THE ANNIVERSARY. (1968) HAMMER FILM PRODUCTIONS/SEVEN ARTS PRODUCTIONS. BASED ON THE PLAY OF THE SAME NAME BY BILL MCILWRAITH. DIRECTED BY ROY WARD BAKER. PRODUCED BY JIMMY SANGSTER. SCREENPLAY BY JIMMY SANGSTER.
STARRING BETTE DAVIS, JAMES COSSINS, JACK HEDLEY, CHRISTIAN ROBERTS, SHEILA HANCOCK AND ELAINE TAYLOR.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
This film is a Hammer black comedy rather than a Hammer horror. Or, to look at it another way, it’s only a horror in the sense that it’s a film about one of the most horrible families you could ever hope to watch on a cinema screen.
I believe the movie was a commercial success, and it’s certainly very well acted (it was a stage play to begin with), but there’s something about it that makes my skin crawl a little bit. Am I in the minority here, or does anyone else feel a little bit uncomfortable watching THE ANNIVERSARY…?
Bette Davis, the grande olde dame of the silver screen, is undoubtedly magnificent here as Mrs. Taggart, a shrewdly manipulative old biddy who rules her family with an iron fist in a glove carved from solid granite.
From her entrance at the top of the stairs in her palatial family home, clad in a fire-engine red dress to match the eye-patch over her damaged left peeper, she steals every single scene she’s a part of and leaves the younger ones standing, though they’re no slouches either in the acting stakes.
Old Ma Taggart’s husband has been as dead as the dodo for a good ten years. Nonetheless, every year on the anniversary of their marriage, Ma gathers her ‘beloved’ family around her for an excruciating, nails-on-a-blackboard-style get-together in which the suspicions, the rivalries and the dislike-verging-on-hatred that simmer inside the individual family members during the year bubble to the surface and spill over into all-out war.
Ma is at the centre of everything that’s rotten about the Taggart family. She controls the family purse strings and, therefore, her three sons. By choosing to remain at the head of the Taggart construction company herself and make her minions dance to her tune, it’s clear she sees herself as the boss of all she surveys. My money, my rules, is how she sees it, and divide and conquer is, seemingly, how she prefers it.
She dispenses insults, barbs and little digs with the same coldly glittering panache with which she might mix you a drink at the family bar. The dialogue is bitchy, quite witty in places and comprises the blackest of black comedy, and the very best lines, of course, all go to the girl with the Bette Davis Eyes, La Davis herself.
Her three sons have all the problems you might expect in a family where the mother is the dominant one, the driving force in their lives. It would be hard for any of them to be truly successful in their lives and happy in their relationships without first getting out from under the thumb of their dreadful mother, whose modus operandi is to ferret out a person’s weak spot and beat them over the head with it until they cry ‘mercy!’
James Cossins (FAWLTY TOWERS, SOME MOTHERS DO ‘AVE ‘EM) plays the eldest son Henry. He seems like a gentle, sweet man, but he so far has been unable to sustain a romantic relationship and probably never will, not while his malicious mumsy continues to manipulate him regarding his cross-dressing and knicker-nicking tendencies.
Ma alternately shields him from the legal repercussions of his crimes (well, stealing women’s knickers off a clothesline is illegal, isn’t it?) and holds it over him and his brothers as a threat. As in: ‘If you won’t do exactly what I want, I’ll hand poor dear Henry over to the police and he can get treatment for his ‘ailments’ in a mental hospital…!’ The auld bitch. How can she threaten poor dear Henry like that? Poor guy doesn’t know whether he’s coming or going.
Terry, the middle son, isn’t up to much. Sure, he’s given his old bag of a mother five grandchildren with his wife Karen, but he gets constantly bawled out by Karen for not standing up to Mrs. Taggart. Karen is a relentless nag.
Watch her in CARRY ON CLEO, giving endless grief to her hen-pecked husband Hengist Pod, played by Kenneth Connor, and you can easily imagine her tearing strips out of Terry too. Terry is not his own man. He gets dominated by his overbearing mother and nagged to death by his wife. I don’t think he’s happy.
Tom, the youngest, is a womaniser who brings a different girl to ‘the Anniversary-with-a-capital-A’ every year. This year he’s brought the pretty blonde Shirley to flaunt in his mother’s face.
There are rather dark sexual undertones in this storyline. Ma Taggart is horribly jealous of anyone who grabs her precious youngest son’s attention, and she’s used to dispatching his girlfriends swiftly before they get their claws into Tom and their feet under the Taggart table.
Old Ma Taggart might have some slight bit of difficulty in dislodging this little lady from out of the family tree. Shirley is determined to be Tom’s wife, and, as she’s pregnant, she might just have more of a chance than any of the others did.
She seems to want to dominate Tom in the same way that his mother does, though, and Tom seems to have a bit more gumption than either Henry or Terry, so he may not tolerate this from Shirley. ‘Out of the frying pan…’
Shirley makes the mistake of trying to ‘stand up’ to Mrs. Taggart. This, as the mouthy Karen could have told her, is a terrible road to go down. No woman will ever be good enough for one of Mrs. Taggart’s precious sons. Even the flawed, broken ones, she wants to keep close to her for ever. That’s probably the way she likes ’em best, to be honest with you.
It’s an unhealthy foursome, Ma Taggart and her three sons, like a stinking pulsating mass of something icky from a science fiction movie that needs to be zapped, incinerated and then scraped away the next morning by the council. And what happens on the night of ‘the Anniversary?’ itself? Well, it’s family-only, I’m afraid. No randomers need apply. Mummy wouldn’t like it…
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO
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