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Memorable Moms Mostly

May 10, 1987|Jill S. Beerman

Mothers occupy a special place in our psyche and on our silver screens. And on this special day, let's not forget these special moms:

"Stella Dallas" (1937). Barbara Stanwyck is at her best as a Depression-era working-class mom who sacrifices everything to marry her daughter to a rich man. If the kid had sense, she would choose to stay with Stella, who is much more interesting than the tailor's manikins of high society. The film ends with Stanwyck watching her daughter's wedding from outside the house, drenched by pouring rain, being moved along by a cop.

"Since You Went Away" (1944). Claudette Colbert stars as a wife and mother of two who must learn to cope on her own when her husband goes off to war. Her sacrifices for the war effort include giving up her housekeeper and taking a job as a welder.

"Mildred Pierce" (1945). Joan Crawford won an Oscar as a working-class mom who becomes a successful restaurateur so that she can give daughter Vera the finer things in life. Vera expresses her lack of gratitude by shooting Mom's lover. (Since "Mommie Dearest," it's hard to watch this tale of maternal devotion with a straight face. But Crawford's wardrobe is stunning, complete with shoulder pads.)

"I Remember Mama" (1948). Irene Dunne is the mother of a Norwegian immigrant family in turn-of-the-century San Francisco. She is cheerful, encouraging, thrifty, self-sacrificing. Mom as saint. Note the backlighting, which gives her a halo effect.

"Psycho" (1960). Who can forget Mrs. Bates, mother of Norman, attacking Janet Leigh in the shower? But, admit it, the lady has gotten a bad rap. How can we judge her so harshly? She never even really appears in the film. All we know about her is from Norman, not a totally reliable source.

"Where's Poppa?" (1970). Ruth Gordon is the addled mother of George Segal. What can you do with a woman who eats Fruit Loops and drinks Pepsi for breakfast, who constantly asks after her long-dead husband, and who single-handedly is ruining her son's sex life? (Watch for the famous "tush" scene.)

"Ordinary People" (1980). Mary Tyler Moore plays the icy Beth, whose inability to express emotion shatters her family. But not to worry; the message of this film (and others, such as "Kramer vs. Kramer") is that as long as there are men (Donald Sutherland, Judd Hirsh) around to provide compassion and nurturing, Mom is unnecessary, maybe even obsolete, and wasn't Timothy Hutton really better off without her?

"Terms of Endearment" (1983). Shirley MacLaine's Oscar-winning MacLaine's Aurora Greenway is vain, self-centered, domineering, but Emma (Debra Winger) loves her and so do we. I mean, is there a daughter alive who did not experience the shock of recognition when Aurora adjusted Emma's bra straps?

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