American Playhouse: The Feud
The premise of The Feud is the simple stuff of classic comedy: a silly misunder-standing that verges on tragedy. Set in a small Midwestern town in the ’50s, The Feud begins when Dolf Beeler (Ron McLarty of Cop Rock) goes into the local hard-ware store for a can of paint remover. Beeler has a heated argument with the sales clerk; another customer, Reverton Bullard (Benson‘s Rene Auberjonois), pulls a gun on Beeler and tells him to calm down. Beeler thinks Bullard must be a policeman and pleads forgiveness. Beeler later finds out that Bullard is no cop — he’s just the pushy cousin of the hardware-store owner, Bud Bullard (Joe Grifasi of WIOU). Humiliated and enraged, Beeler vows revenge on the whole Bullard clan.
After this, an unexplained fire destroys the Bullard hardware store. A bomb somehow finds its way into a Beeler car and explodes. Pretty soon Bullards and Beelers of multiple generations are plotting against each other and packing pistols.
Although Thomas Berger’s 1983 novel The Feud was well reviewed and even nominated for a Pulitzer, it wasn’t all that funny — it lacked the looseness and abandon that director Bill D’Elia (Northern Exposure, Civil Wars) has added to Berger’s premise here (D’Elia adapted the book with Robert Uricola). There’s a lot of well-choreographed slapstick, and the broad, farcical performances by Auberjonois, McLarty, and Molly Dodd‘s David Strathairn (as a mysterious stranger) rarely become ridiculous. The Feud goes on a bit too long — what feud doesn’t? — but it’s fun to watch these people get so riled up. B+