Mommie Dearest (1981)

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Released 13-Jan-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Gallery-Photo
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1981
Running Time 123:34
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (66:19) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Programme
Region Coding 4 Directed By Frank Perry

Paramount Home Entertainment
Starring Faye Dunaway
Diana Scarwid
Steve Forrest
Howard Da Silva
Mara Hobel
Rutanya Alda
Harry Goz
Michael Edwards
Jocelyn Brando
Priscilla Pointer
Joe Abdullah
Gary Allen
Selma Archerd
Case ?
RPI $24.95 Music Henry Mancini

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

   Long before I ever saw it, I had heard tell of Mommie Dearest. ‘Deliriously over-the-top’, I was told. ‘Campy fun’, someone said. ‘Coat hangers! Coat hangers!’ said someone else. I thought I was ready for anything. But my jaw still gaped wide in shock as this ripe wheel of cheese rolled right over me. It turned out I hadn’t heard the half of it.

   Mommie Dearest is an adaptation of the tell-all autobiography of Christina Crawford, adopted daughter of Hollywood legend Joan Crawford. In her book, Christina describes years of psychological and physical abuse at the hands of her crazy and obsessive adoptive mother; and the film takes the choicest, most bizarre and horrifying moments from that book, and makes a film of them. That’s all it is, really; there are scenes between the outrages, but they’re deadly dull. Their only purpose is to get us from The Hair-Cutting Scene to the Meat Plate Scene to the Rose Clipping Scene to the Scrubbing Scene to the Boardroom Scene to the Soap Opera Scene. Oh yes, and the Wire Hanger Scene. Wire hangers! Oh, how they’ll stick in your memory. Each of these sequences is quite compelling to watch; you’ll stare in mute horror, unable to tear your eyes away. It’s like slowing down to look at a car accident. But this isn’t your modern-day, gritty-telemovie kind of horror. It’s elaborately baroque, weird as all get out, campy and creepy. As soon as you see Joan at Christina’s birthday party, wearing the same puffy Bo Peep costume as her daughter, your nose will start to wrinkle. Later on, there’s so much awfulness going on that the little details almost get by you – like why the heck was Joan’s adoptive son, Christopher, strapped into his bed? Huh? What was all that about?

   Joan Crawford is played – and played perfectly, at least for this kind of film – by an absolutely terrifying Faye Dunaway. She may be over the top; so far over, in fact, that if the character were a man, the only possible actor for the job would be Jack Nicholson in a Batman or Witches of Eastwick mood. But it is that very extremity of performance that makes this film worth anything at all. Snarling and screaming, or simply controlling those around her through sheer force of painted-on eyebrows, Dunaway is unforgettable. Maybe not good. But definitely unforgettable. Christina is played as a young child by the actually-quite-good Mara Hobel, who goes through hell on screen and has been rewarded with not much of a career, and as a teenager and young adult by the merely adequate Diana Scarwid, who gets throttled half to death but has done rather better in the years since. Pretty much everyone else involved is a forgettable hack.

   While it reaches for quality at times – the marvellous opening montage of Joan’s brutal beauty regimen, for instance, or the Kubrickian symmetry of the shots featuring Joan on her staircase – Mommie Dearest is a trashy film. Good it’s not, but it is probably worth seeing: once and never again. You’ll be able to share meaningful looks with other survivors of this multiple Razzie award-winner any time the phrase ‘wire hangers’ crops up. And when people complain about Nicholson or Pacino going over the top, you’ll be able to tell them what overacting really is.

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Transfer Quality


   This is a fair transfer of a film like the Joan Crawford it portrays: striking to look at, but clearly ageing.

   The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, slightly cropped from the theatrical ratio of 1.85:1, and is 16x9 enhanced.

   The image is fairly sharp, except for a rather blurry shot at 41:40, and is devoid of low level noise. Shadow detail can be a problem, however – several scenes are very dark, such as the exterior at 4:22 or the Wire Hanger Scene at 56:39. The detail is there, kind of, but you won’t see it unless your lights are way down and you have reasonably good equipment.

   Colours are plentiful and bright – often a little too bright, I thought. Some elements are obviously meant to glare, like the jarring red of Dunaway’s lipstick and fingernails, but others may not be so intentional – the blue pool chairs at 21:10, for example. There is no colour bleeding, however, nor any other colour artefact.

   Aliasing and moire patterning are recurrent problems, if not show-stoppers. Christopher’s checked shirt at 37:45, and the blinds at 46:20, the roof at 70:56, and more are affected. The film was otherwise free of noticeable MPEG artefacts, and there were no film-to-video artefacts. But grain was omnipresent and significant, somewhat muddying the image. And a brace of small flecks and scratches didn’t help, either.

   The subtitles were readable, fairly accurate and well-placed.

   This is an RSDL disc, with the layer change well placed on a scene change at 66:19.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


   The audio transfer is clean and functional, but a remix to Dolby Digital 5.1 is quite excessive for such a minor soundtrack.

   There are six audio tracks: a default English Dolby Digital 5.1 track encoded at 448Kbps, and a set of English, Spanish, German, French, and Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks encoded at 192Kbps. I listened to the English 5.1 track, and sampled the rest briefly.

   Dialogue was consistently clear and easy to understand, without hiss, clicks or dropouts. There were no problems with audio sync.

   The somewhat intermittent score is by the great Henry Mancini, but it’s far from his best work. Other than a particularly hideous bit of merry-go-round music at 14:40, none of it sticks in the memory – and there’s really very little of it. Most of the film goes unscored. What music there is comes cleanly and clearly from the front speakers, with some always directed to the surrounds.

   That’s almost all the information the surrounds get, however; there are a few clatters and rustles, but otherwise this movie could almost have jettisoned everything but the centre channel.

   When the producers remixed this soundtrack to 5.1, they seem to have decided – quite appropriately, in my opinion – not to make much use of the surrounds, but rather to simply separate the dialogue from the music and background noise. Thus, although there are several scenes that focus on Martin’s use of his sense of hearing, none of these are turned into surround-sound showpieces. This is quite acceptable in such a low-key film.

   The subwoofer can just about go to sleep – I noticed no significant use beyond the tiniest assistance to the main channels.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    A pair of very basic bonus features is all we get.


    The menus are silent, 16x9 enhanced, and based around still images of Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford. While a little dull, they are well-designed and functional.

Theatrical Trailer (4:04)

   This long trailer shows off Faye Dunaway as much as possible – Dunaway smiling, grooming, yelling and screaming. It’s honest! It’s also marred by a certain scratchiness and distortion to the audio, and a dull and very grainy image.

Photo Gallery

   A set of images taken from the most dramatic and creepy scenes.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

   The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;

       The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on;    There's nothing of significance to choose between these two discs, except the usual slight PAL superiority. Go with Region 4.


   Mommie Dearest is a bad movie, but worth watching once for the voyeuristic thrill of its lurid revelations.

   The video quality is acceptable, if a little grubby.

   The audio quality is reasonable, but there’s not a lot going on besides dialogue.

   The extras are minimal and uninformative.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Tennant Reed
Saturday, September 25, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDSony DVP-NS730P, using Component output
DisplayPanasonic PT-AE500E projecting onto 100" screen. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR601 with DD-EX and DTS-ES
SpeakersJensen SPX-7 fronts, Jensen SPX-13 centre and rear centre, Jensen SPX-4 surrounds, Jensen SPX-17 subwoofer

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