Mommie Dearest: Classic Hollywood’s bad moms

When I first heard about the new film, Bad Moms, I was excited about its cast: Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis, and Christina Applegate. At first glance, I thought it was going to be a horror film given the title but learning it was a comedy made me even more intrigued. On the surface it looks like a Zac Efron bro-film with female leads but with such likeable actresses I hope for the best. The film got me thinking about some real bad moms in classic cinema. There are many wretched women out there! In honor of Bad Moms, here’s a list of mothers from Classic Hollywood who should have never been allowed to procreate.

10. Mrs. Anthony in Strangers on a Train (1951, Dir. Alfred Hitchcock)


Mrs. Anthony seems like a perfectly harmless woman until you realize she’s done nothing but help shape her sadistic son Bruno into the monster he is. When we are introduced to her, she’s giving her son a manicure. Their relationship is all sorts of uncomfortable. She’s overly affectionate and treats him like he’s still her little boy. The trouble he gets into makes her laugh and his affection for her borders on the sexual. She clearly let him get away with murder in his developmental years and as an adult.

9. Mama Rose in Gypsy (1962, Dir. Mervyn Leroy)


Mama Rose is the stage mother from hell. Although I like Natalie Wood and Rosalind Russell, I have a hard time watching this one because I hate Mama Rose so much. Russell is masterful in her portrayal of this greedy woman who will stop at nothing to get her children fame and fortune to live out her dream of being a star. You’ll applaud at the moment when her daughter Gypsy Rose Lee tells her off.

8. Ma Jarrett in White Heat (1949, Dir. Raoul Walsh)

White Heat

“Made it Ma! Top of the world!”

We all know that classic line from 1949’s White Heat. It’s James Cagney proudly yelling in front of flames during a botched robbery at a chemical plant. White Heat is one of Cagney’s most famous films. He plays the ruthless, crooked gang leader Cody Barrett who has a very close relationship with his mother whom he affectionately calls “Ma.” Cody suffers from debilitating headaches and instead of seeking solace from his beautiful wife (portrayed by Virginia Mayo), he confides in his Ma. Although she’s a very loving mother, Ma is just as corrupt as her son. Sure she may have inspired him to carry on with the family business, even if it is a life of crime, but it’s not exactly a respectable career, is it?


7. Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate (1967, Dir. Mike Nichols)


Mrs. Robinson’s affair with Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) seems like she’s just fulfilling a need to escape her loneliness but it slowly unravels as something more sinister when Benjamin begins to show interest in her daughter Elaine. Her jealously for her own daughter turns her into a villain. She’ll stop at nothing to keep Benjamin away from Elaine, going so far as to claim Benjamin raped her.

6. Rose-Ann D’Arcey in A Patch of Blue (1965, Dir. Guy Greene)


Not only is Rose-Ann an uneducated racist in the Deep South, she blinded her daughter Selina (Elizabeth Hartman) by throwing a tumbler filled with chemicals at her drunken lover but it ended up hitting Selina in the face. Then she tried to force Selina into prostitution. If that wasn’t enough to ruin Selina’s life, Rose-Ann tries to breakup her relationship with Gordon (Sidney Poitier), a lovely man who just happens to be black. Rose-Ann isn’t exactly winning ‘Mother of the Year’ or even a good person award but Shelley Winters’ frightening performance earned the actress her second Oscar. Not bad for a role Winters herself hated.

5. Violet Venable in Suddenly Last Summer (1959, Joseph L. Manckiewicz)


Violet (Katharine Hepburn) loves her late son Sebastian and will stop at nothing to protect his memory. Her efforts are extreme and include a plan to lobotomize her niece who saw his horrible and disturbing demise so she can never reveal the truth of what happened.

4. Mrs. Loomis in Splendor in the Grass (1961, Dir. Elia Kazan)


Mrs. Loomis (Audrey Christie) is a selfish woman of moderate means who is obsessed with advancing her place in society. When her daughter Deanie (Natalie Wood) falls in love with the son from the town’s wealthiest family, she focuses her attention on the gifts he gives her and family gossip. She is also a reflection of society’s double standard when it comes to female sexuality. She constantly tells Deanie to refrain from any sexual feelings she may have for Bud (Warren Beatty), driving her to the point of insanity.

3. Mrs. Henry Vale in Now, Voyager (1942, Dir. Irving Rapper)


This wealthy Boston widow (Gladys Cooper) is a domineering mother with an acid tongue to match. Mrs. Vale is such a monster she turned her quiet daughter into an emotionally crippled spinster (Bette Davis) because of her selfish belief that if Charlotte blossoms into an adult woman, she’ll leave her.

2. Eleanor Eselin in The Manchurian Candidate (1962, Dir. John Frankenheimer)


In a role completely different from Mrs. Potts and Jessica Fletcher, Angela Lansbury is disturbingly good as the manipulative Eleanor Eselin. She’s obsessed with power driving the political career of her senator husband and is a secret communist agent plotting to takeover the United States by turning her son into an assassin.

1. Mother in Psycho (1960, Dir. Alfred Hitchcock)


She created Norman Bates. Do I really need to say more?

Honorable mention:

Madame Anna Sebastian in Notorious (1946, Dir. Alfred Hitchcock)


A Nazi sympathizer who tries to kill her daughter-in-law by slowly poisoning her. Placing her on this list would have made her the third Hitchcock mom, I tried to scale it back but Hitchcock was a master at dysfunctional mother-son relationships.


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