Black History Month Bibliography: African Americans and Law in the Movies February 2001
Rules of Engagement: Hollywood and Romance
Law, Politics and Popular Culture Page
The Taxman Cometh: Some Films about Tax Law and Its Effects
Memorial Day Films
Mother's Day Films
Capital Punishment in Popular Culture
Murderous Daughters
Father Knows Best? Films and Television About Dads
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since August 21, 2001



Last updated 12/12/03


AMom@ as an institution normally gets a great deal of respect from Hollywood, more perhaps than ADad@, in spite of films that show her as dizzy or unconcerned. Still, a number of movies show mothers in serious conflict with the law and society, particularly when they are protecting (or attacking) their homes, their families and their values.

Moms bent on rescuing their children turn up in Not Without My Daughter (TVM 1991) a true life thriller about an American woman (Sally Field) hoping to take her child from Iran to America, and Into Thin Air (TVM 1985) in which Ellen Burstyn plays another real life mom looking for her son, a college student who disappears while on his way back to school. Vanished children and husbands are a recurring theme, especially as society becomes more and more alienating and we become more distant from friends and family. In When He Didn=t Come Home (TVM 1998) Patty Duke plays a similar role, a mother seeking out a child who mysteriously stops all contact with her. Duke has made a small career out of such sympathetic roles: witness Race Against Time: The Search For Sarah (TVM 1996), A Matter of Justice (TVM 1993)(in which she is a grandmother fighting for custody of her granddaughter against the woman she thinks has murdered her son), No Child of Mine (TVM 1993), in which a child with Down=s Syndrome is placed with an adoptive family, against the wishes of the mother, A Killer Among Friends (TVM 1992), in which Duke plays the mother of a murdered girl who unknowingly makes friends with her daughter=s killer, and Always Remember I Love You (TVM 1990) in which she unknowingly meets her son, kidnapped years before. In Grave Secrets: The Legacy of Hilltop Drive (TVM 1992) Duke takes on not only an evil real estate developer, but the paranormal, when she discovers that her new home is built on an old gravesite. In Death Benefit (TVM 1997), based on another true story, a mother tries to uncover the truth behind her daughter=s mysterious fall from a California cliff, enlisting a Kentucky attorney to help her. The real killer was a murderous mom; not only had she killed the young girl, but also was probably responsible for her own daughter=s death. The resulting trial set a California precedent.

Mothers who want to retain custody of their children, particularly after divorce, take center stage in such films as The Good Mother (1988), based on a Sue Miller novel, in which Diane Keaton tries to prove that she=s a fit parent, Kramer versus Kramer (1979), in which Meryl Streep leaves, then returns, to her family, Have You Seen My Son? (TVM 1996) in which Lisa Hartman Black tries to regain custody of her son, kidnapped by her ex husband, and Falsely Accused (TVM 1993), also called The Laurie Daniels Story and Without a Kiss Goodbye, in which Hartman Black not only is accused of being an abusive mother, but goes to jail (wrongly) for murdering one of her sons. Falsely Accused is based on a true story, and brought to light a rare genetic disease which was the real cause of the child=s death. (Docudramas are undoubtedly an untapped source of study for law and film mavens). Two Moms (Jessica Lange and Halle Berry) battle for the same child in Losing Isaiah (1995), which examines both the rights of natural and adoptive parents, and the question of cross-racial adoption.

Mothers who stand by their murderous children include Bonnie von Stein, played in Cruel Doubt, based on the Joe McGinnis book, (TVM 1992) by Blythe Danner, and in Honor Thy Mother (TVM 1992) by Sharon Gless, whose son Christopher Pritchard was convicted of murdering her husband Lieth and attempting to murder her, Berenice Bradshaw, who refused to believe her daughter (played by Stefanie Powers) was a murderess in At Mother=s Request (TVM 1987)(this story was also filmed as Nutcracker: Money, Madness and Murder (TVM 1987, with Lee Remick), based on the book by Shana Alexander. Both films dramatize the true story of Frances Schreuder, an extremely strange mother who induces her sons to murder her father for his money. Murder at My Door (TVM 1996) and Before and After (1996, based on a Rosellen Brown novel) both deal with a mother=s suspicions about her son.

Finally, moms who try to murder their children include not only the mom in Death Benefit but Judith Light as Marie Hilley in Wife, Mother, Murderer (TVM 1991), who tries to do in husbands and a daughter by arsenic poisoning.

Keep watching the screen: soon it's Fathers and the Law.





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