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Mom's the Word

A tribute to movie mothers

Literally the mother of all holidays, this May 14 presents the opportunity to ponder the great diversity of movie moms — from the wellsprings of love, to the towers of strength, to the, let us say, maternally challenged.

Mom as supernurturer: I REMEMBER MAMA (1948, RKO) In an Oscar-nominated performance as the world's greatest Norwegian immigrant, Irene Dunne fixes the family budget, smooths over lifelong family rifts, lullabies an entire hospital pediatric ward, brings the pet cat back from death's door, and launches her daughter's literary career. How could she be forgotten?

Mom as homicidal alter ego: PSYCHO (1960, MCA/Universal) A boy always needs his mother, even if she is just shriveled remains propped up in a rocking chair in the cellar. Who would be better to influence a boy's choice of accessories (gray wig, kitchen knife) or guide him through those awkward moments when confronted with blonds showering in motel bathrooms?

Mom as funny guy: MR. MOM (1983, LIVE) Female mothers have their uses, but sometimes it takes a real he-mom like Michael Keaton to cope with marauding vacuum cleaners, stove-top blazes, volcanic popcorn poppers, and the mind-mashing tedium of soap operas.

Mom as Joan Crawford: MILDRED PIERCE (1945, MGM/UA) Crawford devotes every waking moment to her ungrateful brat of a daughter, never gives her own happiness a second thought, and uses coat hangers exclusively to hang clothes in this rebuttal to Mommie Dearest 35 years before the fact.

Mom as city-stomping protector of her child: GORGO (1961, Nostalgia) Prehistoric-monster mom loses 65-foot baby. Baby gets imprisoned in circus sideshow. Mom devastates major metropolitan area. Mom gets baby back. Now, that's devotion.

Mom as the soul of England: MRS. MINIVER (1942, MGM/UA) Do you need a mom to embody quiet courage, wisdom, and English pride in the face of totalitarian aggression? Just call on Greer Garson, the heroine of this Oscar-winning World War II saga. Add Walter Pidgeon as the father, who steps in for the odd moment when Garson can't epitomize the nation's integrity single-handedly.

Mom as ambitious secret agent for an enemy superpower: THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (1962, MGM/UA) Angela Lansbury, as the scariest thing in this satiric thriller, comes up with some new chores for her son — so she programs him to be an assassin who will pave the way for a takeover of the U.S. government. And you think you've got problems with your mother?

Originally posted May 12, 1995 Published in issue #274 May 12, 1995 Order article reprints
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