Thursday, May 01, 2008
The Cut: The Anniversary
Bette Davis spent most of the 1960s playing one ghoul after the next. Crazed nutcases -- the title characters in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte -- as well as the murderous guardian in The Nanny and the duplicitous twin in Dead Ringer. Bits of all of them are woven into the ballbreaking old bitch she plays in The Anniversary, a perversely entertaining camp spectacle from 1968.
Sporting a self-supporting patch that seems hermetically sealed to her left eye -- and which apparently comes in both bright red and jet black -- Davis has the time of her life as a sadistic matron whose greatest pleasure comes from watching the members of her family try to wrest themselves free of her claws. She speaks almost entirely in insults, which range from barbed insinuations to snide dismissals to lip-smacking feasts on the bones of her victims. Humiliation is what makes life worth living, and there's no better time than the annual celebration of her wedding to the man she drove to an early grave.
As the head of the old man's construction firm, which she has turned into a cheap racket distinguished by shoddy workmanship, she controls the lives and ambitions of the three adult sons who are also her main employees, their lives torn between meeting mama's demands and dealing with yet another irate customer who has fallen through the floor of their new home.
The eldest has long since knuckled under to mama's dominance; he doesn't care that she wears the pants because he mainly prefers women's clothing. The other two still have dreams of growing a pair and fleeing for their lives. The middle son is married with five kids; his wife, who is as brassy as she is fertile, seems just the kind of mom-killer a man in his position would look for, although the missus is no match for the momma. Neither is the the hot young bird the youngest son has brought home: a knockout he's knocked up in hopes of liberating himself.
As black comedies go, this isn't one that goes for much for subtlety; it's more of a monster movie, which was the specialty of both writer Jimmy Sangster and director Roy Ward Baker. It's less Pinter or Albee than The Old Cunt Who Wouldn't Die It's a one-note performance, but it's the kind of note only Davis can hit with just the right panache.