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Posted July 12, 2010 to photo album "Movie Mothers"
To coincide with the release of The Kids Are All Right, Nick Dawson looks at the trials, tribulations and triumphs of mothers on the big screen over the course of film history.
Slide 7: Where's Poppa? (1970)
Films about mothers and daughters are much more prevalent in Hollywood than films about mothers and sons, however Carl Reiner’s 1970 movie flouted that particular norm – and many more. George Segal played Gordon Hocheiser, the resentful, live-at-home lawyer son of Ruth Gordon, a senile widow who perpetually forgets that her husband is dead (hence the title), routinely humiliates Segal and leans on him for help with the slightest of things. Hocheiser can’t stand her, but can’t put her in a home because he promised his father on his deathbed that he wouldn’t. So, in order to get her out of the way so he can marry his dream girl, he tries to scare her to death by dressing up as an ape. (Another name for the movie is Going Ape.) Carl Reiner’s movie tapped into a rich vein of provocative black humor, and at one stage was set to be even more edgy. In Man Enough: Fathers, Sons, and the Search for Masculinity, Frank S. Pittman writes, “In the original ending, Segal gives up, breaks off with his fiancée, and falls into bed with his mother. Preview audiences rejected that ending in favor of a fantasy in which Momma goes to a lovely nursing home where she finds a man she thinks is Poppa. Either way, the point is clear: a boy is not free to find a partner of his own as long as he must be a partner to his mother.” The theme of the grown man inhibited by his infuriating elderly was subsequently explored by Woody Allen in “Oedipus Wrecks” (his segment in 1989’s portmanteau movie New York Stories), Sylvester Stallone in Stop or My Mom Will Shoot (1992) and Albert Brooks in Mother (1996).