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Picture Mommy Dead
Director and producer Bert I. Gordon's quirky and colorful 1966 thriller Picture Mommy Dead tells an unusual story. A man named Edward Shelley (Don Ameche) is married to wealthy Jessica Flagmore Shelley (Zsa Zsa Gabor) until a freak fire out and the poor woman is burned to death. An unusually short time after her death, Edward marries Francene (Martha Hyer), who had previously been in the employ of he and his late wife as the governess of their daughter Susan (Susan Gordon, in her final film role, and who was the director's daughter in real life). Susan doesn't cope well with Jessica's passing and is put into a mental hospital for a while.
It doesn't take long before Francene's true motivations for marrying Edward are made clear. He inherited a fortune, and she's only too happy to spend it for him as quickly as she can. In fact, Francene soon comes to the conclusion that if she were to take Edward and Susan out of the picture on a permanent basis, there'd be no one left but she to inherit what's left of what Jessica left the family after her passing than Edward's only cousin, Anthony (Maxwell Reed), who just so happens to be Francene's former flame. The two former lovebirds rekindle a spark when they decide to drive poor Susan insane, which, given how she's handled her mother's premature death, might not be all that hard to do…
Borrowing elements from Hitchcock's 1940 film Rebecca, Gordon, working off of a screenplay from Robert Sherman, directs this picture well. There are a couple of really unexpected set pieces in the film that stand out and are quite memorable, and the use of sometimes rather garish color palettes throughout the can be visually impressive as well. Overall, the production values here are pretty solid, and if the movie is, ultimately, a little predictable as far as the storyline plays out in the film's final reel then at least it remains an entertaining watch from beginning to end. There's also some interesting symbolism throughout the film that, if you pay attention to it, adds some additional depth to the proceedings.
The acting is generally pretty strong here. Zsa Zsa Gabor makes an impression in the film to be sure, but she's got a strange enough screen presence that this is probably a given. Still, she's fun to watch here and an asset to the film for sure. Don Ameche is just fine as the father and husband in the picture, and Maxwell Reed sufficiently slimy as the other man. Reed has an interesting chemistry with Martha Hyer, they make a good villainous team here and are an entertaining duo. Susan Gordon isn't always completely convincing in her part, but more often than not she works fine in the role even if nepotism may have been a factor in her casting (she also acted in Tormented, The Boy And The Pirates and Attack Of The Puppet People, all directed by her father though to be fair, she appeared in a few movies he didn't work on as well as a bunch of TV material that he had nothing to do with).
Add to this a great score from Robert Drasnin and some nice cinematography from Ellsworth Fredericks and this easily proves to be worth a watch.
Picture Mommy Dead arrives on a 50GB region free Blu-ray disc from the Kino Lorber with the feature presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and framed at 1.66.1 widescreen taking up 381GBs of space on the 50GB disc. The transfer, which is taken from a ‘brand new 4k master', is really solid. The picture offers nice detail, very good color reproduction most of the time and nice, deep black levels. There are no noticeable issues with compression artifacts, nor is there any evidence of noise reduction or edge enhancement to complain about, the picture always looks nice and filmic. This looks really good.
The main audio track on the disc is an English language 16-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track. Optional subtitles are provided in English only. The audio here sounds just fine. The levels are nicely balanced and the track is free of any hiss or distortion. There's a good bit of depth here and the dialogue is always clear, the score has some moments of impressive depth. No complaints about the audio on this release and the gun shots, which are a semi-frequent occurrence throughout the film, pack a nice punch.
The main extra on the disc is a new audio commentary by Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson. Berger, in particular, is very enthusiastic here, clearly keen to talk about a favorite movie. The pair covers Bert I. Gordon's life and times in quite a bit of detail, comparing him to other genre filmmakers of the era and providing plenty of background detail on the man's career. The also cover the film's release history, the influence of Alfred Hitchcock's work on this particular film as well as the possible influence (or at least interesting similarities to) some important European genre pictures. They also detail the casting of the film, what makes it work when it works, the technical expertise on display in a few scenes and quite a bit more.
Rounding out the extras are some bonus trailers for a few other Kino Lorber properties. The disc also comes with menus and chapter selection.
Picture Mommy Dead won't change your life but a few truly standout set pieces make it memorable and some interesting performances ensure it's a fun watch. Kino brings the film to disc for the first time with a really strong presentation and a fun commentary track that details its origins. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.