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Rated PG
Copyright 1981 Paramount Pictures
Reviewed by Bill Van Ryn on 2 August 2001

The Characters:  

  • Christina Crawford - Adopted "Hollywood brat" wannabe who is put through the wringer by her movie star mom. Survives countless attacks with common household items to ultimately write a book about her movie star mom.
  • Christopher Crawford - Christina's younger counterpart. Disappears without explanation and never shows up again until he's grown much older and gotten a bad perm.
  • Carol Ann - Mother's little helper. Does Joan's bidding and apparently turns a blind eye to the craziness going on in the house she's living in. Gets really old really fast, but outlives Miss Crawford.
  • Louis B. Mayer - The "King of Hollywood" (Joan's words). Gives Joan the axe from MGM when she starts becoming "Box Office Poison."
  • Gregg Savitt - Joan's lawyer boyfriend and the only voice of reason in her life; extremely self-conscious when it comes to nudity. Gets cut out of the picture, literally.
  • Al Steele - Supposedly the CEO of Pepsi Cola; seems more like a mild-mannered shoe salesman. Driven to an early grave after marrying Joan.
  • Barbara Bennett - Jocelyn Brando, Marlon Brando's sister! Gets more than she bargained for when she drops in on the Crawford household to write a friendly magazine article.
  • Joan Crawford - Faye Dunaway! Mother, monster, movie star. Obsessed with cleanliness, impervious to scalding hot water, seemingly ageless while those around her wither, and deeply affectionate for NFL-gauge shoulder pads. Curious and unexplained dislike for wire hangers. Finally dies after succumbing to some kind of illness, although the movie never bothers to tell us what.

Buy It!

The Plot: 

In case you have been locked in a dungeon for most of your life, I will tell you that "Mommie Dearest" was originally a tell-all book about the twisted relationship between Christina Crawford and her movie star mother, Joan Crawford. Christina's book made Joan out to be a vicious conniving bitch that stomped on everyone that was unfortunate enough to get within shouting distance.

Then along comes this movie. Somehow they convinced a serious actress like Faye Dunaway to act like a complete maniac, turning the story into one of Joan's B-movie horror flicks from the late 60's or early 70's. They even give her a scene where she gets to wield an axe like a madwoman, just like in the real Joan's famous William Castle film "Strait Jacket." The only thing missing is Bette Davis in some antagonistic role (I'm sure Bette laughed her ass off when she saw this one... ...too bad her own daughter trashed her in a similar book).

Knowing that the story is true, at least according to Christina, makes anyone watching this movie feel like a rubbernecker at the scene of a tragic car accident. We get to watch as Joan dresses up in daffy clothes that either match the drapery or whatever Christina is wearing. She yells at the maids for not getting the floor clean enough. Later, she chops off Tina's hair with a handy pair of scissors and even tries to make Tina eat a bloody steak (three meals in a row). During one fit Joan hacks down her own prize rose garden with a pair of garden shears and chops down a tree with just a few swings of an axe. In the movie's most famous sequence Joan stalks into Christina's room in the middle of the night and blows sky high when she finds a dress hanging on a lousy wire hanger. She demolishes the closet and the bedroom, then drags the fight into the bathroom and beats Christina with a couple cans of cleanser. I dare you not to feel the hair stand up on the back of your neck when she spots that first wire hanger in the closet.

And that's just the first hour or so! After Tina gets a little older, her mother ups the ante by pulling stunts. Tina has to work her way through school instead of just paying for it outright. Joan tackles Christina over an end table and tries to choke her to death right in front of a reporter, then throws her daughter into a convent against her will. By tossing around the "F" word around she effects a hostile takeover of the Board of Directors at Pepsi Cola. Then Joan ruins Christina's character on a soap opera by filling in for her while stinking drunk and finally disinherits her in the will.

But Joan isn't the only one who's bonkers. The director seems to be trying to make some sort of weird hybrid of a horror film and a daytime drama. The scriptwriters appear to be in on the joke; coming up with hilarious dialogue for the unfortunate actors to scream at one another. However, the absurdity of Faye Dunaway bellowing "NO WIRE HANGERS!" seems to have gone right over the heads of the producers. Plus, the editor must have been absent when they went over the concept of "continuity" in Filmmaking 101.

In short? You are out of your mind if you miss this one. You'll swear off wire hangers and scouring powder for good; I promise you.

Things I Learned From This Movie: 

  • Faye Dunaway has more facial muscles than the average human being, most of them located in her forehead.
  • Nothing is clean.
  • At times, cleanser can be more of a problem than a solution.
  • Gardening is more fun when you do it in the middle of the night.
  • Movie stars are known to dip their faces in hot water, alcohol, and ice as part of their daily hygiene regimens.
  • One woman can easily make use of ten thousand shoes.
  • It is not necessary to keep your eyes on the road in order to effectively operate a motor vehicle. Furthermore, Vodka enhances one's driving abilities.
  • Cosmetics can be really scary, especially a cold cream and lipstick combo.
  • Businessmen in charge of large corporations are easily shocked by the "F" word.
  • Movie editors often fall asleep on the job. Furthermore, nobody else notices until the movie comes out.
  • My mother wasn't really that neurotic after all.

Stuff To Watch For: 

  • 1 min - Wait, is this Mummy Dearest?
  • 7 mins - OK so like... ...he gets naked in front of her, then puts on a towel for modesty on his five-foot trek to the shower?
  • 8 mins - First evidence that Joan's head is really a popular landing site for UFOs.
  • 22 mins - Hey you... ...Mr. Editor. Could you make up your mind about whether Joan is facing forward or facing Gregg?
  • 30 mins - Tina demonstrates her startling "Play-Doh Fuzzy Pumper Barber Shop" ability by making her hair immediately grow back after being hacked off, obviously driving Joan even more insane.
  • 60 mins - Joan confronts the dreaded Invaders from Planet Wire.
  • 61 mins - Doesn't the dress look too small for Tina in the first place?
  • 61 mins - Watch the bottom of the screen for the magic hat rack. It uprights itself in a vain attempt to maintain some dignity after Joan's savage attack.
  • 65 mins - UFOs having gone out of fashion, Joan pioneers the popular "Brain Sucker" look.
  • 69 mins - The eyebrows in extreme close-up action.
  • 104 mins - I'd listen to her if I were you guys. She's wrecked an entire bedroom for less.
  • 119 mins - The eyebrows at the height of absurdity. What do you think she put those on there with? An industrial black magic marker?


  • Joan: "YOU BE QUIET!!!"
  • Joan: "Christina, Christopher, DAMMIT!!!"
  • Joan: "You're nothing but a rotten, crooked lawyer supplying the grease that makes this sh*tty movie business work. You think your life's a mystery! There isn't a dirty cover-up in this entire business that I don't know about, and your hand is in every one of them! You REEK of it!!"
  • Christina: (showing that she's a young master of understatement) "She wants everything to be perfect."
  • Christina: "No, go back! Strap yourself in! She'll kill me if she finds out!"
  • Joan: "Tear down that bitch of a bearing wall and put a window where it OUGHT to be!"
  • Al: "For Christ's sake, this isn't Hollywood where someone takes care of things with a phonecall. This is the real world!"

 Audio clips in wav formatSOUNDSStarving actors speak out 

Green Music Note mommiedear1.wav Joan: "When you polish the floor you have to move the tree. If you can't do something right don't do it at all!"
Green Music Note mommiedear2.wav Gregg: "Why are you screaming?"
Joan: "Because I'm damn mad!"
Green Music Note mommiedear3.wav Joan: "NO WIRE HANGERS!"
Green Music Note mommiedear4.wav Joan: "Why can't you give me the respect that I'm entitled to? Why can't you treat me like I would be treated by any stranger on the street?"
Christina: "Because I am not one of your fans!"

 Click for a larger imageIMAGESScenes from the movie 



 Watch a sceneVIDEOMPEG video files 

Video Clipmommiedear1.mpg - 2.5m
"Scrubbing the floor."

Reminds me of a scene from "The Karate Kid." The only difference is that Mr. Miyagi seemed completely sane after showing Daniel how the use the skills he had practiced. This just makes Joan look like a psycho. In fact, the whole movie makes Joan look like a psycho.

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