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I "discovered" Bette Davis when I was a teenager and read her autobiography. After that I made every effort to view as many of her movies as I could and became an avid fan. This movie is an example of some of her finest work. I can vividly remember, even after all this time, one particularly emotional scene between Bette and Gena in which Bette, as the mother, lets her daughter know how painful it is to love someone the way she loves her daughter. It's powerful stuff and quite thought provoking. If this movie is ever replayed on TV or is available on video, do yourself a favor and watch it. You'll see why Davis is considered one of the greatest actresses of all time.
STRANGERS: THE STORY OF A MOTHER AND DAUGHTER was a deeply moving 1979 TV movie that brought the divine Bette Davis to the small screen near the end of her career. Davis plays a cranky old woman who is totally thrown by the appearance of her daughter (Gene Rowlands)who has come to stay with her, despite the fact that they have been estranged for years. Davis' Lucy can't understand why Rowlands' Abigail now wants to have a relationship with her until it is revealed that Abigail is dying and wants to make peace with her mother. Bette Davis won an Emmy for her work in this well-written tearjerker but Rowlands is equally effective as a woman thrown a devastating curve in her life and realizes that she needs the mother she had forsaken so many years ago. Watching these two dance around reconnecting with each other is sometimes difficult to watch, but these two amazing actresses make this TV movie grand television.
Thanks in no small part to the performances by Emmy-winner Bette Davis and Gena Rowlands (two nearly incomparable actresses), the TV-made "Strangers" turns out to be a wrenching and moving examination of an estranged relationship with love still left in it. Somewhat-irreproachable middle-aged women comes home to her strong-willed mother to reconcile their differences--ostensibly; turns out she has a dire problem to share, which causes her mercurial mama to take offense. Milton Katselas' beautiful direction, from a careful, thoughtful script from Michael De Guzman, allows the two ladies to emote and sound off, to laugh and cry. The histrionics are not too loud, however, and Katselas is able to weave the intricate, touchy emotions together into a nearly-seamless pattern. What a showcase for these stars! Too bad this title has been nearly forgotten over time, as Davis and Rowlands each do superlative work worth re-visiting.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
If you are able to find this rare title, it still holds the same power
it held when it debuted on network TV in 1979.
Bette Davis plays crotchety Lucy Mason, a widow whose daughter had deserted her many years prior. Gena Rowlands plays long-lost daughter Abigail who suddenly appears out of nowhere to reunite with her mom.
It is never clear until much later in the film why Abigail is suddenly back but what is apparent is that Lucy is none too thrilled. Lucy blames Abigail for the marital discord between her and her dead husband. Abigail offers little remorse but in a final confrontation they finally settle their differences and mother and daughter begin to seemingly heel old wounds.
Until Lucy discovers that Abigail has returned home to die.
This is one of Davis's best roles of her later years. She plays Lucy with a wide range of the emotions that she was known for but less scene chewing. It was as if Davis was re-enacting the strained relations she had with her real life daughter. Her heavy smoking had taken a toll on her voice, but the cracking only added to the snarling warmth of her character. Gena Rowlands steals many a scene by underplaying her character against Davis's occasional outbursts. Both captured their characters beautifully. In her last book shortly before her death, Rowlands was one of the few actresses to escape Davis's wrath. Their off-camera admiration for each other comes across in the heartwarming moments leading up to an emotional surrender in the last scene.
The moment when Davis learns her daughter did indeed use her to come home to die pulls out a powerful resistance from the seasoned actress.
The script is well written, the music appropriate and the New England setting adds a surreal calmness to the storm between these two headstrong women. This is must-see TV for any mother and daughter in a strained situation.
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