Sunday, January 24, 2010

This Week's Poll: Who's Your Mommie Dearest?

This week we're taking a look at monstrous moms. While most of my blogs have featured good mothers - Emma Newton in Shadow of a Doubt, Anna Smith in Meet Me in St. Louis, Martha Hanson in I Remember Mama - it's time now to shine the spotlight on some of the nastier moms on film (with a nod to the great actresses who portrayed them). Which of these lethal ladies would you least like to tuck you in at night?

Mrs. Henry Vale (Gladys Cooper) in Now, Voyager (1942)

Tyrannical Mrs. Vale is matriarch of "the Boston Vales," an extremely wealthy, well-established WASP family. The granite-jawed dowager has her daughter, ugly-duckling Charlotte, firmly in her iron grip - treating her, by turns, as child or servant. Autocratic and manipulative, Mrs. Vale has all but devoured the young woman. Enter Dr. Jaquith, eminent psychiatrist, who meets with Charlotte and declares, "My dear Mrs. Vale, if you had deliberately and maliciously planned to destroy your daughter's life, you couldn't have done it more completely." Unruffled, she imperiously snaps back, "How, by having exercised a mother's rights?"

Later in the game, Mrs. Vale is not above faking a tumble down the stairs in a determined last-ditch effort to regain her hold over her daughter.

Madame Sebastian (Leopoldine Konstantin) in Notorious (1946)

Madame Sebastian and her son, Alex, are part of a post-war Nazi enclave in Brazil involved in a vague but fiendish plot. Thanks to the Madame, Alex is something of a movie anomaly - a Nazi mama's boy. Ice-cold and demeaning, Madame Sebastian verbally bludgeons Alex whenever he seems to be straying from her steely domination. When he asks that she at least smile occasionally at the woman he will marry, his mother retorts, "Wouldn't it be a little too much if we both grinned at her like idiots?"

Alex later discovers his new wife is a spy and tells his mother. She grimly lights a cigarette, inhales and takes charge: "Let me arrange this one." And she plots to slowly poison her daughter-in-law to death, something we suspect she's wanted to do all along.

Violet Venable (Katharine Hepburn) in Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)

A mother written by Tennessee Williams is bound to be a piece of work, and Mrs. Venable is surely that. A wealthy New Orleans widow, she has recently lost her son Sebastian. He met his death while abroad with his cousin Cathy. Mrs. Venable is now seeking a lobotomy for Cathy who is talking too much about Sebastian and how he died. Though it becomes clear that Sebastian was gay, his mother seems to have been oblivious...she recalls a conversation with him when she was his travelling companion: "...what a lovely summer it's been. Sebastian and Violet. Violet and Sebastian. Just the two of us. Just the way it's always going to be. Oh, we are lucky, my darling, to have one another and need no one else ever." It's not surprising that Mrs. Venable has a Venus Flytrap in her garden.

Mrs. John Iselin (Angela Lansbury) in The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

Mrs. Iselin, the brains behind her dim, rabble-rousing U.S. Senator husband, is also the mother of 'war hero'/assassin Raymond Shaw. A skilled demagogue, she easily controls others. But she inspires little love, as evidenced by her son's words: "My a terrible, terrible woman...You know... it's a terrible thing to hate your mother. But I didn't always hate her. When I was a child I only kind of disliked her." Mrs. Iselin's manipulations are part of a larger plan; she's out for world domination and has sacrificed Raymond's soul as well as the lives of his wife and others in her quest. She has stage-managed everything, from the sentence that will cue an assassination, to its desired aftermath. All she has schemed for is about to become hers...but Mrs. Iselin may have overplayed her hand at Solitaire...

Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) in The Graduate (1967)

Mrs. Robinson suffers from a bad case of Affluenza; her life is comfortable but unsatisfying. Though she and her husband are living the good life and their daughter is away at college, the marriage is dead and she's an alcoholic who habitually seduces young men - including Benjamin, son of her husband's law partner. While Mrs. Robinson's attitude toward Benjamin and their liaison has been cavalier, she comes unhinged when he succumbs to family pressure and takes her daughter, Elaine, on a date. Mrs. R instantly transforms into a vengeful virago and, when Ben and Elaine hit it off, she begins a vicious campaign to derail their romance, bring her daughter back in line and eviscerate Ben in doing so...coo coo ca-choo, Mrs. Robinson...

Cast your vote for one of these five nefarious nominees at the sidebar to the right...


  1. Eve, this is a superb group of malicious mothers, but I think the worst of the lot has to be Angela Lansbury as Mrs. John Iselin in THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE. She is an all-around nasty human being, but what she does to her son earns her my vote for worst all-time cinema mom!

  2. Eve,,I agree with Rick. Mrs John Iselin is one scary lady. Angela's performance is amazing .Talk about the Mother from Hell, or should I say Moscow?

  3. Eve, I voted for: Violet Venable(Katharine Hepburn), in Suddenly Last Summer.

  4. This is quite a fun poll! Another mother whom I deplore is Constance Ford's Helen Jorgensen from "A Summer Place," who called in a doctor to assess her daughter after she spent a night out with a boy. I can still hear Sandra Dee as Molly yelling at her mother that she has been a good girl. But even that cannot compare to the horrible Mrs. Iselin. Angela Lansbury nailed that horrible, cold woman. Gives me the heebie jeebies just thinking of her!

  5. It's a toss-up for me, each of them has her own special brand of nastiness...I also thought of Anjelica Huston as Lilly Dillon in The Grifters (1990) and Roz Russell as Mama Rose in Gypsy (1962)...but I thought these five went nicely together...if nicely is the word.