Come on, come on. Don’t get your face all scrunched up and twisted in a knot over my macabre little joke. You know not every woman is meant to be a mother, even if she does have the biology to become one. If you have or had a kind, loving mother, be happy, grateful, celebrate her. Give your mom a hug if you can.
That’s not the kind of mom this essay is about.
“A man’s mother is his mother.”
I was shocked to the core when I watched “THE SILVER CORD”. Laura Hope Crews gives an astounding performance as a mother whose pathological neediness cripples her grown sons with almost devastating consequences. Previously I only saw her as ‘Prudence’ and ‘Aunt Pittypat’ in “Camille” and “Gone With the Wind.”
Director John Cromwell allows Crews to hold you in her grip, as you watch her destructive parental machinations play out. Eric Linden plays the younger son entrapped by the vice-grip of guilt and pity. I was torn between feeling sorry for him and wanting to smack him in the back o’ the head. I yelled and screamed for him to just walk out the door. But he couldn’t; he just couldn’t defy his mother. It was as if there was an invisible force field around the perimeter. And trust me, he is deep inside that bubble unable to break that threshhold. Crews has made her son a virtual prisoner with her emotional blackmail. Frances Dee is Linden’s ill-fated fiancee. Her desperate hysteria at wanting to escape is palpable. She cannot fight her mother-in-law. She has seen and has had enough.
Joel McCrea. << Sigh! >> ( Forgive my editorializing ). You see, because he is the strong, handsome, leading man-type, I was wondering how they would portray him as a Momma’s Boy. Impossible. It was subtle but they did. I was in shock when right before my very eyes this tall drink of water becomes infantilized by Crews.
He gets tucked into bed, starts to sort of sound like an overgrown kid and that ‘Manchurian’ kiss from Mom square on the lips… What the heck is going on here???!!! My jaw dropped. My jaw dropped several times during this film. McCrea has slightly more chutzpah than Linden, but just slightly. I think because ‘Mom really liked him best’ he gets just the slightest of breaks over Linden. Her grip on McCrea is not as tight, but it’s there. After ‘chats’ with his mother, he spout her teachings and gives his wife chaste kisses. Yeah, her influence is evident.
Irene Dunne plays McCrea’s wife. She is very good in this; almost makes me think of an Ann Harding-type role. You know, one of those abnormal, liberated, no-nonsense, straight-shooting women the early 30’s had. I think it’s very telling Dunne is a scientist in this film. A scientist is not the nurturer a Nurse or Kindergarten teacher is. Science deals with proving facts. It’s interesting that this is the type of woman McCrea is drawn to. She is very unlike his mother. Dunne pieces together what she observes between Mother and Sons that is too uncomfortably close. She tries to calmly, rationally make McCrea see he’s trapped inside an abusive relationship, but he just doesn’t see it. Who wouldn’t want to absorb, lap up, drink in absolute, unconditional love; it’s hard to see it’s something more destructive. After one more chance to choose between her and his mother, she has a showdown with her brand new mother-in-law and it’s a pip. Before she leaves her marriage, Dunne goes toe-to-toe with Crews. I loved Dunne’s straight, no chaser, approach; clinical…no beating around the bush.
Dunne: “Oh I know Mrs. Phelps all about the legend of yourself as a woman you’ve built up these past thirty years for your sons to worship. But it hasn’t taken me long to see that you’re not fit to be anyone’s mother.”
Crews: “I do not deny, I’d cut off my right arm and burn the sight out of my eyes to rid my son of you.”
Crikey! How do you fight THAT?!!
Here is something my friend Fernando wrote about the movie a few years ago:
“I don’t think Katharine Hepburn would have been right for the part. IMO, I think she would have been too strong for the part. There was something very today and modern about Irene Dunne’s attitude even though sometimes the speechifying was very 1930’s. I think one should sit down one Saturday night with some popcorn and the in-laws and share this movie.”
L0L! Let me know if anybody is speaking to each other in the morning. ( You can read Fernando’s current review about the movie: here ).
It’s Laura Hope Crews’ movie all the way. She twists and turns her emotions at the drop of a hat. She’s manipulative and deceitful as she plays one son against the other. Movies are heightened reality anyway, so Crews’ Mother Goddamm is wonderfully theatrical and uncomfortable to watch. She wants them dependent on her. She’s narcissistic. She’s got Münchausen Syndrome on steroids. Crews makes me see the genius of that sputtering persona she’s used in other films because she’s so un-sputtering here. Her speech at the end swayed me a bit. She’s a good advocate for the maternal instinct gone wrong. Find this movie and see it. And if possible, hug and kiss your mother.
Love means, never having to say “You’re smothering me.”
* * * * * * * ** * * *
On a side note: McCrea and Dee met during the making of this film, had a whirlwind courtship and married from 1933 until his death in 1990.
( H O M E )