Feature: "Sons and Mothers"
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Sons and Mothers

By D. Scott Apel

May 10 is Mother's Day, a significant holiday for any of us who started out as children. It is the one day of the year during which we are honor-bound to approach Mom with more than a hand full of "gimme" and a mouth full of "much obliged."

Sons particularly are expected to praise their mums and catalog fond recollections of affections. Indeed, I, too, might succumb to a kind of inner mistiness thinking of my own darling gray-haired mother enjoying her Golden Years while knitting in her rocker, were she not younger-looking than I am, and hard at work behind a desk at Lockheed Martin. (Not to mention being off her rocker for years.)

This is not to say I don't love her dearly. I do, I do -- it's in my contract! But the key here, as in all things, is moderation ... without which we face the risk of becoming one of the subjects of this tabloid TV-inspired piece: "Men Who Love Too Much, And The Moms Who Motivate Them."

Mother (1997; Paramount; R). Albert Brooks wrote and directed himself in this twisted rib-tickler about a middle-aged failure whose lack of luck with women he attributes to his very first relationship with the distaff gender: i.e., his mom. When he determines to revert to being a "mama's boy" and moves back into her house to resolve that unsettled trauma, he uncovers much more than he bargained for about his dear, dimwitted mama's pre- and post-child life. Not Brooks' best film, but full of the everyday absurdities of the mother-son struggle -- not to mention a delightful performance by Debbie Reynolds as his not-such-a-dimbulb dam.

White Heat (1949; Key Video; unrated). Jimmy Cagney plays a warped mama's boy in this Freudian crime classic. His entire life of gangsterism, it seems, sprang from a single source: the desire to impress his Mom (played to evil perfection by Margaret Wycherly). Director Raoul Walsh moves the movie along at frantic speed, and Cagney is at his psychotic, frothing best when the news of his mother's death reaches him in the prison mess hall. His subsequent breakdown, breakout and explosive death culminates in one of film's most quotable lines: "Top of the world, Ma!"

Throw Mama From The Train (1988; Warner; PG-13). Anne Ramsey is the Mother From Hell in this dark comedy directed by Danny DeVito, who also stars as her middle-aged "boy," Owen. By the time this mild-mannered mental midget confuses his writing teacher's (Billy Crystal) conversation as an offer to do Mama in (borrowing a device from Hitchcock's classic Strangers on a Train), we've seen poor mama-dominated Owen endure enough of her depravity to root for the success of the non-existent plan. Will Owen be a good boy and protect Mama against his own murderous inclinations? Or will he go totally over the edge and end up like Norman Bates in...

Psycho (1960; MCA; unrated). Alfred Hitchcock's film about a shy, quiet guy as nervous as a bird (Anthony Perkins), with a penchant for knives and dresses, has always been pegged as a classic chiller. And yet, viewed from this new perspective, we can almost interpret it as a tender story of a boy's love for his mother -- a love so strong that it transcends death. We can almost interpret it that way. But we won't.

Murmur of the Heart (1971; Orion; unrated). Most boys don't want to murder their moms. Just the opposite. Ask Dr. Freud, who would have been proud of (and undoubtedly a touch embarrassed by) this French import by director Louis Malle, a tender coming-of-age story about a young man whose first fling is with (get ready for a real surprise) his beautiful, liberated mere. The petite amour is played as a comedy with a dark edge, with both mother and son coming away better for the experience ... although they should count their blessings that "The Jerry Springer Show" didn't exist in their day.

Certainly this is as far into obsession as a boy's love for his mother can go, right? Sorry, kids. We've saved the best for last; the one film that elevates incest to an art:

Oedipus Rex (1967; Facets Multimedia; unrated). In fulfillment of a prophecy that he will murder his father and marry his mother, Oedipus fights his way to his fate, all the while believing he is fleeing from it. Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini directed the classic tale of the doomed hero of Thebes in this eclectic adaptation of Sophocles' monumental tragedy -- a film that'll really knock your eyes out!

D. Scott Apel is the former video columnist for the San Jose (CA) Mercury News, and is author of the video guide Killer B's: The 237 Best Movies On Video You've (Probably) Never Seen.

Previous features:
Will We Remember Them? Oscar Winners From the Past
Oscar's Cinema Lineage
Love Makes the World Go 'Round
Buried Treasures of 1997
It's a Wonderful Film: Frank Capra's Christmas gift to the world.
Intelligent alien connections with "Contact" ... and other benign close encounters.
Die Laughing: 13 flicks guaranteed to rattle your funny bones.
Film Noir: Build a library of some classic B-pictures.
Thanksgiving turkeys: A giblet-eye view of the worst of 1997.

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May 5, 1998