Mommie Dearest (film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Frank Perry|
|Produced by||Frank Yablans|
|Based on||Mommie Dearest
by Christina Crawford
|Music by||Henry Mancini|
|Edited by||Peter E. Berger|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|129 minutes |
|Box office||$39 million|
Mommie Dearest is a 1981 American biographical drama film about Joan Crawford, starring Faye Dunaway. The film was directed by Frank Perry. The story was adapted for the screen by Robert Getchell, Tracy Hotchner, Frank Perry, and Frank Yablans, based on the 1978 autobiography of the same name by Christina Crawford. The executive producers were Christina's husband, David Koontz, and Terrence O'Neill, Dunaway's then-boyfriend and soon-to-be husband. The film was distributed by Paramount Pictures, the only one of the "Big 8" film studios for which Crawford had never appeared in a feature film.
Joan Crawford (Faye Dunaway) is a driven actress and compulsively clean housekeeper who tries to control the lives of those around her as tightly as she controls herself. To prepare for a work day at MGM Studios, she rises at 4:00 am and engages in a strict morning ritual: scrubbing her face and arms with soap and boiling hot water, then plunging her face into a bowl of rubbing alcohol and ice to close the pores. When Helga (Alice Nunn), a new maid, thinks she has Joan's living room in spotless condition, Joan finds one minute detail that she overlooked and loses her temper.
Joan is in a relationship with Hollywood lawyer Gregg Savitt (Steve Forrest), but her career is in a bit of a downswing. Despite desperately wanting a baby, she is unable to get pregnant: seven pregnancies when she was married to actor Franchot Tone have all ended in miscarriages. When she is denied an application for adoption, she enlists Gregg's help to secure a baby. Joan adopts a girl whom she names Christina (Mara Hobel), and later a boy, Christopher (Jeremy Scott Reinholt). Joan lavishes Christina with attention and luxuries such as an extravagant birthday party, but also enforces a very stern code of denial and discipline. When Christina is showered with gifts, Joan allows her to choose only one she likes best that she can keep, then donates the rest to charity.
As Christina rebels against her mother, confrontations ensue. Joan overtakes Christina in a swimming-pool race and laughs at the child. Joan becomes enraged when Christina reacts with anger and locks her in the pool house. Later, Joan discovers Christina wearing her makeup and imitating her. Even though Christina openly denies it and despite her protests, Joan, thinking that Christina is making fun of her, always rummaging through her drawers, trying to find a way to make people look at her and is always looking at herself in the mirror, hysterically cuts off chunks of Christina's hair to humiliate her.
Joan resents Gregg's allegiance to studio boss Louis B. Mayer (Howard Da Silva) and argues with Gregg after a dinner at Perrino's restaurant. Joan guzzles down glasses of vodka and throws a drink in Gregg's face after he tells her she is getting old. A physical altercation ensues and Gregg breaks up with Joan. The next day, Joan cuts Gregg out of the family photos. Joan's tantrums grow more bizarre and violent; when Mayer forces Joan to leave MGM after theater owners brand her "box office poison", she hacks down her prize rose garden with a pair of large gardening shears and an axe.
On another occasion, Joan, her face slathered in cold cream, goes into Christina's bedroom in the middle of the night, meaning to return a dress to her closet, but discovers one of Christina's dresses hanging on a wire hanger. Enraged, she screams at the girl waking her up in horror then yanks dresses from Christina's closet, throwing them all over the girl's room and beating her with the hanger. Afterwards, Joan wrecks the bathroom as well, throwing cleaning powder all over the perfectly cleaned floor before striking Christina in the head and across the back with the can of cleanser and then screaming at her to clean it up. Christopher offers to help but Christina tells him to return to his own bed as she fears Joan will kill her if she finds out.
Later, Joan sends Christina to the Chadwick School. Years later, when a teenage Christina (Diana Scarwid) is caught in a compromising position with a boy, Joan brings her home. Barbara Bennett (Jocelyn Brando), a reporter from Redbook magazine, is writing a puff piece on Joan's home life. After Joan lies about Christina being expelled from Chadwick, Christina confronts her in front of the reporter. In the ensuing argument, Joan slaps Christina twice across the face. Christina questions her mother as to why she was adopted, and Joan confesses that it was partially a publicity stunt, but then says that she did not really mean it. After Christina yells, "I am not one of your fans!" Joan throws her to the floor, then throttles Christina, who pleads with her to stop. Joan's live-in assistant and the reporter pull her away.
Joan sends Christina to Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy; under the academy's strict rules, Christina can have no contact with the outside world. Joan then marries Alfred Steele (Harry Goz), CEO of Pepsi Cola, moves to New York City and pressures him to shoulder a great deal of debt to fund their lavish lifestyle. After his death, the all-male board tries forcing her to resign, but Joan coerces them into letting her retain her seat by threatening to publicly condemn Pepsi.
After graduating from Flintridge, Christina rents an apartment in Manhattan, where she acts in a soap opera. When Christina is hospitalized for an ovarian tumor, she is temporarily replaced on the show by her visibly drunken mother. Joan dies of cancer in 1977, whereupon Christina and Christopher (Xander Berkeley) learn their mother has disinherited them in her will. When Christopher says their mother has managed to have the last word, Christina questions that.
- Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford
- Diana Scarwid as Christina Crawford
- Mara Hobel as young Christina
- Steve Forrest as Greg Savitt
- Howard Da Silva as Louis B. Mayer
- Rutanya Alda as Carol Ann
- Harry Goz as Alfred Steele
- Michael Edwards as Ted Gelber
- Jocelyn Brando as Barbara Bennett
- Priscilla Pointer as Mrs. Chadwick
- Xander Berkeley as Christopher Crawford
- Jeremy Scott Reinholt as young Christopher
- Carolyn Coates as Mother Superior of Flintridge Sacred Heart
- Margaret Fairchild as the orphanage's Mother Superior
- Belita Moreno as Belinda Rosenberg
- Alice Nunn as Helga
Mommie Dearest received mixed reviews from critics. As of July 2014, the film held a rating of 55% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 31 reviews. The site's consensus states: "Director Frank Perry's campy melodrama certainly doesn't lack for conviction, and neither does Faye Dunaway's performance in the title role; unfortunately, it does lack enough narrative discipline to offer much more than a guilty pleasure."
Roger Ebert opened his review with "I can't imagine who would want to subject themselves to this movie." About Dunaway's performance, Variety said "Dunaway does not chew scenery. Dunaway starts neatly at each corner of the set in every scene and swallows it whole, costars and all." However, more positive reviews have been published, with Slant Magazine awarding it four stars in the May 31, 2006 edition. Also Dennis Price wrote "Faye Dunaway portrays Joan Crawford in a likeness so chilling it's almost unnatural" in his review of the film.
Roughly a month into release, Paramount realized the film was getting a reputation at the box office as an unintentional comedy, and changed its advertising to reflect its new camp status, proclaiming, "Meet the biggest MOTHER of them all!"
In her autobiography, Dunaway only makes a brief mention of the film stating that she wished that director Perry had had enough experience to see when actors needed to rein in their performances. By coincidence, Joan Crawford once said in an interview in the early 1970s that of the current young actresses only Faye Dunaway had "what it takes" to be a true star.
Awards and nominations
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (July 2014)|
|National Society of Film Critics Award||Best Actress||Faye Dunaway||2nd place|
|New York Film Critics Circle Award||Best Actress||2nd place|
|Razzie Award||Worst Actress||Won|
|Worst Supporting Actor||Steve Forrest||Won|
|Worst Supporting Actress||Rutanya Alda||Nominated|
|Worst Director||Frank Perry||Nominated|
- "MOMMIE DEAREST (AA)". British Board of Film Classification. September 30, 1981. Retrieved January 3, 2013.
- QueenB. "MOMMIE DEAREST – Midnight Screening of 1981 Cult Classic! « Long Beach Cinematheque". Lbcinema.org. Retrieved January 12, 2014.
- "Mommie Dearest". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved December 9, 2009.
- Roger Ebert (January 1, 1981). "Mommie Dearest". Chicago Sun-Times.
- "Review: ‘Mommie Dearest’". Variety. January 1, 1981
- "Mommie Dearest | Film Review". slantmagazine.com. Slant Magazine. May 30, 2006.
- "Mommie Dearest". DVDReview.com. August 14, 2001.
- "Mommie Dearest Movie – The 80s Rewind". Fast-rewind.com. September 18, 1981.
- Faye Dunaway and Betsy Sharkey (1997). Looking For Gatsby: My Life, Pocket Books. ISBN 978-0-671-67526-4
- Kurt Andersen (March 23, 1981). "Mpmmie Dearest". Time Magazine.
- Mommie Dearest at the Internet Movie Database
- Mommie Dearest at Box Office Mojo
- Mommie Dearest at Rotten Tomatoes
Can't Stop the Music
|Razzie Award for Worst Picture
2nd Golden Raspberry Awards