'Queen of Mean' wallows in the trashy rich


"Citizen Leona" hits the small screen Sunday night, only instead of her Rosebud being a snow sled, it's the memory of her mother always liking her sisters best.

"Leona Helmsley: Queen of Mean," the CBS movie that will be on Channel 11 (WBAL) Sunday at 9 p.m., is like a fairy tale in which the witch gets to marry the prince. In "Citizen Kane," Orson Welles' character inherited a gold mine; in "Queen of Mean," Leona digs hers as fast as her sharpened fingernails will allow.

Though loaded with the usual cautionary tales about money not buying happiness and absolute power corrupting absolutely and the dangers of vaulting over too many classes too quickly in an allegedly class-free country, "Queen of Mean" is really just a trash-wallow hoot, a "Mommy Dearest" of the hotel trade.

As played by a lips-overpuffed, hair-overcoiffed, eyes-overlined Suzanne Pleshette, Leona was one bad lady, out to get hers from the get-go, leaving husbands and wives, secretaries and sons in her wake. And once she got it, she let everybody know it, stepping on people like so many cigarette butts.

And is it in Pleshette's contract that she has to have the lowest voice in the movie? It's one thing when she's playing one of her feisty, funny characters, but coming from behind her Leona face, it sounds like something from "The Exorcist," only adding to the fairy tale feel.

Lloyd Bridges -- his lips made as thin as Pleshette's are plump -- plays the man who falls under the witch's spell, New York real estate magnate Harry Helmsley, who, if this movie is to be believed, deserted his loyal wife for some of the cheapest tricks in the book. That's yet another lesson -- money doesn't buy wisdom.

Now that we seem on the verge of a recession that could take a lot of us down with it, somehow you don't find the venomous wealth-bashing hatred of all that '80s excess that was around just a few months ago. But if you want to remember how sweet it was, "Queen of Mean" will remind you.

"Leona Helmsley:

The Queen of Mean"

** The rise and fall of the New York hotel maven whose reputation as a brutal boss and extravagant spender became tabloid fodder during her 1989 trial on tax charges.

CAST: Suzanne Pleshette, Lloyd Bridges

TIME: Sunday at 9 p.m.

CHANNEL: CBS Channel 11 (WBAL)

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