Friday, April 13, 2012

Lost in the Snow: Lamont Johnson's You'll Like My Mother (1972)

An extremely chilling, and sadly mostly-forgotten, thriller from director Lamont Johnson, You'll Like My Mother(1972) is one of the most overlooked horror films of the early seventies. A claustrophobic and eerie production highlighted by a terrific performance from Patty Duke, You'll Like My Mother has never been granted a release on DVD or Blu-ray and it is a fine work ripe for rediscovery.

You'll Like My Mother began life as a novel from the pen of Naomi A. Hintze. Published originally in 1969 by G. P. Putnam's Sons, Hintze's gripping tale of a pregnant woman's terrifying ordeal in the childhood home of her recently deceased husband garnered some praise upon its release and was compared to Ira Levin's astonishing Rosemary's Baby. You'll Like My Mother was custom-made for a big-screen adaptation and Universal's Bing Crosby Productions division bought the rights in early 1970.

Actor, director and writer Lamont Johnson was already a seasoned veteran of the film industry when Universal picked him to direct You'll Like My Mother as pre-production began in 1971. The fifty-year old Johnson was best known for his work in television, so he might have seemed like an odd choice for a big-screen work of horror, but he was trusted by Crosby Productions as a capable and dependable filmmaker and the pick turned out to be a fairly inspired one, as his direction of You'll Like My Mother is intense, taut and extremely memorable.

While Lamont Johnson's reliability behind the camera was certainly the main reason for his placement as the director of You'll Like My Mother, Universal was also aware that he had already guided the film's chosen star, Patty Duke, to one of her greatest performances in the moving My Sweet Charlie just a few years earlier. With their director and star in place, Universal sent the cast and crew of You'll Like My Mother to Duluth, Minnesota in March of 1972 to make the film along the North Shore and at the Glensheen Historic Estate, a location that would eventually become known as the infamous Elisabeth Congdon murder-mansion.

The You'll Like My Mother team were greeted with an enthusiastic reception upon their arrival in Duluth (all the extras in the film would be played by locals) as well as a brutal late season blizzard that made shooting a major chore. The heavy snow would end up serving the production well though, as it added a chilled layer of dread and isolation to the proceedings that no Hollywood technician could replicate. You'll Like My Mother stands as one of the great snowbound thrillers ever released and you can still feel the freezing cold coming off the screen in every scene.

While the shoot would turn out to be quite a frozen logistical nightmare on certain days, Patty Duke's warmth helped everyone from the crew to the extras get through. The Oscar-winning icon proved very popular among everyone on the set and her performance in You'll Like My Mother stands among her very best. She is incredibly powerful in the film and watching it today serves as a reminder, to those that need it, of her power as an actor.

While You'll Like my Mother would turn out to be dominated by Patty Duke's intense and touching performance, Johnson was blessed with several great actors for his film including a young Richard Thomas (who was in the midst of making a major name for himself as John-Boy on The Walton's), a terrifying Rosemary Murphy and pretty young Sian Barbara Allen (an actress who would soon be playing Thomas' love interest on The Waltons).
Behind the scenes, Johnson had a solid crew including cinematographer Jack A. Marta (fresh from his work on Spielberg's tremendous Duel), prolific composer Gil Melle (a talented jazz artist who had worked on My Sweet Charlie) and art-director William D. DeCines (who had previously worked on thrillers like Curtis Harrington's Games and Daniel Petrie's Silent Night, Deadly Night). Melle's eerie bass-driven score would especially give Johnson's film the push it needed to go from routine scare-film to a great thriller.

You'll Like My Mother opened up in the fall of 1972 to a fairly respectable box-office performance and some critical acclaim. Perhaps too subtle, Johnson's PG rated spine-tingler never really caught on with a mass audience though and by the mid-seventies it was only seen via late-night television showings (it is still often mistakenly called a TV-movie). The film would all but vanish (save for a few midnight showings in Duluth) until a pan and scan VHS release about a dozen years ago came out and soon slipped out of print. Until a disc is released (which will hopefully happen eventually) this special little film can be viewed here broken up into ten parts at YouTube.

***For more on the shooting of You'll Like My Mother, please visit this Duluth site that contains some vintage newspaper articles and photos detailing the production.***

1 comment:

joseph said...

I was shocked that I had never seen nor heard of this gem when I decided to indulge in one of youtube's many margin suggestions. I've told every 70s movie buff - horror and otherwise - about it since. Well done and good creepy, suspenseful scene fulfillment!!