We All Remember Mama

            This morning I searched IMDB for Mother, Mom, Momma, Mama and Mommy (Mommie.)  I came up with over 50 movies alone titled Mother, from a 1910 short film, to several 2010 and 2011 features. Countless more movies appear when you search the variations or add other words. I thought, with Mother’s Day tomorrow, I should address the subject.

            I adore my mom. She’s the reason I love movies as I do. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of her singing songs from movies or listening to movie music. I remember that at a very young age, I knew all the words to the song, “Mrs. Robinson” by Simon and Garfunkel. Whenever I hear the sweeping soundtrack to Out Of Africa, I feel the need to clean my house. Mom puts that movie in when she’s doing housework. It’s lovely.

            In movies, for the most part, mothers are good—almost sacred. To make a mother evil, the filmmakers almost have to give her the title “Step-mother.” Even in the recent Disney feature Tangled, Mother Gothel wasn’t really Rapunzel’s mother. The diligence of her true mother seeded a yearning in Rapunzel’s heart to go home. (Nevertheless, I must confess, the song “Mother Knows Best” is terrific!)

            My mom and I talked just a few days ago about how much she enjoys movies about historical adventures. The 13th Warrior is one of her favorites. She loves Robin Hood and King Arthur stories and epic movies with gladiators, royalty, soldiers and quests. She delights in detailed costumes, panoramic vistas, horses, music and accents. I do, too. It seems I come by that naturally.

            Moms in movies are universal. Their role is instantly understood, and often anchors the audience emotionally. Dorothy McGuire is the icon mother from films like Swiss Family Robinson, Old Yeller, Friendly Persuasion, and of course, The Greatest Story Ever Told. Her gentle but firm voice told us very clearly what had to be done. Her hands on her hips showed us that she meant it. The tilt of her chin, though, expressed that she knew her family’s heart, and she’d move a mountain for them, if she could.

            That moment in A Christmas Story, when Mom (Melinda Dillon) hands Ralphie his glasses at the dinner table after his fight with Scut Farkus, touches my heart. Narrator Ralphie explains that things were different between him and his mother after that. Of course, they were—he understood a fraction of how much she loved him.

            Another amazing movie mom was Irene Dunne. If you don’t know her work, perhaps because of your tender youth, I urge you to rent or purchase a few of her films. She simply glowed in the screen adaptation of I Remember Mama. In Life with Father, she played a delicate, hardheaded, ditzy and protective mother hen, who loved her husband and children to a fault. I know the description of her character seems to contradict itself, but that’s what made her feel so real. In My Favorite Wife, her love for her children motivates her to fight for her marriage after being declared dead. It’s a comedy, by the way.

            I must mention one more Irene Dunne film, because it’s all about motherhood. The 1941 film, Penny Serenade, is about a couple whose desire for a child is so overwhelming that it defines their relationship with each other. If you don’t shed a tear in this one, you have no heart. Though it is absolutely one of my favorite movies, I don’t recommend it for couples who are struggling with either conceiving or tragic loss. Save it for later. Watch something else.

            If you need a mommy flick to make you laugh, put in Mr. Mom. This one truly explains how tough it is to be a mom— in the ‘80’s. Or how about the movie, Throw Momma from the Train? It’s a crazy ‘80’s take on Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train. Danny DeVito and Billy Crystal swap murders to get rid of an overbearing ex-wife and a controlling mother, played by the iconic Anne Ramsey. If you don’t laugh in these movies, you have no funny bone.

            Treat yourself to a mom movie, or better yet, treat your mom to a movie for Mother’s Day. Let her pick. Watch one of her favorites, and maybe ask her why she likes it. Let her talk. Learn about her.

If you can no longer share a movie with her, pick something that you think she’d like—one that reminds you of her. There are hundreds waiting to be discovered.

That’s a wrap for this Toast to Cinema! Thanks for reading!

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