Every year, the Taggart family gets together to celebrate the anniversary of their matriarch's wedding to her late husband. And every year, Mrs Taggart (Bette Davis) acts obnoxiously and reaffirms the steely grip she has over her sons. This time, youngest son Tom (Christian Roberts) has brought his fiancee (Elaine Taylor) to meet Mother, but the celebration starts to turn ever more bitter and twisted as the night draws on...
This cruel, acid comedy was scripted by producer Jimmy Sangster from the play by Bill MacIlwraith, and added to Bette Davis' line of acting grotesques that she specialised in as she and her career grew older. Her Mother is a formidable figure, with a dazzling grin, and wearing an eyepatch that serves to accentuate her huge remaining eye that fixes the other characters in a withering glare.
Her sons have managed various stages of rebellion: the youngest, Tom, is getting married to escape her, the middle one, Terry, has been married for some years and is planning to emigrate to Canada, and the oldest, Henry, finds his outlet in a strange hobby: collecting clothes ("I've got a lot of Marks and Spencers"). Yet they all work for the family business, a cowboy building firm headed by Mrs Taggart, and they all are cowed into following her wishes.
Davis is perfect for her role, delivering the waspish put downs and outright insults with aplomb. There is no love in this family, they are held together by the mother's devious manipulation and terrible wrath; in fact love is seen as a disadvantage when hate is so much more effective. She will stop at nothing to ensure her brood are at her beck and call, even pretending that Canada-bound Terry's children have been killed in a car crash to make her daughter-in-law see what it feels like to "lose a son".
Although the film makers do their best to ensure that the action isn't confined to one set, The Anniversary is still too talky to look like anything other than a filmed play. And the set design should have been more Gothic to underline those destructive family relationships. By the end of the film, with a new and shocking revelation every few minutes, the bile and bitterness will have worn you out, yet the excellent Davis makes this worth seeing. Does anyone else think that her makeup in this makes her look like Joan Crawford? Or is that stretching things a bit?
Reliable British director who worked his way up from teaboy to assistant to Alfred Hitchcock to overseeing his own hit projects from the 1940s to the 1970s. Making his debut with The October Man, he continued with Morning Departure, Don't Bother To Knock, Inferno, The One That Got Away and what is considered by many to be the best Titanic film, A Night To Remember.