Sunday, May 10, 2009


Caught up in all the sentimentality of Picture Mommy Dead, I began thinking about my own dear sainted matriarch, so I trotted out that tried and true mother's day favorite - MOMMIE DEAREST - put on my favorite hat and drove up to the Maximum Security Twilight Rest Home to enjoy our annual get together.

Here’s one that separates the fainthearted from the strong. Faye Dunaway, in the role she was born to play, is deeply, deeply scary as Joan Crawford who, according to daughter Christina’s best-selling book, tyrannized her kids almost beyond belief. The moviemakers surely expected to be rolling in dough and acclaim for this posh version of a red-hot literary property, so imagine their surprise when audiences rolled in the aisles. Why? Dunaway. So over-the-top, so out-there, so, well, Faye, she instantly installed herself as the all-time Countess of Camp.

The fun begins when Dunaway, as aging MGM star Crawford, realizes that her career’s skidding, so everyone around her catches hell. Wailing at her maid as she shoves aside a huge potted plant, Dunaway cleans the floor herself, saying, "You have to move the tree!I’m not mad at you. I’m mad at the dirt."

Mad is right: Figuring that, since she can’t have children, she’ll reap fabulous publicity by adopting one, enter orphan Christina (Mara Hobel), who isn’t the cooperative dream child Dunaway envisioned. When the kid gets sassy, Dunaway locks her up. Out of work, Dunaway gets battier, cursing her studio boss while she jogs: "The biggest female star he’s got – ever had – and he’s burying me alive. Survive! Survive!" and demonically chopping off Christina’s hair when she finds the kid mimicking her, snarling, "I’d rather you go bald to school than looking like a tramp!" She lays into lover-lawyer Steve Forrest, so when he starts to walk out, she pleads with him to stay, crying, "I’m not acting!" while doing nothing but.

When MGM drops her, brace yourself for full frontal Faye as she rampages in the middle of the night, cutting the blooms off her prize roses, then bellowing "Tina – bring me the axe!" Don’t miss the scene where Dunaway, her face covered in a cold-cream Kabuki mask, trashes her daughter’s clothes closet, shrieking "No wire hangers!" then showers the bathroom floor with Dutch Cleanser, ordering Christina to clean up the mess. This is capped with the most bizarre closeup in movie history, as Dunaway s-l-o-w-l-y turns her head away while staring out cross-eyed into space. (It’s anybody’s call whether Crawford’s supposed to be insane, or whether Dunaway perhaps just went bonkers playing her. However, it was at this point that my own dear mother began to have some sort of grand mal seizure and I had to call in several armed attendents to give her a shot. After which, the attendents and I - and dear gurgling, but sedated, mom - finished watching this wonderful family film.)

Dunaway clashes with grownup Christina (Diana Scarwid) too, nearly strangling her child in full view of a horrified magazine reporter. Widowed by a Pepsi magnate, Dunaway stuns a board meeting of executives who try to shove her out of the picture by uttering, "Don’t fuck with me, fellas, this ain’t my first time at the rodeo."

In the end, Crawford cuts both kids out of her will. "As usual, she has the last word," says grownup Christopher. "Does she?" asks Christina. No, we do, and we declare Mommie Dearest about as high in the Bad Movie pantheon as it is possible to go.

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