Sunday, May 10, 2009
'PICTURE MOMMY DEAD' - A DELICIOUS MOTHER'S DAY GIFT FROM US TO YOU
After the usual mother's day goodies that come from dear hubby (You know the kind, girls - flowers, heart-shaped boxes of cheap chocolates, etc) all designed with one thing in mind - his erection. And after the usual handmade cards and goodies from little Jimmy jr. - designed to swell our hearts to bursting but somehow making us wish that we had upped his allowence (just a little) two weeks prior - how delighted we were to recieve a package from our oldest -and most sensitive- son, Thad. (He's away at boarding school, but just between us - he's always been our favorite.) So imagine my mixed emotions when I feverishly unwrapped the package, only to find a rare dvd of a dubiously titled Hollywood clunker called PICTURE MOMMY DEAD!
Starlet-In-Distress Cinema, that Bad Movie genre which always guarantees unintentional guffaws from its frayed formula --- assorted has-beens in a spooky mansion terrorizing a youngish, talentish gal sporting big hair and too much eye shadow --- reached its apex in the '60s: think Connie Stevens in Two on a Guillotine, Joey Heatherton in My Blood Runs Cold, and Stefanie Powers in Die! Die! My Darling! Let us now praise the very worst of these many stinkers, producer-director Bert I. Gordon's 1966 opus, Picture Mommy Dead. What distinguishes Mommy from the pack is the fact that instead of hiring a standard-issue "name" starlet as the requisite mentally-unstable-but-comely-heiress-in-jeopardy, auteur Gordon instead cast his own talent-free daughter, chipmunk-cheeked Susan Gordon, which gives the movie some real fizz when the plot's Electra complex kicks in at the finale. But Susan sets off double meanings throughout the film. Whenever she bleats, to screen papa Don Ameche, dialogue like "Daddy, what's the matter with me?" and, "I'm the worst thing that ever was alive!" she seems to be reviewing her own performance.
In terms of scene-swallowing antics, the film's many also-rans --- "guest stars" include Signe Hasso, Anna Lee, Wendell Corey! --- give Susan a run for her money. Thrill to Martha Hyer, Susan's adulterous stepmother, snarling at Ameche, "Is it true I made love to a bellboy at the hotel in Geneva? Or are you still wondering about that guide in Paris?" Delight to caretaker Maxwell Reid who --- sporting improbable false scars from the fire that killed Ameche's first wife, Zsa Zsa Gabor --- hopes the cops will reopen the case: "They may discover the person who took her life," he rants, "and my face!" Then there's Gabor, in flashback, camping it up with peals of stagy laughter and pearls of Zsa Zsa-speak: "Dahlink, don't be such a borink man!"
Even Susan's talking doll (which looks like Cher) gets to upstage her, for when the doll's cord is pulled, it spouts remarks like, "I'm hep! Like, uh, y'know, a beatnik!" and, "Come on, let's get with it, like, wheee!" It gets loonier: when Susan scratches a life-size portrait of Zsa Zsa, the painting bleeds. Inevitably, the shredding of just such a tacky canvas can often be a Bad Movie moment --- ever see Susan Hayward slash Bette Davis's likeness in Where Has Love Gone? -- and here, Susan attacks the painting of Zsa Zsa with a candlestick, screeching "Die! Die!" You'll long to call out to her, "Don't you mean Die! Die! My Dahlink!?"
For the big finish, we're meant to realize that Susan is hopelessly mentally ill because she can't tell the difference between aged starlet Hyer and aged starlet Gabor --- but since both are dressed in the exact same evening gown, sport similar cotton-candy dos, and have no acting talent whatsoever, who can? When Ameche kills Hyer, Susan helpfully torches the house --- just as the pair had destroyed the place years before, when Ameche killed Gabor --- so Susan can, at last, have her Daddy all to herself. Who knows what private fantasies the two Gordons were playacting here --- but, for the grand finale, he misguidedly apes Sunset Blvd., having Ameche and Susan descend the stairs not into utter madness, as intended, but straight into the annals of high camp.
I simply must remember to thank Thad personally. Perhaps some homemade marzapan frosted brownies delivered in his favorite Barbie lunch pail from first grade. Let's see ... he has third period gym class this friday. Perfect! I'm sure he and the other boys in gym will be thrilled.
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