Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Film of the Week: Mommie Dearest, 1981
--Faye Dunaway as “Joan Crawford”
To say that this is a true biographical film of the life of Joan Crawford would be to give it far too much credit. Based (loosely) on Christina Crawford’s famously scathing account of life with a movie star mother, Mommie Dearest manipulates details, personalities, events and circumstances which were already rather vague and dubious in the source text.
Distributed by Paramount Pictures in 1981, the film was directed by Frank Perry about whom Faye Dunaway would later opine that she wished he knew when to rein in his actors. Dunaway, whom Joan Crawford herself once heralded for her potential, plays a hyper-intense version of Metro’s one-time Queen. She is joined by Diana Scarwid and Mara Hobel as adult and child Christina Crawford, respectively. With them are Rutanya Alda as a fictionalized amalgam of many Crawford household staffers, Steve Forrest as an equally fictionalized combination of Joan’s husbands and lovers, Howard da Silva as a surprisingly convincing Louis B. Mayer, and Jocelyn Brando as “Barbara, please!” a magazine reporter.
We’ll never know if Christina Crawford’s account of her childhood is true or not. We can read her book and read other biographies of Crawford and decide for ourselves. The film shouldn’t be taken seriously, but, then again, that’s not its main appeal.
I’m saddened by the fact that when people think of Joan Crawford, they think “No wire hangers, ever” and imagine, not Crawford’s face, but Faye Dunaway’s. Some people even think that Crawford herself starred in the movie. No, she was dead. And, she would not have approved at all.
Still, I confess, I enjoy the film. “I am not one of your fannnnnns!” And, further confess that I can repeat the dialogue with it. If it had any basis in reality, it would be a true tragedy. But, it’s pure fantasy. It’s accidental farce. And it should be treated as such. That said, watch it—cringe, laugh and be merry. Just be thankful you’re not Christina Crawford, Joan Crawford or even Faye Dunaway.
If you’re given a DVD copy of the picture for Christmas this year, just remember, of all your gifts, “That’s the one you may keep.” Just watch the film, it’s worth it.