AVAILABLE ON DVD
RUNNING TIME: 91 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
One-eyed Mrs. Taggart’s husband, a successful building contractor, has been dead for ten years. Joining her for the traditional annual celebration of her wedding anniversary are her three sons who also work in the family business: eldest Henry is a transvestite; middle son Terry is planning to emigrate to Canada with his wife Karen and their five children; and youngest Tom, a philanderer whose many past relationships have ended at his mother’s insistence, arrives with his pregnant girlfriend Shirley in tow. The domineering, vindictive, manipulative matriarch is determined to keep her sons close to her….
Hammer’s second Bette Davis starrer – and a film in which said actress was a nightmare on set, angry when people didn’t fawn over her and refusing to work until initial director Alvin Rakoff was replaced, is very much a filmed play, reliant largely on dialogue and set mostly in one setting, though as long as you’re aware of this there’s a fair amount of fun to be had with it. Eventual director Roy Ward Baker makes hardly any attempt to stylise proceedings, and the chat soon settles into a series of insults, but one can’t help but almost be on the edge of your seat waiting to see if Mrs. Taggart can get any nastier. The monstrous women lets rip with the nastiness right from her first appearance, descending the stairs wearing a red dress and an eye patch to match to the swoons of the theme song [which Terry helpfully plays on the record player when he knows she’s about to appear] in what is virtually a parody of Cinderella, and isn’t above blatantly lying and even [in a very uncomfortable moment] kissing one of her sons passionately on the lips, all in the service of trying to control her errant [well, to her anyway] brood. And yet you almost want to root for her because she’s so wonderfully funny, ballsy and evil at the same time.
It’s little wonder that two of her sons have turned out the way they are, Henry wearing women’s clothing [I wouldn’t be surprised if PC types would moan about the depiction of the character if the film were released today, though it’s quite sensitive for the time] and Terry totally dominated by his wife. Out of the men only Tom is willing to give it back to his mother, and his plan to have sex in her bed leads to perhaps the most priceless of Mrs. Taggart’s reactions, when Shirley finds one of her glass eyes under the sheets. On the other hand both of the other women stand up to her from the get go, and there seems to be a sub-theme about males being under the thumb of females throughout, though it’s best not to take the film too seriously. Devoid of horror though quite daring in some of its content despite the ‘PG’ rating it now has, The Anniversary does seem to be building to a climax which then fails to really materialise, and you may feel very uncomfortable after having laughed at these people for an hour and a half, but then that was probably what was intended. A decent dark comedy, and Davis, trouble or not, is magnificent.