A hard-working mother inches towards disaster as she divorces her husband and starts a successful restaurant business to support her spoiled daughter.
Veda, does a new house mean so much to you that you would trade me for it? Mildred Pierce is directed by Michael Curtiz and adapted from the James M. Cain novel by Ranald MacDougall, William Faulkner and Catherine Turney. It stars Joan Crawford, Ann Blyth, Jack Carson, Zachary Scott, Bruce Bennett and Eve Arden. Music is by Max Steiner and the cinematographer is Ernest Haller. It was nominated for 6 Academy Awards and won just the one for Crawford in the Best Actress category. Plot finds Crawford as Mildred Pierce, a devoted Mother of two girls who struggles to not only make her marriage work, but to also keep her eldest daughter, Veda (Blyth), in the luxurious life she demands. Murder, treachery and heartache is about to dog the Pierce family. This is of course the film that is often remembered for being the film that saved Joan Crawford's career. After being dumped by MGM, and tagged with being box office poison, Crawford, it seemed, was destined to be the latest visitor to the acting scrap heap. But Jerry Wald over at Warner Brothers had other ideas. The part of Mildred had been offered to some of the big hitting ladies on the Warner studio lot, Stanwyck, Davies and Sheridan are just three of the names known to have shied away from the role. The feeling was that playing a woman with a mid-teen daughter was a no go for the age proud ladies. But Crawford, just entering her forties, took the role on, and in spite of initial protestations from director Curtiz, gave a terrific performance that landed her the coveted golden statuette and prolonged her film career for another 25 years. Blending the psychological aspects of the woman's picture with the physical edges of film noir, "Mildred Pierce" is something of a unique picture. Very popular on release (it was a box office smash), it was thought that Cain's source novel wouldn't transfer well to the screen. Credit then to the writers for managing to create such an intriguing and watchable piece. True, they have had to tone down aspects from the book, and even added incidents and changed characters, but the essence is right and the timing couldn't have been more perfect for such a story. As film noir was becoming a telling style of film making, the pic also coincided with the later stages of WWII - a time when the role of the Woman, either in the service or at home, was under scrutiny. One of the great things about the film, and the performance of Crawford, is that it cobbles together many character strands of the 40s woman - in life and in film noir. She's a Suzy homemaker type, asked to be mother and wife, yet driven to be a business woman because she feels she's lacking in the necessary family home department. Where the film gets its noir flecks from is that Mildred may also be a murderer, a femme fatale, a woman whose every decision spells trouble. It's as if the makers (not just here but many others at the time) are saying that a woman's place is in the home, doing homely family stuff. Intriguing for sure, not necessarily in good taste, but an added spice into the melodramatic cooking pot that already contains greed and obsession. Told with a flashback structure, the film is smoothly directed by the versatile Curtiz. But both he and Crawford are aided considerably across the board, not least by a truly great "Bitch" performance from Blyth. Veda is at one detestable, spoilt and mean, the daughter from hell, a status-seeking brat whose love comes at enormous cost to those who dare to get close to her. Blyth revels in it and her play off with Crawford is one of the film's major strengths. The support cast of Scott, Carson, Arden and Bennett are excellent value, while Steiner's music is unobtrusive and able to shift freely with the narrative twists. Finally it's left to Hallers photography to capture the feel and mood of the unfolding story. Shifting from sunny suburbia one moment to shadowy expressionistic bleakness the next, the photographer of such notable film's like "Gone With the Wind" and "Rebel Without a Cause", is integral to the moody excellence of "Mildred Pierce". A murder mystery flanked by asides of class distinction, bad parenting, dubious sexual leanings and pure greed. Yep, "Mildred Pierce" is no ordinary movie - and hooray for that. 8.5/10
Saw this recently on the big screen at the BFI in London. Joan Crawford is simply stunning as a drab housewife, deserted by her useless husband, who starts off working in a restaurant kitchen as she strives for success and to be able to give her spoilt daughter the best that money can buy. Ann Blyth is wonderfully horrid as the daughter and Zachary Scott completes the trio of principals as the parasitical second husband. Mike Curtiz directs this superbly - particularly as the film heads to it's climax; the screenplay and the score also lend copiously to the overall effect of this deservedly Oscar-winning story. It's just great!