Tuesday, June 18, 2013


Every year Mrs. Taggert insists that her three grown sons join her to celebrate her wedding anniversary to her late husband. And it seems that every year, she uses the event to reassert her dominance over her sons, insulting and humiliating them to keep them under her thumb—she owns the family construction business, and all three work for her, with varying degrees of competence. Henry, who is charge of the day-to-day business, is an unmarried milquetoast and transvestite who steals women's underwear from stores and clotheslines and seems happy with the status quo. The other two, however, have plans to escape: Terry, with a wife and kids, is planning to move to Canada; Tom, the youngest, has brought his pregnant fiancĂ©e to the celebration despite Mother's almost certain disapproval. And indeed, Mrs. Taggert spends the entire evening running everyone down, trying to get her way. Will this be the year when things backfire?

Bette Davis has a field day chewing the scenery as the horrid mother in this black comedy. She wears an eyepatch (due to a BB gun accident years ago, caused by one of her sons) and, though the film is set in England, Davis doesn't bother with an accent, and she doesn't need to—sounding like Bette Davis is scary enough. She cackles and spits out insults with relish. To Terry's wife, pregnant with her fourth child, she says, "Natural good manners told me when to put the plug in." Glaring at Tom's tarty girlfriend who plunked down next to her on the couch, she says, "Would you mind sitting somewhere else? Body odor offends me." Based on a play, most of the film takes place in Mom's house, though the camera set-ups are varied enough that it rarely feels stagy, and when it does venture out, to a dinner at a restaurant, it doesn't reel right. The rest of the cast is good, especially Jack Hedley as Terry, doing a nice job of not being as kowtowing as Henry (James Cossins) but not able to rebel as obviously as Tom (Christian Roberts), and Sheila Hancock as his wife. Not all the plot twists work—a cruel prank that Mrs. Taggert plays on Terry's wife comes off as half-baked and childish—but this is a strong example of the strain of black comedy that blossomed in the 1960s. And this is a better movie overall than Davis' more famous campy dark comedy WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE. [DVD]

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