How do you solve a problem like Theresa?

A good-natured fable about family ties and the redemptive power of hope.

By Maitland McDonagh
TV Guide

Buffalo, N.Y., some time in the mid-1960s: Assorted friends and relatives are gossiping, hanging out and daydreaming about the future at the home of Rosalie Annunciata (Maureen Porter) when, to their collective amazement, a blizzard of bills blankets the tiny lawn. In a few frantic minutes they scoop up $19,820 in free-floating Andrew Jacksons, which Rosalie insists they turn over to the police. But Rosalie’s 10-year-old daughter, Theresa (Hallee Hirsch), the neighborhood’s prepubescent saint, opines that the money is a “gift from God to improve ourselves and others,” so they divide it up and go their separate ways, each $3,300 richer.

In the present day, Sister Theresa (Ursula Burton), back in Buffalo after years of spreading God’s word in the tropics, has a vision that she was mistaken about the money that rained down all those years ago. Her extended family has scattered from Miami to Las Vegas, and their dreams have withered on the vine: Helen (Cloris Leachman), who once wanted to travel, is in a convalescent home. Her middle-aged daughter, aspiring ballroom champion Rita (Faye Grant), runs a rinky-dink dance school with her husband, Tony (Harry Groener). Con artists Bunny and Ed Burns (Shirley Jones, Frank Gorshin) are perpetually one step ahead of the law; sharp-tongued croupier Inez (Wendie Malick) and sweet-natured beautician Dottie (Jill Eikenberry) both like their jobs but are unlucky in love. Rita’s down-to-earth daughter (Maria Burton) scarcely speaks to her flamboyant mother, while Ed and Bunny’s straight-laced son (Cameron Watson) keeps his feckless parents at arm’s length.

Theresa calls the flock home and informs them that the long-ago windfall wasn’t a gift at all — it was a loan, and it’s time to pay it back. No-one has $3,300 to spare, but prodded by the force of Theresa’s saintly insistence, they start raising cash. Dottie convinces an old friend (Seymour Cassell) to donate a car for a raffle, Rita and Tony arrange to refurbish an old theater for a waltz competition and — despite Ed and Bunny’s scheming to enrich themselves — in the end old dreams are rekindled and faded lives revitalized.

This cheerful film is a family affair on both sides of the camera: siblings Maria, Charity, Jennifer, Ursula and Gabrielle C. Burton, along with their mom, Gabrielle B., wrote, directed, produced, cast and acted in it.