This is a review I wrote in March 2011 of the first of two made for television films starring Meredith Baxter and Stephen Collins as Betty and Dan Broderick. It appears here as/is.
From April 2014
Since I’m reading Betty Broderick’s story as told by her daughter, Kim, I’ve decided to repost the movie review I did of her life story. I think I only reviewed the first film. There were two done. One was about how Betty Broderick ended up in prison and the other was about how she was convicted of murdering her husband and his second wife. Naturally, this story is compelling to me, even though from what I can tell from other sources, the movie makes Dan Broderick seem too nice. Of course, Stephen Collins portrayed him and I think Stephen Collins is kind of a boob, so there you go…
From March 2011
I just read Meredith Baxter’s bio, so I thought it would be fun to watch one of her many made-for-television movies. It so happened that one of Baxter’s most notorious flicks, A Woman Scorned: The Betty Broderick Story, was uploaded in its entirety on YouTube. Naturally, I had to watch it and see Meredith Baxter portray the infamous murderer Betty Broderick. It was a role completely opposite of Baxter’s turn on the hit sit-com, Family Ties and it also satisfied my love of true crime films featuring psycho women.
Who is Betty Broderick?
For sixteen years, Betty Broderick was the loyal wife of Dan Broderick, one of Southern California’s most prominent medical malpractice lawyers. Raised a strict Catholic, Betty Broderick believed in marriage for life. She reportedly worked very hard to raise the four children she had with Dan Broderick and give him a beautiful home. She also reportedly worked hard so that he could attend both medical school and law school. As both a physician and a lawyer, Dan Broderick was a force to be reckoned with in the courtroom. By Betty Broderick’s rather hysterical account, he couldn’t have achieved that success without her.
Despite his brilliance in the courtroom, by many accounts, Dan Broderick was also a bit of a scumbag. In the early 80s, he hired a beautiful blonde 21 year old named Linda Kolkena to work as his assistant at his law firm. Despite the fact that Linda couldn’t type and had little experience, Dan paid her lavishly and it wasn’t long before they were having a very public affair.
Betty Broderick evidently felt pushed aside as Dan reportedly fooled around with his young lover, but she wasn’t one to take such shenanigans lying down. While Dan Broderick carried on with his girlfriend, Betty Broderick carried on with his personal property, setting fire to his clothes, smearing Boston Creme Pie all over their bed, and eventually driving a car into the front of Dan’s house. Dan and Betty got divorced and Betty was served with many restraining orders, but Betty continued her harassment, breaking into his home, vandalizing his property, and attempting to alienate their children and mutual friends.
When Dan and Linda eventually married, Betty Broderick completely snapped. On the morning of November 5, 1989, she visited the newlyweds in their expensive home and shot them both as they slept, killing them. After two trials, one of which ended in a hung jury, Betty Broderick was convicted of two counts of second degree murder. By all reports I’ve read, she has yet to express any remorse. Nevertheless, a lot of people feel Betty Broderick was perfectly justified in what she did and even today, she serves as sort of a role model/heroine to disenfranchised women. She’s even been held up as an example in women’s shelters as someone who invested too much in a relationship.
The film version of the “war of the Brodericks”
A Woman Scorned was not originally aired on the Lifetime Movie Network, but it was destined to become a staple of that channel. Stephen Collins (of 7th Heaven fame) portrays Dan Broderick, with Baxter playing his wife, Betty, and Michelle Johnson playing Linda Kolkena Broderick. One interesting aspect of watching a film like A Woman Scorned on YouTube is that people leave comments. Many people who had followed the Betty Broderick case claim that the film version made Dan Broderick out to be a much nicer guy than he actually was. Some people also claimed that Linda Kolkena Broderick was, in real life, a “gold-digging hussy”.
It’s true that the jerkier aspects of Dan Broderick seem to be tempered by Stephen Collins’ “nice guy” portrayal. Even when he’s threatening to cut off Betty’s alimony for harassing him, he seems sympathetic. While I don’t know the Brodericks personally, I’m guessing that the real Dan was probably much more of a cut-throat bastard with more of a killer instinct. Most extremely successful malpractice attorneys are like that.
I think Meredith Baxter was an excellent choice to play Betty Broderick. She pulls off the over-the-top behavior of her character without a hitch. Betty Broderick supposedly has narcissistic personality disorder. If that’s the case, I think Baxter portrayed that type of person to a tee. I almost cringed as her character set Dan Broderick’s wardrobe on fire on the front lawn of their swanky home and calmly said, “Liar, liar, pants on fire.” It was perfect.
I wasn’t as impressed with Michelle Johnson’s portrayal of Linda Kolkena Broderick. She came off as too nice and lady like for the role. I’m guessing the real Linda wasn’t as dignified as the film version of her was.
The Brodericks’ children are portrayed by Kelli Williams (Kate Broderick), Jandi Swanson (Debbie Broderick), Aaron Freeman (Grant Broderick), and Jordan Christopher Michael (Tommy Broderick). The characters’ names have been changed from the real Broderick children’s names. I suppose that was to protect their identities, though this case got a lot of coverage on Court TV and is widely written about on the Internet.
My thoughts about Betty Broderick
As much as I enjoyed A Woman Scorned, I certainly don’t condone Betty Broderick’s actions, even if the real Dan Broderick was a scumbag. For one thing, despite her personal sacrifices to aid Dan Broderick’s career– a choice that she apparently made of her own free will– Betty Broderick comes off as a personality disordered individual. Even if Dan Broderick cheated on her and dumped her for a younger woman, I could hardly blame him for doing so. Both the true accounts I’ve read about this case and the dramatized film version of Betty Broderick make her out to be completely nuts.
For another thing, no matter how rotten Dan and his second wife Linda were to Betty, she had no right to take their lives! When she killed Dan and Linda, Betty took away her children’s father and their home. She also effectively took away their mother, since she was sentenced to 32 years to life in prison. I do not applaud her crazy actions, though I have to admit they were entertaining to watch on television as portrayed by Meredith Baxter. And in her memoir, Baxter admits that playing Betty Broderick was great fun; she initially had sympathy for her, but then learned more about who Betty Broderick is and supposedly changed her mind.
And finally, I wonder how people would react if Dan Broderick had been a woman named Danielle with a husband who had sacrificed everything for her career, only to be dumped by a younger, more handsome model. I wonder if people would be so eager to champion the cause of a man scorned… I doubt people would be justifying murder if Danielle Broderick had been killed at the hands of a jealous, vengeful husband. Indeed, I bet a lot of people would be screaming that the jilted man should be locked up for life. And indeed, that’s the punishment I think Betty Broderick deserves. Scorned or not, she had absolutely no right to kill.
This is a made-for-TV movie circa 1992, so swearing and smut are somewhat kept to a minimum. I doubt most kids would be interested in this film and some of the younger ones might be confused by it. However, I don’t think it’s a bad film for older kids to see. If anything, it might serve as a warning against getting too involved with personality disordered people. It might make a good way to introduce a discussion about relationships with others and choosing the right person to be with.
Yes, A Woman Scorned is typical Lifetime movie fare, but it’s still a pretty good film. I give it four stars.