“Legendary” is a term too often thrown about nowadays. A word meant to illustrate a state of timeless magnificence and virtually intractable stature now gets used to describe a multitude of things, from people of great historical significance to those really good nachos you had at that place last week.
However, rarely does the term come to have quite the strength and versatility of meaning as it does when talking about something like Mommie Dearest.
According to her daughter Christina, Joan Crawford was also a terrifyingly abusive mother, prone to outbursts of jealous and vindictive rage, often without cause. Christina recounted her life growing up under Joan Crawford’s care in her 1978 memoir Mommie Dearest, published a year after Joan’s death. An instant best-seller, claims from the book were made, refuted, defended, denied and affirmed by many of the people in Joan’s life. Given the highly successful and dramatically incendiary nature of the book, it was only a matter of time before that story had to be told on film. And in 1981, that time came.
Dunaway pretty much refuses to even speak about this film, but at the time she was convinced it would earn her a second Oscar. On winning the part, she devoured information about Crawford, her movies and the period she worked in. Her commitment was unparalleled and she turned in a performance that is, if nothing else, brave beyond measure. When it turned out to be regarded as the definition of maniacal over-acting (and, in fairness, loved for it), there was one scene that encapsulated the film in all its glory. A scene that has seen people going to screenings of this film with props to wave overhead as they shout along with the movie. If you ever get the chance to see this film in a cinema with the right crowd, do it.
Say it with me now: “NO! WIRE! HANGERS!”
Setting the scene: Just prior to going to bed, her face covered in cold cream, Joan finds one of young Christina’s dresses. Going into the child’s room to return it to her closet, Joan finds another of the dresses hanging on a wire hanger… and that just won’t do. Struck to an instant rage at such a transgression, Joan reacts in (apparently) typical fashion…