Newly widowed and heavily pregnant Francesca (Patty Duke) travels across America to meet her mother in law for the first time, after all as the title suggests, her late husband had promised that they would get along like a house on fire.
Arriving in rural Minnesota in a snow storm she discovers the house is a little off the beaten track and hitches a ride from the local baker before walking the rest of the way. She arrives at a house much colder inside than out. As a rule of thumb if you’re told within the first few minutes of knocking on a door, that you arrived at a bad time because they’d just been drowning kittens, maybe don’t go in. Yet eager for a sense of family Francesca doesn’t listen to her gut and is dismayed by what she finds. Within five minutes she wants to leave, and spends the rest of the film trying pretty unsuccessfully to do just that.
It doesn’t get much more obscure that You’ll Like My Mother. The big stars are the aforementioned Patty Duke (The Valley of the Dolls) and Richard Thomas (The Waltons). It was directed by actor and director Lamont Johnson, who helmed television like Peter Gunn and The Twilight Zone, though also feature films like Naked City (1960) and The Last American Hero (1973).
This film is a claustrophobic set piece, designed to ratchet up the tension, which it does remarkably well. There’s something decidedly off in the house, the dynamics are truly bizarre, and Rosemary Murphy (To Kill A Mockingbird) as the mother in question is unnecessarily cold and dismissive of Francesca, refusing to acknowledge the union and her unborn grandchild. When she speaks of the kitten murder from earlier she looks Francesca in the eye and says her cat “forgot herself and mated with an alley cat. The kittens were no good of course.” It chills the bone.
You’ll like my mother is an over the top thriller that just keeps giving. From strange drug induced psychedelia to murderous sexual predators to a feeble minded non verbal child, it’s a gothic pot-boiler that manages to merge Rosemary’s Baby with Die Die My Darling, evoking a strange creepy unsettling feel that really takes its time to overt. What it captures so well is the uncertainty between eccentric and sinister, the space where weird never quite becomes terror. It slowly builds and you, like Francesca are never quite sure when its time to panic.
It comes from 1969 novel by Naomi A. Hintze, and was adapted for the screen by Jo Heims also known for Clint Eastwood’s directing debut 1971’s Play Misty for Me. Also of note is the menacing score by Gil Mellé (Andromeda Strain) that further adds to the tension. Mellé was a jazz musician, who played with Max Roach and Zoot Simms, and even recorded on Blue Note, though he is notable for numerous feature and television scores.
You’ll Like My Mother is such an anomaly. At times it looks and feels like made for TV primarily due to Lamont Johnson’s no nonsense direction, yet its inherent creepiness and masterful ability to hold and build tension makes it so much more.