“You think just because you made a little money you can get a new hairdo and some expensive clothes and turn yourself into a lady. But you can’t, because you’ll never be anything but a common frump whose father lived over a grocery store and whose mother took in washing.”
Mildred Pierce stars the incredibly talented Joan Crawford, and tells the story of Mildred, a woman who falls down on her luck after her and her husband decide to divorce. After working at a restaurant, she starts her own successful restaurant business, while trying to quench her daughter’s incessant need for valuable things. Now that her second husband has been found dead, Mildred and the others are taken in for questioning as to who had motive to murder him. I’ve been wanting to review Mildred Pierce of awhile now. My continued love for this film knows no bounds. It’s a remarkable movie that beautifully exemplifies film noir at its finest.
I will always remember my first viewing of Mildred Pierce. Although I had someplace to be, I couldn’t tear myself away from the television. Much like so many films that have made that impression, this film stuck with me. Based on the novel by James M. Cain, Mildred Pierce takes on the noir genre, but in a much different way. Cain, who was known for writing manipulative vixens in novels such as Double Indemnity or The Postman Always Rings Twice, showcases a woman in a very different role. Here, Mildred is vulnerable, but is a strong single mother that steps up and earns money for her family. However, Mildred is very much in love with her daughter, Veda, and boy does Veda know it. Here is where the vixen roles reverse. Mildred works hard for the money, while handsome and broke Monty, becomes the boy-toy and eventual squander of everything Mildred holds dear. Monty’s love for material things make him, as well as Veda, the “vixens” of the film — while Mildred is the more normal character who wants to provide for the ones she loves. The men of this film are broken in all ways, shapes, and forms, but they’re never dull. Each character has an important role to play in the conspiracy that surrounds Monty’s death. It’s a textbook noir in that regard, with the beginning of the film setting the stage for a story within a story.
Crawford, who plays the titular character, was coming off of a slump with MGM, only to soon be picked up by Warner Brothers. She was at her wits end and needed the chance to prove herself as a powerful actress. Her portrayal of Mildred, as in reference to the vulnerable waitress that we see at the beginning, is intriguing. Crawford’s personal life seems to reflect the bitterness in Mildred’s, as someone that was thrown in the trash, eventually picking herself up to work hard for what she wants. Ann Blyth’s portrayal of Veda is extraordinary. Blyth’s beauty and on-screen malice, turn this character into something truly sinister. The character of Veda, much like Barbara Stanwyck’s Phyllis in Double Indemnity, creates such chaos for the surrounding characters. As previously stated, the men are bent and broken, but are the barriers that Mildred constantly has to fight against. If it’s not one man that betrays Mildred, it’s another.
Mildred Pierce is incredibly under appreciated when it comes to its mark on cinema. I could go on about the timing of Mildred Pierce’s release, and how it exhibited the time period with men coming back from war to independent working women, but I’ll leave that for you to judge. Mildred Pierce, for some reason, doesn’t have the same clout as some of the other films from that era. But nevertheless, I continue to enjoy it even after several viewings in my lifetime. Though this source material has been made into a mini-series starring Kate Winslet in 2011, Crawford’s performance of the two remains my favorite. This film is one of, if not the best, performance of Crawford’s career. Mildred Pierce, led by some incredible actresses, is a film, that if you haven’t seen it yet, I urge you to watch it as soon as possible.
Directed by: Michael Curtiz
Starring: Joan Crawford, Ann Blyth, Jack Carson, Zachary Scott, and Eve Arden