Joan Crawford As Villain

Once upon a time, an untarnished Hollywood icon of the ‘30s and ‘40s cut her two oldest children out of her will and somehow they still got the last laugh. Based on the best-selling tell-all book by Christina Crawford, Mommie Dearest exposes the sordid mental and physical abuse Joan Crawford inflicted on her oldest daughter growing up.

The Oscar-winning legend, best known for roles in such classics as Mildred Pierce and The Women, cultivated an impeccable public reputation over her long and distinguished acting career. Released soon after her death in the late 1970s, Mommie Dearest continues to loom today over Joan Crawford’s legacy despite its unproven claims.

Mommie Dearest exposes the sordid mental and physical abuse Joan Crawford inflicted on her oldest daughter

Featuring a dramatic lead performance by Faye Dunaway that has to be seen to be believed, the controversial biopic has developed a huge cult following over the years for its lavish costumes and memorably twisted dialogue. Campy and flawed, the film amplifies Crawford’s personal failings into high melodrama and a few, badly over-the-top scenes which everyone remembers. Frank Perry’s capable direction lets Dunaway strut her stuff as the tough but demanding Hollywood starlet, a woman ahead of her time in a field often unkind to aging women.

Mommie Dearest follows Crawford, shown desperate to have a child, illegally adopt a young baby girl she names Christina. Living a wealthy and glamorous lifestyle as one of Hollywood’s biggest stars in the 1930s, Joan Crawford’s driven personality worked great for her career but apparently made life difficult for her children. The film largely focuses on Crawford’s troubled relationship with her first adopted child Christina and mostly ignores her other four children. Christina and her brother Christopher would both become estranged from their famous mother.

The film is most interesting in its first half depicting Crawford’s career struggles at MGM during Christina’s formative years as a child. The screenplay is assured and confident when dealing with the inside hardball of Hollywood. Faye Dunaway is excellent portraying the icon as a smart actress navigating Hollywood’s treacherous waters, almost with a ruthless passion. The drama also plays the mounting physical and mental abuse hurled at the young Christina with an uncanny touch. It’s hard not sympathizing with the young girl’s plight.

The camp classic grows less entertaining as Christina becomes a teenager, devolving into the over-the-top melodrama which has made Mommie Dearest so famous. Tawdry and cheesy, Joan Crawford punishes Christina with contempt and treats her like garbage. The back half feels much like the actual Christina Crawford’s contribution to the project, who gets a partial writing credit. It’s a bitter, scathing indictment of Joan Crawford from her estranged daughter.

Mommie Dearest is less a credible biopic than a tour de force showcase for Faye Dunaway. The film immortalizes her Joan Crawford as a mother hell-bent on terrorizing her daughter, a woman whose success masked her personal deficiencies. The odd but strangely effective mix of camp and Hollywood intrigue has made it a cult film.

Video

The 1981 motion picture from Paramount receives a new 4K restoration on Blu-ray and it looks fantastic compared to the 2006 DVD. Clearly struck from the original camera negative, the organic scan produces crisp and film-like 1080p video. The 1.85:1 presentation has warm, healthy colors with decent saturation.

Faye Dunaway’s dazzling wardrobe lights up the screen with amazing contrast and highlights for Panavision film stock. The clean elements produce suitable definition and clarity befitting the solid cinematography with fine black levels.

The main feature runs over 128 minutes on a BD-50. The AVC encode averages top-notch parameters, transparently capturing the soft grain structure. Paramount rarely messes up authoring their newer BDs and this is a fine HD transfer. While it would have been interesting if Mommie Dearest had received an HDR pass for UHD, the picture quality here shouldn’t be dismissed so lightly. It’s a strong catalog presentation that should hold up for many years.

Audio

Originally Mommie Dearest had a monaural soundtrack, “remixed” here for 5.1 DTS-HD MA audio without making it a sonic wonder. Serviceable, but lacking in concrete separation and more direct cues. The surround mix belies the movie’s mono origins with a bit more depth and presence used for the lush score by composer Henry Mancini.

The dialogue and almost all action remains heavily anchored to the middle of the front soundstage. There isn’t a huge amount of low-end though dialogue is cleanly reproduced. A hint of rear support adds a touch of discrete activity once in a great while. Dynamic range is rather average and a little thin up top.

Optional English, English SDH, German and French subtitles play in a white font. The original English monaural audio is included in 2.0 Dolby Digital. Dub options include French and German 2.0 Dolby Digital in mono.

Extras

Mommie Dearest is #17 in the Paramount Presents line of Blu-ray releases from the studio. The all-region Blu-ray arrives in the line’s customary clear casing with a deluxe fold-out slipcover which replicates the original theatrical movie poster. Inside art highlights an interior spread with key movie scenes. The included digital copy redeems in HDX quality on either VUDU or iTunes.

New special features include the Filmmaker Focus featurette and an almost mean-spirited commentary by self-proclaimed drag queen Hedda Lettuce. Mommie Dearest found a cult following in the gay community and special features here embrace it, especially in the “Joan Lives On” featurette. The remaining bonus features are all carried over from prior home video editions.

Audio Commentary with John Waters – The indie director provides an entertaining and mostly respectful discussion of the film’s benefits and negatives, recorded back in 2006 for DVD. He throws in a few barbs here and there but largely believes Mommie Dearest is a solid film outside of a few decidedly over-the-top scenes.

Audio Commentary with American drag queen Hedda Lettuce – Paramount goes outside the box for this snarky discussion. At times funny, if in poor taste. Hedda Lettuce holds little back mocking the film’s finer points. This is definitely a different type of commentary than you’ll see on most legitimate studio films, embracing the comedic potential of trashing the movie.

Filmmaker Focus: Biographer Justin Bozung on Director Frank Perry (07:01 in HD)

Mommie Dearest Original Theatrical Trailer (04:10 in SD)

Mommie Dearest: The Revival of Joan featurette (14:15 in SD)

Mommie Dearest: Life with Joan featurette (13:44 in SD)

Mommie Dearest: Joan Lives On featurette (16:05 in SD)

Photo Gallery (02:50 in SD) – Around 35 pictures and stills from the movie’s production.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Mommie Dearest
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  • Extras
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Legendary actress Joan Crawford is immortalized as a bad mother in this glamorous biopic based on her estranged daughter’s tell-all book.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 52 full resolution, uncompressed HD screen shots grabbed directly from the Blu-ray: