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Spoiler alert: This is a critical essay, not a review. Pertinent details and plot points are referenced for the purpose of analysis. The suspense thriller is one of my favorite movie genres, but some films age better than others. The Patty Duke starrer You’ll Like My Mother had already been branded a word-of-mouth “sleeper hit” when it opened in the San Francisco Bay Area in December of 1972, having already built a momentum of respectable reviews and favorable public response during its East Coast engagements earlier in the fall. By the time this minimally-publicized release from Bing Crosby Productions made its way out West (BCP's low-budget horror thriller Willard had enjoyed a similar surprise success in 1970), the advance buzz about the film was considerable. Public interest in the film received a significant leg-up when up-and-coming co-star Richard Thomas became an overnight household name as the star of TV’s The Waltons, which had premiered that September. Additional free publicity (though hardly favorable) was generated by the tabloids making much of Patty Duke's real-life Mamma Mia!-like paternity scandal. The Oscar-winning actress had recently given birth to son Sean, whose father was potentially one of three men: May/December fling Desi Arnaz, Jr (Duke was 24, Arnaz 17); quickie 13-day ex-husband Michael Tell*; or current husband (wed just 4 months at the time) John Astin. The fan magazines ate it up, and in spite of the potential public backlash, Universal Studios didn't seem to mind, given how often the word "mother" had to be used in each article. *In 1994 Sean Astin had a DNA test to determine Tell as his biological father.


Patty Duke as Francesca Kinsolving

Rosemary Murphy as Mrs. Kinsolving


Richard Thomas as Kenneth Kinsolving

Sian Barbara Allen as Kathleen Kinsolving

Although my subscription to Rona Barrett’s Hollywood had kept me abreast of all the aforementioned Patty Duke daddy drama, I’d somehow avoided hearing a single thing about You’ll Like My Mother before catching sight of the poster for the film at Hollywood’s Cinerama Dome during our family's Christmas Season visit to Los Angeles. Looking at the poster now, it reveals a graphic heavy-handedness and lack of confidence in its audience I would later find to be characteristic of the film itself; but at the time, I was so intrigued by those scissors and all those exclamation points, I couldn’t wait to see it.


Lest someone get the wrong idea and mistake it for a bit of homespun wholesomeness like TV's The Waltons, the film was marketed with the words "a thriller" in large type and in such close proximity, it appeared to be part of the complete title

Francesca (Duke) is the enormously pregnant wife of an Army pilot recently killed in Vietnam. Having met and wed in a whirlwind, Francesca and husband Matthew hadn’t been married long, nor even knew that much about the other, but during their brief time together Matthew would often say to his bride, “You’ll like my mother.” On the strength of that endorsement, Francesca, widowed and without family of her own, braves a 3-day winter bus journey from Los Angeles to Minnesota to visit her mother-in-law; a woman she’s never met, never spoken to, or knows anything about.

A snowstorm greets Francesca’s arrival at her destination, a small, remote town far from anything but snow, snow, and more snow. But the storm is like a day at the beach compared to the frosty response she receives from townsfolk whenever she mentions her husband's family name: flag number one. With weather conditions preventing vehicle transportation to the doorway of Kinsolving home, Francesca, ill-dressed for the occasion and looking every day of her clearly-advanced state of pregnancy, has to trudge through Zhivagolevels of snow to make it to her mother-in-law's home--a large, imposing estate possessing all the coziness of The Overlook Hotel.

The Kinsolving home is actually the Glensheen mansion in Duluth, Minnesota. In real life, the location gained notoriety in 1977 as the site of the shocking Congdon heiress double murder

If at first glance the Jacobean-style architecture of the Kinsolving mansion appears lacking in the sort of eerie ornamentation one comes to expect from Gothic melodramas like this, fear not, for 4/13

Francesca’s knock on the door summons forth a true flesh-and-blood gargoyle: Mrs. Kinsolving herself. Frostily disdainful of her uninvited guest from the get-go (“Why did you feel you had to come here?”), Mrs. Kinsolving’s internal Frigidaire setting hits glacier-level when the sight of her daughter-in-law’s filled-to-bursting state of pregnancy fails to inspire grandmotherly concern. Rather, it triggers this-stranger's-trying-to-horn-in-on-the-inheritance apprehension—"Since I didn’t acknowledge [you] the first time as Matthew’s wife, I saw no reason to applaud the progress [you’ve] made.”

Adding further to Francesca’s newfound family tree fun is the double-barreled discovery that Matthew has an intellectually-disabled, virtually non-verbal sister he never told her about, plus a distant, clearly homicidal cousin named Kenny who currently just so happens to be on the loose and wanted for a brutal murder. When Francesca makes the wise decision, there and then, to hightail it out of Kinsolving Place as fast as her belly and boots will allow, she can hardly be blamed. But alas, her departure is waylaid by a stalled car, a disconnected phone (along with no TV, houses like this never have working phones), and an encroaching blizzard. When snow-clogged roads turn an awkward overnight stay into an acrimonious open-ended sojourn, Francesca's guest status soon takes on the appearance of imprisonment.


Mrs. Kinsolving allows Francesca to stay in Matthew's old room

Thus far, an irresistible (if a shade familiar) stage has been set in having unforeseeable circumstances (a storm) force Francesca to confront a suspicious situation rife with questions both she and the viewer are asking: Why do the townsfolk react like horses hearing the name Frau Blücher whenever Francesca mentions the Kinsolving family? Why is Matthew’s mother so blatantly hostile and why did she lie about not receiving a telegram announcing her son’s marriage? Why had Matthew told Francesca about weird cousin Kenny kept his sister a secret? Is there someone else in the house? Mystery and viewer identification are intensified from initially only knowing as much as Francesca knows. Later, when more information is disclosed, suspense springs from knowing precisely the degree of danger she's placed herself in.

The element of time becomes a suspense factor as well, as Mrs. Kinsolving needs to get Francesca out of the house before the unwanted visitor has time to unearth the secrets everyone in the household is so invested in keeping hidden. Meanwhile, tension mounts as Francesca’s any-minute-now delivery date render an escape on foot an impossibility, while also leaving her vulnerable to Mrs. Kinsolving’s inclination (she’s a registered nurse) to drugging her and giving her shots without consent.

You’ll Like My Mother is a nifty, PG-rated (thrills are on the effective-but-tepid side), woman-inperil suspenser in the classic tradition of all those paperback Gothics with covers featuring a woman in a long flowing gown running away from a sinister-looking mansion looming in the distance. Well-acted, atmospheric, but populated with stock characters and rarely deviating from formula; it’s a film that plays well on first viewing but whose plot doesn’t withstand the scrutiny of repeat visits.


Dennis Rucker as Red Cooper

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM I enjoy You’ll Like My Mother a great deal, but the disparity in my response to seeing it in 1972 and now is rather jarring. For the longest time, I harbored memories of it being this incredibly intense moviegoing experience…a nail-biting, suspenseful thrill ride I treated myself to four times over that Christmas holiday. Part Rosemary’s Baby (1968), part captive-damsel-indistress/hag-horror Gothic à la Tallulah Bankhead’s Die! Die! My Darling! (1965); I remember being thoroughly gripped by Patty Duke’s predicament and startled by each new plot twist and character revelation. Because virtually no one else at school had even heard of it, I sang the film’s praises to any and all as this undiscovered gem they simply had to see.

When I watch the film now—seeing it through a nostalgia prism which takes into consideration my having been a 15-year-old at the time and not very well-versed in the clichés of the womenin-peril genre—I’m still able to access certain things I responded to so favorably long ago. For instance, I continue to be impressed by Rosemary Murphy’s iron butterfly take on motherhood, 7/13

the shivery Minnesota setting, and the plot overall retains its bizarre quirkiness. But by and large, I find myself a little bemused when confronted with just how little it took for a movie to scare me in those days.

Sparsely populated, over-reliant on close-ups, with nearly every plot device spelled out for even the slowest on the uptake, You’ll Like My Mother plays more like your better-than-average madefor-TV movie than a major feature film. This is no doubt due to the film being helmed by veteran television director Lamont Johnson (That Certain Summer -1972) who directed Patty Duke to her only Emmy Award win in 1970s My Sweet Charlie.

Though only 92-minutes long, You’ll Like My Mother is paced in that deliberate way characteristic of a great many ‘70s films, but in this instance the leisurely unfolding of the film's minimal action (once Duke is in that house, she's IN that house) calls attention to the many holes in the plot while inviting the viewer to remain always one step ahead of the familiar storyline.

Pray for Francesca's Baby


In the final analysis, nostalgia aside and divorced from any expectation for the film to live up to my teenage experience of it, You'll Like My Mother measures up as a fine, low-wattage suspense thriller that feels perfectly scaled for the small screen. Devoid of the clockwork shock cuts and audience-pandering excesses of so many of today's thrillers, I found myself appreciative of the film's direct, no-frills approach to the material. The performances still hold up--a little less so in regard to Sian Barbara Allen's Golden Globe-nominated turn. But the film benefits from a lack of Neely O'Hara overplaying on the part of from Patty Duke, and from an effectively offbeat (make that downright weird) story. While no edge-of-the-seat thrill-ride, I was surprised to find You'll Like My Mother still crazy after all these years.

THE STUFF OF FANTASY In the language of the studio pitch meeting, You’ll Like My Mother really is Rosemary’s Baby meets Die! Die! My Darling!, with perhaps a little bit of Psycho mother-fixation on the side. Unfortunately, it’s not nearly as narratively assured as Polanski’s classic, nor as agreeably camp as Bankhead’s cinema swan song. But the mother-son stuff measures up as appropriately creepy. Most obviously, You’ll Like My Mother evokes memories of Rosemary’s Baby in that a major thrust of the story is how Francesca’s pregnancy and baby are placed at risk. For not only is Francesca constantly lied to and given mysterious drugs in drinks, but her own predicament and the potential fate of her child is metaphorically foreshadowed when she arrives at the Kinsolving home just as her mother-in-law has drowned a litter of kittens. Mrs. Kinsolving’s pointed explanation to her daughter-in-law is that her beloved and pedigreed feline “Forgot herself and mated with an alley cat. The kittens were no good of course.”


A Boy's Best Friend Is His Mother Mrs. Kinsolving's relationship with creepy Kenny has a Norman & Mrs. Bates quality to it

Because they share a guest-as-captive-prisoner theme, You’ll Like My Mother most closely resembles the less well-known Die! Die! My Darling!. Both films featuring large, isolated estates without phones--although in Mother that plot point is something of a red-herring--lorded over by imperious, loony, matriarchs with unconventional surnames (Bankhead’s is Mrs. Trefoile) suggesting great wealth and closets full of skeletons. The film's share the central dramatic conflict of a young heroine locked in a room at the mercy of a rancorous old woman who blames the girl for the death of her son and the alienation of maternal affection. I’m not sure why developmentally disabled household help was such a staple of the genre, but in the Bankhead film, the pathos duties of Sian Barbara Allen are assumed by a young Donald Sutherland.



After the blissful debacle of Valley of the Dolls, Patty Duke worked almost exclusively in television, making only one other film before this one--1969s Me, Natalie for which she won a Golden Globe. Duke has said that it took years for her to appreciate Valley of the Dolls for the beloved camp classic it eventually became, but by her superb work in Me, Natalie, and her muted, underplaying performance here, it appears it didn't take her very long to learn the lesson of less is more. Duke gives a persuasive, intelligent performance here, displaying a subdued naturalism that would keep her working continually in television and film until her untimely death in 2016 at the age of 69.

Although their in-law relationship is antagonistic in You'll Like My Mother, Rosemary Murphy and Patty Duke went on to play mother and daughter in the 1979 TV movie Before and After

Not being a fan of The Waltons, my only awareness of Richard Thomas at the time was as one of the sociopathic teenagers in Frank Perry's disturbing Last Summer (1969), so his being cast as a possible rapist and serial killer didn't shock me as much as those who associated Thomas with the angel-faced John-boy Walton. Thomas is very good here, his malevolent boyishness creating the nightmare impression of a grown-up Dennis the Menace. Actress Sian Barbara Allen gets an "introducing" credit in You'll Like My Mother, and her performance garnered near-unanimous praise along with the aforementioned Golden Globe nomination as Most Promising Newcomer. Although I still find her performance to be very touching and sympathetic, I must confess it was more effective when I was younger. These days I'm distracted by the fact that her characterization reminds me so much of Mia Farrow in Joseph Losey's Secret Ceremony -- all downcast cow eyes and dark hair cascading over her features. At the time, Allen and Thomas were quite the romantic item.


However, it's character actress Rosemary Murphy who makes the film for me. She's a credible villainess; ruthless, but not heartless. And she never once goes over the top or turns her character into a caricature. Her cool bearing hides a steely determination that makes Mrs. Kinsolving's motives unreadable and her actions all the more frightening.

THE STUFF OF DREAMS Genre films are bound by a paradox that demands originality and freshness while still adhering to form. Robert Altman’s That Cold Day in the Park (1969) or even the Julie Christie's sci-fi curiosity Demon Seed (1977) stand as good examples of creative variations/subversions of the "captivity" melodrama. You’ll Like My Mother, which intentionally hews close to classic Gothic tradition, may not offer much in the way of novelty, but in being written by women, it bears the distinction of a female perspective. The original 1969 novel is by Naomi A. Hintze, its setting featuring an overflowing river instead of a snowstorm. Hintze's book was adapted for the screen by Jo Heims, the female screenwriter credited with writing the story for Clint Eastwood's directing debut 1971’s Play Misty for Me.


Copyright © Ken Anderson


Profile for Dreams Are What Le Cinema Is For

Dreams Are What Le Cinema Is For: You'll Like My Mother - 1972  

A pregnant widow visits her mother-in-law and finds her life endangered when she unearths several deadly family secrets. Patty Duke stars in...

Dreams Are What Le Cinema Is For: You'll Like My Mother - 1972  

A pregnant widow visits her mother-in-law and finds her life endangered when she unearths several deadly family secrets. Patty Duke stars in...