Review: Happy Mother’s Day—Love, George

[Originally published in Movietone News 27, November 1973]

The best thing about Happy Mother’s Day—Love, George is some yeah-that‘s-the-way-it-looks nighttime photography by Walter Lassally. A minor technical footnote, to be sure, and not enough to redeem the sloppy ugliness of Darren McGavin’s directorial debut. The plot is very confused, and the leaking of that plot to the audience is even more contused and slew-footed (the absence of several performers listed in the credits—e.g., Thayer David as a minister—suggests that some desperate wholesale cutting has taken place at the last moment). Central to the enterprise is Ron Howard (American Graffiti‘s Steve) as a mysterious gangling youth who hops off a truck in a Maine coastal village early one morning and starts making several people uncomfortable just by his presence. Cloris Leachman drops her oatmeal because he looks like the illegitimate son she farmed out to a family of religious freaks years before. Bobby Darin goes on the prod because he’s been keeping company with Leachman, his employer at the dockside diner, and the encroachment of a new male threatens him. Patricia Neal, Leachman’s sister, starts snarling because (1) she snarls at everybody, (2) she snarls especially at males, and (3) her dewy-eyed daughter Tessa Dahl is given to staring out the window at the boy.

On-location filmic mining of the psychological substrata of American smalltowns is one of the things the cinema does best (cf. Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, Welles’s The Stranger, Delmer Daves’s The Red House), so I’m particularly sorry McGavin and writer Robert Clouse (himself the director of that interesting Travis McGee adaptation Darker Than Amber) made such a botch of this one: in terms of the immediate future, at least, such muckups tend to devalue perfectly valid generic conventions and even the whole genre itself. Attics, garages, summerhouses and secret rooms are not necessarily special places—the filmmaker has to persuade us of their uniqueness, make us feel their insinuating ambience. McGavin just shuffles the pieces. Two successfully weird things: A child, digging her fingers into the beach, uncovers a partially fleshless skull; she quietly spreads the sand back over the unknown features without calling to her mother who sits placidly reading nearby. Eerier still is Tessa Dahl’s uncanny resemblance to her real-life mother Patricia Neal; eeriest of all is the fact that the young Tessa resembles not the young Patricia but the woman Patricia has become after 20-30 years and a near-fatal illness.

RTJ

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY—LOVE, GEORGE
Direction: Darren McGavin. Screenplay: Robert Clouse. Cinematography: Walter Lassally.
The Players: Ron Howard, Tessa Dahl, Patricia Neal, Cloris Leachman, Bobby Darin, Simon Oakland.

Copyright © 1973 Richard T. Jameson