repressive mother and a brutal, benighted mental health system share the blame for destroying her once-vibrant personality. Unfortunately, Clifford adds insult to injury in turning the actress' life into a tedious, superficial soap opera, devoid of logic or perspective. Aside from Farmer, all of the characters, including her mother, are painfully underdeveloped, none more so than Harry York (Sam Shepard), a character invented by the writers to inject some romance into a tale of nearly unrelieved misery. Yet the film's existence can be justified on the basis of Lange's virtuoso performance, a miracle of intelligence, toughness, and sensitivity in a part whose emotional and physical demands left the actress drained for months afterwards.