One Woman Army: Breach of Conduct (1994)

Dave digs into the feature-length directorial debut of actor-cum-helmer Tim Matheson and finds a pair of performances to savour.

Now with nearly fifty directing credits to his name – a wealth of great TV movies and episodes of hit shows Virgin River, Suits, and Psych among them – it’s crazy to think that, once, actor Tim Matheson was reluctant to step behind the camera.

“My biggest fear was my actors not cooperating,” he told the New York Daily News shortly after the premiere of his feature-length debut, BREACH OF CONDUCT. “I thought, ‘What am I going to do if they don’t trust me, or don’t go along with me?’ If you don’t have their trust, it’s like pulling teeth.” [1]

Thankfully for Matheson, his first megaphone-wielding foray couldn’t have gone any better, with both of his leads helping to deliver a USA Network programmer that’s gripping enough to mask its improbabilities.

Said leads are Courtney Thorne-Smith and Peter Coyote. The former is Helen Lutz: a wholesome housewife with a predilection for sculpture and sketches who traverses the country in the shadow of her military man husband, Ted (Tom Verica). Their latest stop is Fort Benton – forty miles from nowhere in the arse-crack of the Midwest – and it’s ruled with an iron fist by Col. Andrew Case (Coyote). Helen arrives at the base while Ted is away on an exercise. His absence appears coincidental but, as time goes on, it becomes obvious that it’s a carefully orchestrated trap by Case to woo her – “I saw a woman so compelling that I brushed aside propriety”. Helen stoically spurns his advances and remains loyal to her beloved – but by doing so, she causes Case to unleash a barrage of intimidation which, in turn, puts her very own sanity at risk.

What begins with all the hallmarks of a run-of-the-mill telepic soon ventures into more sinister territory. Coyote inhabits one of the most unhinged characters of his lengthy career, and his fetishism for the uniform and the power that accompanies it is quite something (“You should be afraid Helen, because I control the field of battle”). Thorne-Smith is an equal match, though. Initially coming across as your standard subservient army wife, watching the Melrose Place star twist Helen into a fighter hellbent on exposing the diabolical Case is magnificent.

Also impressive is Breach of Conduct‘s script. Marking another debut – the first produced work of Queen of the Damned (2002) co-scribe Scott Abbott – it’s paced and structured to near perfection, eschewing eye-rolling clichés in favour of genuine suspense. Matheson, of course, is owed a nod for that as well. He settles into the director’s chair with ease and makes the job seem like second nature.

“I didn’t want [Breach of Conduct] to be a typical TV movie,” said Matheson. “Often you look at them and say, ‘Haven’t I seen this before?’. I didn’t want it to be one of those. I wanted it to be a little different.” [2]

USA 1994 Thriller, TVM 93mins

Peter Coyote, Courtney Thorne-Smith, Keith Amos, Beth Toussaint ● Dir. Tim Matheson ● Wri. Scott Abbott

[1] Matheson: Directing’s No Day At The Breach by Christy Slewinski, New York Daily News, 5th December 1994.
[2] Tim Matheson: Actor, Producer, and now Director by Susan King, Los Angeles Times, 26th November 1994.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s