MOMMIE DEAREST. 1981. BASED ON THE BOOK BY CHRISTINA CRAWFORD. DIRECTED BY FRANK PERRY. STARRING FAYE DUNAWAY, DIANA SCARWID, MARA HOBEL, STEVE FORREST AND RUTANYA ALDA. REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
This film absolutely blew me away, although there’s no doubt that it makes for uncomfortable viewing at times. It tells the story of how the iconic movie star of the ’30s, ’40s and 50’s, Joan Crawford, adopted two children called Christina and Christopher because she wanted to have kids despite the fact that she was frequently between husbands.
According to the film, she then proceeded to make her older child Christina’s life an utter misery. She was physically and mentally abusive, unstable and a raging alcoholic. Having dragged herself up by the bootstraps to be the big Hollywood movie star that she became, she mercilessly pushed her children to be the best that they could be at everything they attempted.
Well, in all honesty, we only see her pushing Christina. The younger child Christopher seemed to get off relatively scot-free, although I supposed he could hardly have escaped entirely unscathed, at least emotionally. Why Christina? Because she was the eldest? Because she was a girl? Who knows? The only person who could ever have said for sure was Joan herself, and even she may not have known exactly why she behaved as she did.
Against a backdrop of lavish Hollywood movie star luxury in an era when movie stars really were the ultimate in glamour, we see Miss Crawford’s moods fluctuate between loving affection for her children and the most terrifying, towering rage when they p**s her off. Remember the scene with the wire hangers…? I haven’t been able to forget that scene since I first saw the film a few years ago.
And what about the scene in which she tears up her garden in a fit of fury in the middle of the night after she loses her contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer? She has the maid drag the kiddies out of their beds in their pyjamas to come and help her! Then there’s the scene in which Joan tries to strangle a teenaged Christina while a reporter waits in the other room. It’s the stuff that nightmares are made of.
And the whole time, the Crawford family maintains the outward façade of perfection and serenity in the eyes of the showbiz world. Joan apparently showed tremendous generosity to those less fortunate than herself, especially orphans, even though her treatment of poor Christina seems to have been poor, to say the least.
Christina manages to keep it together, though, and grows up to be an actress like her mother, who incidentally always insisted on being called Mommie Dearest (hence the film’s title), even when she was whipping the tar out of Christina with one of the aforementioned wire hangers…
Even when Christina was an adult, Joan’s parenting still left a lot to be desired. She apparently always had this notion that the children would be better off if she never gave them a penny to help them out. When Christina was a struggling actress living in a tiny apartment, Joan wouldn’t lend her a red cent to keep her off the breadline, even though Joan was at the time married to top Pepsi-Cola executive, Albert Steele.
And when Joan died from cancer in 1977, she left the two kids nothing at all in her will. Now, on the one hand there’s encouraging your kids to be independent, and then on the other hand there’s being a mean old bag just for the sake of it…
We get a hint of the demons plaguing the elegant and stylish Miss Crawford in the frequent references she makes to the way in which she dragged herself out of the gutter to become The Little Shopgirl That Could, or ‘Hollywood Royalty’ as she refers to herself. Joan’s own mother, according to the script, was something of a ‘slob,’ which would certainly explain Joan’s absolute obsession with keeping her own house clean in later life.
Her past, of which I personally know very little, clearly had a hugely negative impact on her. I’m not saying that that excuses the appalling behaviour she demonstrates towards Christina in the film, but it might go some way towards explaining it.
The film gives the viewer a very good idea of the lengths that female movie stars were forced to go to in order to retain the appearance of youth and beauty. It also shows us the truly ugly side of the movie business and what happened when a big ‘star’ was all washed-up and no longer bringing in the bucks for the studios by which they were owned.
My favourite scene is the one in which Louis B. Mayer of Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer tells a gobsmacked Miss Crawford that her services are no longer required at MGM. After being a huge star for so many years, it must have cut like a knife to find out that she was suddenly surplus to requirements. She went on to win the coveted Oscar for MILDRED PIERCE, but the twin boogeymen of growing older and simultaneously less in demand surely couldn’t have have been too far away in the years that followed.
Faye Dunaway is mind-blowing as Joan Crawford, to whom she bears an uncanny resemblance. The cute-as-a-button, curly-ringleted Mara Hobel acts her pristine little white socks off in her role as Young Christina. Rutanya Alda, who plays the mom in AMITYVILLE 2- THE POSSESSION, does a good job of portraying Joan’s faithful maid and helper, Carol Ann. I was glued to their respective performances for the whole two or so hours of the film.
This is a fantastic film, but if you’re a fan of Joan Crawford’s acting and her movies in an era when being a ‘star’ really meant something and you’ve never previously known anything of her mothering abilities, you’ll have to be prepared to have your illusions somewhat shattered…
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based performance poet, novelist, film blogger, sex blogger and short story writer. She has given more than 200 performances of her comedy sex-and-relationship poems in different venues around Dublin, including The Irish Writers’ Centre, The International Bar, Toners’ Pub (Ireland’s Most Literary Pub), the Ha’penny Inn, Le Dernier Paradis at the Trinity Inn and The Strokestown Poetry Festival.
Her articles, short stories and poems have appeared in The Metro-Herald newspaper, Ireland’s Big Issues magazine, The Irish Daily Star, The Irish Daily Sun and The Boyne Berries literary journal. In August 2014, she won the ONE LOVELY BLOG award for her (lovely!) horror film review blog. She is addicted to buying books and has been known to bring home rain-washed tomes she finds on the street and give them a home.
She is the proud possessor of a pair of unfeasibly large bosoms. They have given her- and the people around her- infinite pleasure over the years. She adores the horror genre in all its forms and will swap you anything you like for Hammer Horror or JAWS memorabilia. She would also be a great person to chat to about the differences between the Director’s Cut and the Theatrical Cut of The Wicker Man. You can contact her at:
1) ‘… BY A WOMAN WALKING HER DOG…’
2) A WRITER’S JOURNEY
3) ANNA MEETS COUNT DRACULA
4) ANOTHER FIFTY REALLY RANDOM HORROR FILM REVIEWS TO DIE FOR…
5) CANCER BALLS
6) CATCH OF THE DAY
7) FIFTY FILTHY-DIRTY SEX-POEMS YOU MUST READ BEFORE I DIE.
8) FIFTY REALLY RANDOM HORROR FILM REVIEWS TO DIE FOR…
9) THE DEVIANTS
10) VISITING DAY