“You’ve gone too far this time, mum!”
A vicious and controlling mother (Bette Davis) gathers her three grown sons and their mates to celebrate her wedding anniversary.
60-year-old Bette Davis is in rare form here as the hideous matriarch of Bill MacIlwraith’s darkly comedic play. With her color-coordinated eye patches, relentless demands, and constant stream of vitriolic put-downs, she emerges as one of cinema’s true villains. The words coming out of this anti-mother’s mouth are almost beyond belief — to her daughter-in-law (Sheila Hancock) she says matter-of-factly, “I don’t think you are a good mother — but it’s not my place to say so”, and “Natural good manners told me when to put the plug in.” To her middle son (Christian Roberts) she states, “I promise you I’ll have your skin for rags, and wipe the faces of your children with them!”
McIlwraith’s play is clearly a black comedy, but one which unfortunately doesn’t offer quite enough relief to redeem its overriding negativity. The narrative trajectory is relentless — while Mama Taggart’s children try their best to stand up to her, she’s constantly one-upping them, and the effect is disheartening. There are many moments of shocking, laugh-out-loud humor, but ultimately this movie is more unpleasant than enjoyable, and one keeps watching simply to see what ghastly action or statement the incomparable Davis will come up with next…
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Bette Davis in a role seemingly tailor-made for her
- Cross-dressing Henry discussing lingerie with Shirley
- Good supporting performances — especially by Sheila Hancock and James Cossins
- Plenty of zingy — albeit terribly cruel — one-liners by Davis: “My dear, would you mind sitting somewhere else? Body odor offends me.”
Yes, for Davis’s powerhouse performance.