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Film / Men Don't Tell

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Men Don't Tell is a 1993 television drama film starring Peter Strauss and Judith Light. It was directed by Harry Winer. The film first aired on the CBS network on March 14, 1993, though it was never rebroadcast on over-the-air television, reportedly because it incurred the wrath of several women's groups. However, the film has since been shown a number of times on Lifetime.

Ed MacAffrey, a loving husband and father, is terrorized by the violent behavior of his wife, Laura. He tolerates this not only because he loves her and is concerned over the welfare of his daughter, but also because men are traditionally regarded as weaklings if they allow themselves to be battered by their wives. After one of Laura's destructive tantrums brings the attention of the police, Ed is suspected of being the aggressor. Finally, Laura goes too far and Ed tries to defend himself - whereupon Laura crashes through the front window of her home and is rendered comatose. Ed is arrested for domestic violence and attempted murder.

As he is interrogated, he tells his story of years of abuse, and how he even once sought help by calling a domestic violence hotline, only to get scorned and hung up on. This interrogation takes all night, by highly skeptical police. While this is going on, his children have been taken to their paternal grandfather Jack, a retired police officer, to spend the night. In the morning, his young daughter Cindy, who chose to remain silent through the years of abuse due to the humiliation and shame, asked Jack if her mother was in trouble. This surprised Jack, who then asked her why she thought her mother, whom he thought was the victim of his abusive son, would be in trouble? To this, Cindy said, "For being so mean to Daddy all the time, and yelling, and breaking things, and hitting us and stuff". When this is brought to the attention of the police, Ed is finally let go while Laura is arrested.

This film contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents:
    • Aside from abusing her husband, Laura also slaps her daughter when she rightfully tells her mother to stop yelling at her dad.
    • It is revealed that Laura's mother was this to her and her siblings when she smacked them as a form of discipline and encourages Laura to do the same with her children.
  • Affectionate Nickname: Ed calls Laura "Laurie" as a term of endearment even during his long-suffering marriage on good days and after their divorce.
  • The Alcoholic: Laura. She is shown getting drunk alone (that is, not social drinking) at her husband's birthday party, and several incidents are preceded by her drinking.
  • All Abusers Are Male: The reason why Ed is arrested by the police after Laura crashed through the window. He even calls a domestic abuse hotline for help, but the operator simply scoffs at him before hanging up.
  • All Take and No Give: Laura's relationship with Ed devolves into this, expecting him to constantly spend time with her, unwilling to compromise when he has other plans and is never satisfied when he does give everything he's got. Ed even tells her this is one of the reasons why they can't be together anymore.
    Ed: Laurie, I loved you. There's a part of me that will always love you but no matter how much I try to love you, it was never enough. No matter how much I try to give you, it was never enough. I try...I try and I can't do it anymore...
  • Big Bad: Laura, Ed's abusive wife, is the antagonist of the film, as the film is about their dysfunctional relationship and his often failed (due to being a male abuse victim) attempts to get help.
  • Birthday Hater: Ed is one. The first incident happened as he accused his wife of throwing a party at his birthday for herself and not to make him happy, especially considering he explicitly said he didn't want a party for his birthday.
  • Bookends: The film started with Laura and Ed dancing at their wedding reception and ends with Ed's Best Friend and fiancee doing the same.
  • Cassandra Truth: No one buys the fact that Laura has been abusing Ed. It's not until his daughter tells Ed's father about her mother is when they realize that Ed is innocent.
  • Children Are Innocent: What ultimately saves Ed is his daughter, not realizing he was the one getting in trouble, innocently asking Ed's father if her mother was going to get in trouble for what she did, which lead to him asking what she meant, and, after she explained what she witnessed with her own two eyes, to bring her to the police station to testify.
  • Double Standard: Abuse, Female on Male: Completely Deconstructed as the film shows the negative effects it has on the husband being abused.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Ed is released when it's revealed that he was telling the truth about Laura's abusive behaviour to him and their daughter and, as an added bonus, Laura will face comeuppance for her behavior.
  • Face of a Thug: Besides the stereotype, nobody believes Ed to be the victim of Domestic Abuse on account of his menacing-looking face and his tanned muscular body which screams wife-beater.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • While the build-up to the first incident sets up Ed as the Red Herring by piling on every movie abusive husband cliché they can on Ed, it does a good job at showing Laura as the problem person if you know about real domestic violence dynamics:
      • It shows early on that Laura is The Alcoholic, a very common trait real among domestic abusers.
      • As if Laura being The Alcoholic wasn't enough of a dead giveaway, she shows severe resentment towards Ed without an explicit cause for it. Domestic abusers are often The Resenter for real or perceived slights.
    • Laura's mother encourages her to slap her kids once in a while as she was disciplined with this method. Sure enough, she slaps her daughter after she rightfully told Laura to stop yelling and Ed finally reaches his breaking point.
  • Freudian Excuse: It's suggested that the difficult relationship between Laura and her mother is one of the reasons why Laura acts violent.
  • Genre Deconstruction: For the typical domestic abuse drama. Instead of the husband doing the beating, it's the other way around.
  • Henpecked Husband: Deconstructed and Played for Drama. Ed hides his wife's abuse to him because it'd be unmanly for a grown man to be smacked around by a woman. Indeed, the one time he tried to get help he was laughed at by the phone operator.
  • Irony: Ed wears a type of sleeveless shirt known as a "wife-beater". He is the victim of his wife's beatings.
  • Lifetime Movie of the Week: One of the extremely rare Gender Flips; here, it's the husband who's aggrieved and fighting for empowerment against the evil, abusive wife.
  • Men Are the Expendable Gender: Subverted. Everyone, even Ed's own father, assumes that Ed was in the wrong and Laura was the victim, when it was the other way around.
  • Men Don't Cry: One of the reasons why Ed refused to ask for help during the years of abuse.
  • Never My Fault: No matter how badly Laura acts or how violent she gets, she constantly makes excuses for her behavior, declaring that there's nothing wrong with her, and placing the blame for her actions on others.
  • Not Helping Your Case: When the cops interrogate Ed, he does have a bad case of putting his foot in his mouth, which doesn't do him any favors.
  • Out of Focus: You would be forgiven if you barely remember Alan, Ed and Laura's son. While his sister Cindy plays a small but crucial part in her parents' deteriorating marriage and the one to testify and clear Ed's name, Alan is just there if he's ever onscreen.
  • Papa Wolf: Laura punches Ed in the face? He is shocked but barely acknowledges it. She busts his truck? It can be fixed. She pummels him in a drunken/jealous rage? He tries to push her away. But when she slapped their daughter, that's when Ed reacted at his most brutal and even then, he was only trying to restrain her... But her struggle leads them to go through a window, where Laura got a concussion and Ed got cuts from the glass.
  • The Resenter: Laura. Every incident is precipitated by her resenting Ed for a perceived slight, from Ed helping at a Christmas party for charity so that he could leave fliers (One person helping organizing it is a young attractive woman, and Laura came to the conclusion he was cheating on her), to him playing poker with his business partners one night a month (which we see on-screen brings him business when Ed and Laura struggle with money, but she sees that as him prioritizing his selfish amusement over her)...
  • Shower of Angst: Ed has one while exposing the hidden bruises sustained from Laura all over his body.
  • Soft Glass: Averted, Laura gets a concussion from going headfirst through a glass window.
  • The Unfair Sex: Played for Drama and ultimately Deconstructed. Ed is arrested by the police and faces some serious jail time (and possibly losing custody of his daughter) because everyone assumes that he was the domestic abuser.
  • Truth in Television: Unfortunately, this type of woman-on-man domestic abuse does happen, and is sometimes met with just this much of an unhelpful response.
  • Wham Line: At the end of the film, when Laura and Ed run into each other at the latter's best friend's wedding, Laura asks what he's going to tell people about why they split; after a long pause, Ed responds "the truth" and walks away.
  • Why Did You Make Me Hit You?: Laura displays this attitude whenever Ed says or does something with which she disagrees.
    Ed: Well I'm here now aren't I? I'm doing the best I can.
    Laura: Well it's not GOOD ENOUGH! [sweeps stuff off the kitchen countertop in a fit of rage]
    Laura: [in an accusatory tone] Look what you made me do...
  • Wouldn't Hit a Girl: No matter how many times Ed is physically and verbally abused (which unfortunately lasted for years), not once did he ever raise his fist at Laura, even when she deserved it. At worst, he tries to restrain her so she wouldn't attack him or their daughter. This also became a Berserk Button for him when the police investigators keep insisting he's the one who is beating their spouse.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Laura, who hit her own daughter when she told her to stop yelling at Ed. The incident was enough to push Ed, who was mostly passive up to this point, to try and restrain her. Her struggling led them through a window, where she got a concussion. The event also made Cindy turn against her and save her father by telling the police everything, meaning that Laura gets arrested.