The relationship between Christina Crawford and her adoptive mother Joan Crawford is presented from Christina's view. Unable to bear children, Joan, in 1940, was denied children through regular adoption agencies due to her twice divorced status and being a single working person. Her lover at the time, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer lawyer Greg Savitt, was able to go through a brokerage to adopt a baby girl, who would be Christina, the first of Joan's four adoptive children. Joan believes that her own difficult upbringing has made her a stronger person, and decides that, while providing the comforts that a successful Hollywood actress can afford, she will not coddle Christina or her other children, she treating Christina more as a competitor than a daughter. Joan's treatment of Christina is often passive-aggressive, fueled both by the highs and lows of her career, the narcissism that goes along with being an actress, and alcohol abuse especially during the low times. However, Joan sees much of ...Written by
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. See more »
Diana Scarwid's stunt double in the choking scene is clearly male - look closely at his legs - they're a shade darker than Scarwid's and more muscular. See more »
Some scenes were altered for the TV and cable release of "Mommie Dearest". Aside from editing out the bad language, there is a notably different version of the scene where Joan hacks down her prize roses, where for some reason the musical background to this scene was completely removed, and the abrupt cut from L.B. Mayer's face to Joan kneeling dementedly in the rose garden with her garden shears is accompanied by a bone-chilling scream. See more »
Some of the behavior of the real Joan Crawford (Lucille LeSueur) was symptomatic of what we nowadays refer to as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), a mindset that fixates on ultra-cleanliness and perfection. Such bizarre behavior as needlessly scrubbing clean floors and clean hands helps reduce one's fears and anxieties. Over-reaction to minor problems is one result. There's a tendency to expect oneself and others to be perfect. If what is being judged is not perfect, then the OCD mindset perceives it to be the opposite of perfection; that is, ruin. There's no in-between.
Character behavior that is weird to begin with, combined with poor film direction, and an exaggerated, over-the-top performance by Faye Dunaway results in plot sequences that are campy and outlandish, thus robbing the story of subtle truths that may be buried under all that bombast.
Excise the rose garden sequence, the wire-hangers/bathroom cleaning sequence, and several other embarrassing parts, and we "might" have a film that could be taken seriously. But, of course, then we couldn't laugh at it. And I do think the film, as is, is good for some laughs.
Having a film protagonist who is such a blatant villain with no character arc is unusual, and helps make this film so bizarre. At least Godzilla, and the great white shark in Jaws, could be forgiven their cruelty, given their inability to be human.
Apart from the bizarre main character in "Mommie Dearest", the film's plot does not flow well. The dialogue also is bizarre and lacks subtext. "Helga, I'm not mad at you, I'm mad at the dirt", says Joan as she spots dirt hiding under a potted plant. And as an out-of-control, angry Joan proceeds to punish a tree in her rose garden, in frustration with Louis B. Mayer, she yells to Christina: "Bring me the ax". How can the viewer not laugh?
Lucille LeSueur undoubtedly was an ambitious woman, a hard worker, and had both genuine talent and a healthy ego. But her human relations with others, especially her adopted daughter, were disasters. We may never know the extent to which "Mommie Dearest" mirrors the real Joan Crawford, or is merely a gross exaggeration by a vengeful "heirless" heir.
Regardless, Joan Crawford left us some terrific films. She had a memorable, unique personality, and will remain a stunning Hollywood legend for as long as Hollywood exists.
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