The 1981 film Mommie Dearest is based on the book written by the adopted daughter of legendary film star Joan Crawford about her life as Crawford's daughter. Over the years I have seen this movie several times and I have often wondered just how much of it was based on actual fact. It's no secret that Christina Crawford and her brother Christopher were cut out of Crawford’s Will and shortly there after Christina wrote this tell all book that the film is based on.
Now, the part of the movie where Crawford seems to feel bit threaten by her daughter, especially after she became an actress herself could be true. The fact that Joan Crawford did take Christina’s place on the soap opera she had been working on at the time, The Secret Storm ,when Christina was ill was sort of proof of this rivalry. But I still had a hard time with some of the depiction of abuse that Christina suffered by Crawford in the film if it's really based on fact. Some of this is way over the top such as Crawford cutting Christina's hair in rage, constantly serving her the same rare prime rib for breakfast lunch and dinner because the child didn't like rare meat. Then there is the notorious wire hangers in the closet scene, which anyone who has seen this film knows is quite over the top and disturbing.
In any case, I think the thing that sells me on this film and the reason why I have seen it so much is the performance of Faye Dunaway. First there is an amazing make up job done to transform her into Joan Crawford. Second she does Joan Crawford justice giving her layers even when the script doesn’t. For example, during the infamous anger scene she makes you feel bad for Crawford and brings a certain amount of vulnerability to her. Which isn't easy since this scene is way over the top. As for the two actresses playing Christina in a younger and older form, they probably have their best moments when working along side Dunaway who again sells the scenes. I think her performance of Crawford is what has made this movie so memorable, and something I am willing to watch more then once.
As for whether this is a true depiction of Joan Crawford’s life; that is still wide open to interpretation. After all Christina Crawford wrote this book after her mother’s death. So, Joan Crawford never got a chance to tell her side of the story or to defend herself. We only have Christina’s side of the story, and for me that isn’t enough to make all these events true. So personally, Mommie Dearest is a fine classic film that could be based loosely on the life of Joan Crawford and her daughter Christina. I have no proof that it's more then that.
Here is the film’s trailer
Some of the most memorable scenes from the movie:
No More Wire Hangers
Christina Play Acts
Pruning The Garden
Christina's Not A Fan
An episode in Fox’s new series ‘Scream Queens’ entitled ‘Mommie Dearest’ has a scene where a reference is made to the 1980's film of the same name.
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