Mommie Dearest (film)

Mommie Dearest (film)
Mommie Dearest

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Frank Perry
Produced by Frank Yablans
David Koontz
Terrence O'Neill
Neil A. Machlis
Screenplay by Robert Getchell
Tracy Hotchner
Frank Perry
Frank Yablans
Based on Mommie Dearest by
Christina Crawford
Starring Faye Dunaway
Diana Scarwid
Mara Hobel
Rutanya Alda
Steve Forrest
Music by Henry Mancini
Cinematography Paul Lohmann
Editing by Peter E. Berger
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date(s) September 18, 1981 (1981-09-18)
Running time 128 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $5 million
Box office $39,000,000

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 a commercial success, but a critical semi-disaster and was eventually disliked by Dunaway herself. However, it has become a cult classic.[1]



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 the self-control she exhibits. To prepare for a work day at MGM Studios, she rises at 4:00am and engages in a slightly neurotic morning ritual, scrubbing her face with soap and boiling hot water, then plunging her head into a vat of distilled water and ice to close the pores. Joan is obsessed with cleanliness and wants those around her to follow her instructions to the letter. 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 momentarily loses her temper. She clearly intimidates the maid, as well as her live-in personal assistant, Carol Ann (Rutanya Alda).

Joan is in a relationship with Hollywood lawyer Gregg Savitt (Steve Forrest), but her career is in a bit of a downswing. She desperately wants a baby, but is unable to get pregnant; seven pregnancies when she was married to actor Franchot Tone 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, and later a boy, Christopher (Jeremy Scott Reinbolt). Joan lavishes Christina (Mara Hobel) with attention and luxuries such as an extravagant birthday party, but also enforces a code of denial and discipline. When Christina is showered with gifts, Joan asks which she likes best, then donates the other gifts to charity.

As Christina rebels against her mother's demands and standards, a series of confrontations ensues. Joan overtakes Christina in a swimming-pool race and proclaims her victory by crowing to the child, "You lost again!". Joan becomes enraged when Christina reacts with childish disappointment, locking her in the pool house. When Joan discovers her daughter putting on makeup and imitating her, she hysterically hacks off Christina's hair.

Her relationship with Gregg becomes a dismal failure; Joan resents Gregg's allegiance to studio boss Louis B. Mayer and argues with him 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 develops 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 (Howard Da Silva) 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.

In the most infamous scene of the film, Joan, cross-eyed and slathered in cold cream, stalks into Christina's bedroom in the middle of the night and discovers one of the child's dresses hanging on a wire hanger. She launches into a tirade, screaming at the girl, "I told you! No wire hangers, ever!" She yanks dresses from Christina's closet, throws them all over the girl's room and brutally beats the screaming girl with the hanger. Joan, furious that the child does not understand her notion of cleanliness, wrecks the bathroom as well, throwing cleanser powder everywhere, screaming at Christina to clean it up.

Fed up by Christina's perceived rebellion, Joan sends her daughter to boarding school. Christina, now a teenager, is caught in a compromising position with a boy during a romantic encounter, so Joan brings her home. A reporter, Barbara Bennett (Jocelyn Brando) from Redbook magazine, is writing a puff piece on Crawford's home life. After Joan lies about why her daughter left school, Christina confronts her before the reporter.

Christina questions her mother as to why she was adopted, and Joan mildly confesses that it was partially a publicity stunt. After Christina yells, "I am not one of your fans!," Joan begins strangling her. Carol Ann and the reporter witness the attack and intervene. Joan sends Christina to Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy to punish her, under the strictest possible discipline.

Joan then marries Alfred Steele (Harry Goz), CEO of Pepsi Cola, moves to New York and pressures him to shoulder a great deal of debt to fund their lavish lifestyle. After his death, the all-male board tries to force her to resign, Joan intimidates them into letting her retain her seat by threatening to publicly condemn Pepsi.

After leaving the convent school, Christina rents an apartment in Manhattan, where she acts in a soap opera. When she suffers an ovarian tumor, a stunned Christina is temporarily replaced on the show by her mother.

Joan dies of cancer in 1977, whereupon Christina and Christopher (Xander Berkeley) learn their mother has completely disinherited them in her will. When a resigned Christopher says their mother has managed to have the last word, Christina disagrees, hinting at the much-publicized book she would write, Mommie Dearest.



Critical reception

Mommie Dearest received mixed reviews from critics, with a rating of 53% on Rotten Tomatoes as of April 2011.[2] However, it is considered one of the worst films made.

Roger Ebert opened his review with "I can't imagine who would want to subject themselves to this movie."[3] 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."[4]

Box office

With a budget of $5 million, Mommie Dearest was a commercial success at the US box office, with revenues of $19 million with a further $8.6 million in video rentals. The film grossed $6 million internationally.[5] The film was in the Top 30 top grossing films of 1981. DVD counts are vague but suggestions are that it has made more than $5 million since being released on DVD. Total Revenue stands at $39 million.


Roughly a month into release, Paramount realized the film was getting a reputation and box office as an unintentional comedy, and changed its advertising to reflect its new camp status, proclaiming, "Meet the biggest MOTHER of them all!"[6]

Cast response

In her autobiography, Dunaway only makes a brief mention of the film stating that she wished director Frank Perry had had enough experience to see when actors needed to rein in their performances.[7] 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.[8]

Awards and nominations

While Dunaway garnered some critical acclaim for her astonishing physical metamorphosis and her portrayal of Crawford (finishing a narrow second in the voting for the New York Film Critics Circle Awards for Best Actress of the Year), she also received a Razzie Award for Worst Actress. The film received five "Razzie" awards overall, including Worst Picture, Worst Screenplay and Worst Supporting Actor for Steve Forrest. Diana Scarwid also won a Razzie for Worst Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Christina; among those whom Scarwid beat out in the category was Mara Hobel, for her portrayal of the child Christina, and Rutanya Alda, who played Crawford's personal assistant, Carol Ann. The film would later receive another Razzie for Worst Picture of the Decade.

30th Anniversary re-release

Mommie Dearest was re-released on May 7, 2011 at San Francisco's Castro Theatre for one night only, with Peaches Christ's "Trannie Dearest" stage show shown as well.[9]

DVD release

Mommie Dearest was first released on DVD July 17, 2001. It was re-released June 6, 2006 in a special "Hollywood Royalty" edition, with audio commentary by John Waters. Waters spends the bulk of his commentary dissecting the film as a serious bio-film and is quite outspoken in condemning the two sequences in the film (the infamous "wire hanger" rant and the "Tina! Bring me the axe!" scene) that Waters believes are solely responsible for the film's reputation as a camp film; he also blames the studio for trying to market it as a "camp classic" even during its initial release. A third Mommie Dearest DVD was released February 3, 2009 in an "I Love the '80s" edition.

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ "Mommie Dearest". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2009-12-09. 
  3. ^ [1] Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times, Jan. 1, 1981
  4. ^ [2] Variety, Jan. 1, 1981
  5. ^
  6. ^ Mommie Dearest Movie -The 80s Rewind «
  7. ^ "Looking For Gatsby: My Life", Faye Dunaway and Betsy Sharkey, Pocket Books, Dec. 1, 1997, ISBN 978-0-671-67526-4
  8. ^ [3] Time Magazine, Kurt Andersen, Mar. 23, 1981.
  9. ^ The Ultimate MOMMIE DEAREST Screening is Coming Soon! Saturday MAY 7th - CASTRO THEATRE! <<

External links

Preceded by
Can't Stop the Music
Razzie Award for Worst Picture
2nd Golden Raspberry Awards
Succeeded by

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