Based on the book about Joan Crawford, one of the great Hollywood actresses of our time, written by her adopted daughter Christina Crawford. Joan decides to adopt children of her own to fill a void in her life. Yet, her problems with alcohol, men, and the pressures of show business get in the way of her personal life, turning her into a mentally abusive wreck seen through the eyes of Christina and her brother Christopher, who unwillingly bare the burden of life that was unseen behind the closed doors of "The Most Beautiful House in Brentwood."
Faye Dunaway ... Joan Crawford
Diana Scarwid ... Christina Crawford (adult)
Steve Forrest ... Greg Savitt
Howard Da Silva ... Louis B. Mayer
Mara Hobel ... Christina Crawford (child)
Rutanya Alda ... Carol Ann
Harry Goz ... Alfred Steele
Michael Edwards ... Ted Gelber
Director: Frank Perry
DivX 3 / MP3
There is no doubt that Christina Crawford's scathing 1978 memoirs did much initial harm to her late mother's reputation. The subsequent 1981 film has eclipsed even the bestselling book to become the standard by which the real-life Joan is judged. However, I'm inclined to believe that those who dismiss Joan today as a psychotic harpy and nothing more never even saw the film version of "Mommie Dearest," and only heard secondhand reports of the most infamous scene ("No...wire...hangers!").
Most tellingly, Christina Crawford reportedly hated the film version of her book, and wailed upon seeing it, "They turned it into a Joan Crawford movie!" She's right. With the exception of the two most graphic scenes ("No wire hangers" and the choking scene), Joan's "abuse" of Christina is not all that much different from what passed as "discipline" in those days--just ask your parents or grandparents--and despite Faye Dunaway's full-throttle acting, Joan always somehow comes off in a strangely sympathetic light.
What we see is an insecure woman fighting for survival in an age-obsessed, male-dominated industry. Such scenes as Joan's heartless dismissal from MGM invite sympathy; while her snarling, veritable takeover of Pepsi Co. elicts cheers for her ballsiness and strength. Christina, on the other hand, is invariably depicted as either gratingly whiny or cardboard stiff. It's difficult to empathize with such an annoying character.
"Mommie Dearest"'s grandest artistic achievement is through the impeccable art direction, which truly makes the audience believe they are watching a film unfold in the 1940's and 1950's. Its lasting legacy, however, is Faye Dunaway's career-ending performance, which, depending on your point of view, is either jaw-droppingly awful or unbelievably brilliant.
Dunaway's acting "choices" are nothing if not idiosyncratic: clutching her bosom frantically as she cries, "You...deliberately...embarass me in front of a REPORTER!"; copying the real-life Crawford's facial expressions from the horror flick "Strait-Jacket" in the axe-wielding scene; and, most famously, her odd, cross-eyed pose that she strikes not once, or twice, but three times: holding baby Christina on the staircase, rubbing moisturizer on her elbows after hiding Christina's dolls, and following her wire hanger/cleansing powder attack.
It is Dunaway's nostril-flaring, hair-pulling, bosom-clutching style that really sends this film into the camp stratosphere. On paper, such scenes as Joan swatting Christina on the butt for defying her orders, or Joan insisting that Christina finish her rare steak, would seem bland. In Dunaway's hands, they become something else altogether!
Actually, Christina Crawford should thank Faye Dunaway; if not for her crazed, unforgettable portrayal, "Mommie Dearest" would have been just another trashy Hollywood memoir that eventually would've been forgotten (does anyone really care about B.D. Hyman's book about Bette Davis anymore?). And a film version without Dunaway would've been rightfully panned, forgotten, and relegated to cut-out bins at your local video emporium. Instead, Faye Dunaway has ensured its place in film immortality. It still stands alone among camp classics, but perhaps some re-evaluation of it (and of Joan Crawford herself) is due.
Definitely worth watching!
* The part of 'Joan Crawford' was originally to have been played by Anne Bancroft, who left the project once the screenplay was completed.
* Contrary to urban legend, the scene in which Joan Crawford substitutes for her daughter Christina Crawford on the soap opera was NOT filmed on the Cunningham living room and kitchen set from "Happy Days" (1974).
* This was the first film ever to "sweep" The Golden Raspberry (RAZZIE) Awards, winning five Dis-Honors from a then-record nine Nominations.
* It was reported that in an interview that Joan Crawford said that if ever a movie was to be made on her life story she wanted Faye Dunaway to play her.
* A month after the film was released to bad reviews, audiences flocked to see the film armed with Ajax and wire hangers to actively "participate" with the film in a manner similar to The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975). Paramount seized on this new found notoriety and began to bill the film as a camp classic, with ads and posters proclaiming, "Meet the biggest MOTHER of them all!"
* Little love was lost between costume designer Irene Sharaff and Faye Dunaway. "Yes, you may enter Miss Dunaway's dressing room," Sharaff once said, "but first you most throw a raw steak in - to divert her attention."
* Faye Dunaway mentions in her autobiography that she screamed herself hoarse during the filming for the notorious wire hanger tantrum scene in this movie. She called Frank Sinatra for help, and he gave her some pointers on how to get her voice back into shape.
* The lobby cards issued for the film contain scenes from several sequences that were deleted from the final cut of the film, including: - Joan driving through the MGM lot in her car, apparently just before she visits L.B. Mayer & finds out she's fired. - Joan talking to young Christina on the beach. - Adult Christina talking to Joan while wearing the same dress she wears to the awards ceremony at the film's conclusion.
* The pressbook for the film goes into detail about several of the scenes, including one sequence that was cut from the film. Apparently they filmed an entire sequence where young Christina runs away from home and Joan goes out looking for her in her car. The classic cars that were necessary for the film caused a big stir in the neighborhood where the scene was filmed, and one of the people stopped in traffic so as not to ruin the scene was Barbra Streisand, who apparently spent time hanging out with Faye Dunaway between takes.
* A scene was filmed in which Joan and young Christina build a campfire on the beach and Joan initiates a soul-baring conversation with the girl. Dunaway mentions this in her autobiography, and reveals that it was one of the first scenes they were required to shoot. She felt the scene was crucial because it made an attempt to explain some of Crawford's erratic behavior, and she was dismayed that the production required them to shoot such an emotional scene before any of the necessary history had been established between the actors. She took it as a warning sign that the production's priorities were in the wrong place, and ultimately the scene was cut from the film altogether.
* 'Christina Crawford' 's book, on which this film was based, was one of the biggest-selling memoirs in the history of American publishing, with more than 4 million copies sold in hardback alone.
* According to Christina Crawford, there were several scenes in which the script had to make alterations for real-life events. For example, for the famous rose bush cutting scene Christina said that those manic occasions happened periodically due to no real cause. The producers wanted to use the scenes but had to write in that it was brought on by Joan being fired by MGM executive Louis B. Mayer. Also in reference to Joan helping the maid scrub the floor, Christina stated that Joan never cleaned floors that she could remember. Joan would make Christina or Christopher clean the floors while she supervised.
* In an interview in the Hollywood Royalty DVD, Rutanya Alda says she once looked in Christina Crawford's real closet, and she did have wire hangers.
* The movie's line "No wire hangers, ever!" was voted as the #72 movie quote by the American Film Institute (out of 100).
* The movie's line "No wire hangers!" was voted as the #89 of "The 100 Greatest Movie Lines" by Premiere in 2007.
* Franco Zeffirelli was approached to direct the film, but Christina Crawford disliked his vision of Joan as a glamorous Hollywood martyr.