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Mommie Dearest (1981)

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The abusive and traumatic adoptive upbringing of Christina Crawford at the hands of her mother, screen queen Joan Crawford, is depicted.

Director:

Frank Perry

Writers:

Christina Crawford (book), Frank Yablans (screenplay) | 3 more credits »
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3,633 ( 458)
9 wins & 11 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Faye Dunaway ... Joan Crawford
Diana Scarwid ... Christina Crawford (Adult)
Steve Forrest ... Greg Savitt
Howard Da Silva ... L.B. Mayer
Mara Hobel Mara Hobel ... Christina Crawford (Child)
Rutanya Alda ... Carol Ann
Harry Goz Harry Goz ... Al Steele
Michael Edwards ... Ted Gelber
Jocelyn Brando ... Barbara Bennett
Priscilla Pointer ... Mrs. Chadwick
Joe Abdullah Joe Abdullah ... Captain
Gary Allen Gary Allen ... Jimmy (Photographer)
Selma Archerd ... Connie
Adrian Aron Adrian Aron ... Wedding Guest
Xander Berkeley ... Christopher Crawford (Adult)
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Storyline

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 Huggo

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Taglines:

One thing is certain: You'll never look at a wire hanger the same way again! See more »

Genres:

Biography | Drama

Certificate:

R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

25 September 1981 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Mommie Dearest See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

$5,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$905,920, 20 September 1981

Gross USA:

$19,032,261

Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

$25,032,261
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Paramount Pictures See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono

Color:

Color (Metrocolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

As part of Faye Dunaway's contract for this film, Paramount was required to take out trade ads in Variety and The Hollywood Reporter touting Dunaway for an Oscar nomination as Best Actress. See more »

Goofs

When Joan Crawford substitutes for her daughter on a soap opera, producer of show gives her a pep talk during a commercial, indicating it was a live broadcast. In reality 'The Secret Storm' was taped and director later said Crawford's performance was so poor he had to patch it together in editing room. Although it was recorded, The Secret Storm was "live tape", meaning that it was treated as if it were a live broadcast. At the end of each act, the actors stopped for the exact length of the commercials and then resumed taping. See more »

Quotes

Pepsi Chairman: Apparently the Board has failed to realize the extent of your interest in the company, apart from Al's position. We... misjudged. We shall be... pleased... to have you stay on.
Joan Crawford: Thank you, gentlemen. Now let's get to work...
See more »

Alternate Versions

CBS edited 10 minutes from this film for its 1983 network television premiere. See more »

Connections

Referenced in Castle: Fool Me Once... (2009) See more »

Soundtracks

Minuet in F (from Water Music)
(uncredited)
Written by George Frideric Handel
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Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
8 August 2001 | by TJBNYCSee all my reviews

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.


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