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Frank Perry
Faye Dunaway, Diana Scarwid, Steve Forrest
Writing Credits:
Robert Getchell, Tracy Hotchner, Frank Perry, Frank Yablans

Joan Crawford adopts two kids and apparently doesn't treat them well.

Rated PG.

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
English Monaural
French Monaural
German Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 128 min.
Price: $24.99
Release Date: 6/1/2021

• Audio Commentary with Filmmaker John Waters
• Audio Commentary with Drag Queen Hedda Lettuce
• “The Revival of Joan” Featurette
• “Life with Joan” Featurette
• “Joan Lives On” Featurette
• “Filmmaker Focus” Featurette
• Photo Gallery
• Trailer


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-SVS SB12-NSD 12" 400-watt Sealed Box Subwoofer


Mommie Dearest (Paramount Presents Edition) [Blu-Ray] (1981)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 11, 2021)

Movies that become most genuinely embraced by fans of camp don’t start out that way – or do they? For the life of me, I can’t recall whether 1981’s Mommie Dearest attempted to be a serious drama or if it purposefully embraced the kitschy side of things.

Whatever goals it pursued, it clearly wound up on the campy side of the street. Based on her book, Mommie examines the life of Christina Crawford with her adoptive mother, actress Joan Crawford (Faye Dunaway).

It starts in 1939 with Joan a big star at MGM. We learn that she’s an obsessive neat freak who insists everything be perfectly clean at all times.

Though she has a successful career, Joan wants to be a mother. She miscarried seven times in the past and desires to adopt. Due to her lifestyle, the agencies resist her, but Joan’s lawyer boyfriend Greg Savitt (Steve Forrest) manages to land her an infant daughter.

Joan seeks to compensate for her own rough upbringing and she chooses to give Christina everything she never had. However, she’s also determined that Christina (Mara Hobel) won’t be a “spoiled Hollywood brat”.

Joan drives the girl relentlessly and treats her increasingly harshly as the years pass. The movie follows that abusive relationship into Christina’s adulthood (Diana Scarwid) as well as the ups and downs of Joan’s career.

All at once, Dunaway acts as the best and worst thing about Mommie Dearest. On the negative side, she plays Crawford in such an absurdly over the top manner that it becomes absolutely impossible to take any part of the film seriously.

Her characterization would fit better on Saturday Night Live or SCTV. Though I don’t think Dunaway played Crawford for laughs, her performance frequently provokes them.

In a perverse way, however, Dunaway’s insane romp is pretty much the only thing that makes Dearest at all entertaining, though. Dunaway doesn’t chew the scenery – she stomps, chomps and devours it. She appears virtually rabid at times.

All of this adds to the film’s sick camp charm. It boasts a pretty thin psychological portrait summed up by Joan’s chant of “survive, survive, survive!” The obsessive quality Dunaway brings to Crawford makes the attempts at depth even more laughable, as she overplays every quirk of the character.

Somehow this turns a horrific subject into comedy. Dearest really should be harrowing and painful to watch, but it’s so damned over the top that it makes child abuse hilarious.

The presence of lines such as “I’m not mad at you – I’m mad at the dirt!” and “Ma changed husbands faster than she changed bed sheets” doesn’t encourage us to take anything else seriously – and that leaves off the famous bit about wire hangers.

While the first half of Dearest prompts unintentional entertainment, the flick runs out of steam after that. Really, once Christina becomes a teen, the movie fizzles.

Joan’s rampages lack the same bite, and the story rushes through Christina’s life so rapidly that nothing sticks. The first half focuses on particular periods much better, while the second segment tries too hard to pack in every possible important moment. That just undercuts them and makes things dull.

Except for the ending, perhaps. In arguably the campiest scene in the film, adult Christina and brother Christopher (Xander Berkeley) find out their mother left them nothing in her will.

Chris mopes that “as usual, she has the last word”. Christina glares and utters, “Does she? Does she?”

Ah, if only more of Mommie Dearest’s second half lived up to that segment’s cattiness. Unfortunately, it sags too much and ruins a gleefully terrible first hour. The movie clearly entertains those with a taste for over the top absurdity, though its inconsistency makes it tough to stick with at times.

The Disc Grades: Picture B+/ Audio C+/ Bonus B-

Mommie Dearest appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Diac. Dearest came with a largely appealing presentation.

For the most part, sharpness worked fine. A little softness impacted the occasional interior, but these instances remained modest and non-intrusive.

No signs of jagged edges or moiré effect appeared, and I saw no edge haloes. With a natural layer of grain, the image didn’t seem to suffer from egregious noise reduction techniques, and print flaws became a non-factor.

Colors opted for the low-key side of natural, with a minor lean toward the brown side of things. When given the chance, the hues felt reasonably vivid and they always worked fine given the movie’s choices.

Blacks appeared pretty deep and dense, while shadows offered appropriate clarity. This was a nice rendition of the film.

Reworked from the original monaural audio – which also appeared on the disc in lossy Dolby Digital form - Mommie Dearest offered a DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack. I’m not sure why the disc’s producers bothered to do so, as the chatty movie did little to span beyond its one-channel origins.

Music swelled from the sides and a little environmental material also came from those areas. Nonetheless, the mix stayed focused in the center much of the time and didn’t offer much expansion.

At least the quality was perfectly adequate. Speech could be a little dense, but the lines were usually acceptably natural, and they always remained easily intelligible.

The score was somewhat muted but offered decent clarity. Although the music could have boasted greater range, it seemed fairly distinctive.

Effects were also clean and relatively accurate, though they lacked much punch. While the mix never excelled, it seemed acceptable given the movie’s subject and its age.

How did the Blu-ray compare to the DVD from 2006? The Blu-ray’s lossless audio might’ve been a little warmer than the DVD’s lossy track, but the age and nature of the material meant the two seemed pretty similar.

On the other hand, the Blu-ray brought a massive improvement over the DVD’s picture quality. The Blu-ray looked better defined, cleaner and more vibrant than the subpar DVD. This turned into a major upgrade.

The Blu-ray mixes old and new extras, and we find two audio commentaries. Also on the DVD, the first comes from filmmaker John Waters, as he provides a running, screen-specific look at the flick.

Waters had nothing to do with Dearest, but he loves camp, so someone figured he was a logical choice to dissect it. That makes sense, though the end result is less than stellar.

Waters talks about the movie’s reception and reputation, the real-life Joan Crawford, differences between Hollywood in Crawford’s era and today, and his take on the flick. He doesn’t think it’s all that campy, and he defends it much of the time.

Waters mixes some catty comments with honest insights, and this works at times. However, he just doesn’t have a lot to say.

Waters apologizes for Crawford’s behavior much of the time and frequently makes repetitive comments. Waters presents a decent track that moves at an acceptable pace, but if you skip it, you won’t really miss out on anything.

New to the 2021 Blu-ray, the second commentary features drag queen Hedda Lettuce. She presents a running, screen-specific discussion of… not much.

Lettuce speaks maybe half the time, and when she does so, she just makes snarky comments about what we see. Virtually nothing Lettuce utters seems clever or witty.

Instead, Lettuce goes with lowest-common-denominator sarcasm without a hint of intelligence or spark. Honestly, I have no clue who might enjoy this track, as it just feels dull and pointless.

Maybe if the commentary matched Lettuce with some other drag queens, we’d get some raucous energy. Instead, we find a track with literally no entertainment or educational value.

Since Waters already gives us some snark, why not provide a discussion from the POV of an actual film historian? This becomes a missed opportunity, and I can’t imagine anyone will find much to like in this awful stab at a snotty commentary.

Some featurettes follow, and The Revival of Joan runs 14 minutes, 15 seconds as it presents comments from producer/screenwriter Frank Yablans and actors Rutanya Alda and Diana Scarwid.

They discuss how the project moved to the screen, the adaptation of the book, finding a director and a cast, aspects of the characters and performances, sets and wardrobe.

Yablans dominates the piece as he tells his vision of the movie and why he wanted to do it. We get a reasonable amount of detail and insight packed into this short program.

For the 13-minute, 44-second Life with Joan, we hear from Yablans, Alda and Scarwid. The show tells us of an alternate opening concept, Faye Dunway’s attitude on the set and her work with the others, other character and performance notes, the film’s over the top elements, and a few scene specifics.

“Life” really acts as a companion piece to “Revival”. There’s no narrative reason to separate them, as they’re both quite similar in their presentation and strengths. “Life” provides another informative piece with nice details about the film.

Joan Lives On lasts 16 minutes, five seconds, as it features Yablans, Scarwid, Alda, Waters, and drag actor John “Lypsinka” Epperson.

It looks at the film’s reception and its publicity campaign, its afterlife as a camp classic and its popularity with gay audiences, its adaptation as a live drag performance, favorite sequences, Dunaway’s refusal to discuss the film, the way the flick affects the public perception of Crawford, and its legacy.

Again, “Lives” fits in with the other two featurettes, as all three could have easily been joined together as one long documentary. It provides a good look at the movie’s enduring notoriety.

New to the 2021 Blu-ray, Filmmaker Focus goes for seven minutes one second. Here biographer Justin Bozung discusses director Frank Perry and aspects of the Dearest production.

With only seven minutes at his disposal, Bozung doesn’t get much time. Nonetheless, he offers some good notes. Paramount should’ve had him record a commentary instead of Lettuce.

To finish the disc, we get a trailer and a Photo Gallery that presents 34 images. These mostly offer shots from the flick, though we also get a few behind the scenes snaps and publicity pictures. None of them seem particularly memorable, and the disc reproduces them with DVD-level quality.

Its target audience will continue to delight in the campy silliness of Mommie Dearest. Though I’m not a big fan of camp, I must admit this film’s many over-the-top moments kept me entertained until it fizzled during its second hour. The Blu-ray offers very good picture as well as decent audio and an erratic but occasionally informative set of supplements. The movie remains a mess but the Blu-ray brings it home well.

To rate this film visit the DVD review of MOMMIE DEAREST

Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main