Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

"Mother's Day" is short on suspense

Cleveland Press September 27, 1973

"Happy Mother's Day" is gothic horror that shares with "Night Watch" a knife-slashing, horribly bloody climax. Similarity with that or any other reasonably well-made movie ends there.

Actor Darren McGavin directed this movie. He should stick to acting. He has exercised no control over his actors, doesn't keep his story in focus, gets in an occasionally good touch and then throws it away.

The acting ranges from melodramatic scenery chewing to community theater heartiness with just about everything in between.

Patricia Neal stars as a New England small town eccentric matron (the movie is filmed in Nova Scotia), who wanders around in a seedy fur coat, swears heartily at her offspring and is terrified at the effect that a swinging summer visitor may be having on her daughter.

Her sister is Cloris Leachman, with whom she doesn't speak. Miss Leachman runs the local diner, shares her bed with a passing gigolo Bobby Darin), and looks either sad or bravely happy.

Into town wanders a boy (Ron Howard), whose appearance strikes everyone with dread. The lad has a fistful of letters and he wanders around town peering at people and buildings.

Now all of this is supposed to generate great suspense, except that matters drag along so slowly that you begin to lose interest. And any real suspense in the plot is destroyed repeatedly as every plot twist is telegraphed in advance.

Several men around town have disappeared in recent weeks, a fact that is brought in and then almost forgotten until the bloody climax is reached.

Part of the picture's problem is that there are two stories -- the missing men and the identity of the strange boy, and neither one is in focus.

Ron Howard just plays his role as being surly. Someone should have controlled Miss Neal. As talented as she is most of what she does in this picture is excessive. Miss Leachman can do with a look more than the weak dialog will ever provide.

Tessa Dahl, daughter of Miss Neal and author Roald Dahl, seems to be the only one who understood the nature of the movie. She captures with eyes and hearing and expressions the slightly unreal, spooky, gothic nature of the story.