Mildred Pierce (1945)
When Mildred Pierce's wealthy husband leaves her for another woman, Mildred decides to raise her two daughters on her own. Despite Mildred's financial successes in the restaurant business, her oldest daughter, Veda, resents her mother for degrading their social status. In the midst of a police investigation after the death of her second husband, Mildred must evaluate her own freedom and her complicated relationship with her daughter.
Mildred Pierce dotes on her daughters while husband Bert looks to Maggie Binderhof for affection. They separate leaving Mildred to raise the girls on her own. Elder daughter Veda goads her mother about their lack of money and in response Mildred proposes opening a small restaurant. Realtor Wally Fay advises her while making numerous rebuffed passes and introduces her to Monte Baragon whose property becomes the first of a chain of restaurants. Mildred has an affair with Monte. Meanwhile, money-hungry Veda pretends to be pregnant by wealthy Ted Forrester in order to bilk his family of $10,000. Mildred tears up the check, is slapped by Veda, and orders her daughter to leave. After time away, Mildred returns to find Veda singing in a cheap club. Veda will return only if Mildred promises her desired (Monte's) lifestyle, so Mildred agrees to marry Monte in exchange for a third of her businesses. It soon becomes clear that something is going on between Veda and Monte. Mildred learns of this only after Monte has sold out his third of the her business leaving her bankrupt. She goes to Monte's beach house to kill him... Shots ring out, but what really happened?
A hard-working mother inches towards disaster as she divorces her husband and starts a successful restaurant business to support her spoiled daughter.
- Following several gunshots, Monte Beragon (Zachary Scott) collapses in the living room of a beach house. He whispers the name "Mildred," and dies. His wife, Mildred Pierce-Beragon (Joan Crawford), soon arrives at the police station and acts suspiciously nervous, though denies killing her husband. When the police reveal the man they believe to be the culprit- Mildred's first husband, Bert Pierce (Bruce Bennett), who was the owner of the murder weapon- Mildred proclaims his innocence with emotion. Realizing that she knows more than she lets on, the detectives gather information from Mildred.
Several years earlier, Mildred was married to Bert and spent her days as a housewife in their middle-class home. Her chief concern was providing all she could for their two daughters, Veda (Ann Blyth) and Kay (Jo Ann Marlowe). Bert loses his job, and reveals his frustration with Mildred's treatment of their children; namely showering them with expenses they cannot afford. Mildred sells baked goods to the neighbors to afford gifts for Veda in particular, but Bert chastises her for spoiling the girl. It is suggested that Bert has been unfaithful, and the two agree to separate. Mildred reveals the news to her daughters that afternoon when they return from school and witness Bert packing the car and driving off. Kay, the younger tomboyish daughter, is deeply saddened that her father had left, but snobbish teenage Veda is more concerned that they will no longer be able to afford any luxuries. Veda's status hunger and greed is shown when she tries on a dress that Mildred had scrimped to buy her, and calls it nothing more than a rag.
Desperate for money, Mildred takes a job as a waitress at a local restaurant. She begins to excel at restaurant work, but keeps her job a secret for fear of being judged by Veda. However, Veda finds her mother's waitress uniform and gives it to their maid (Butterfly McQueen) to wear, intending to indirectly reveal her suspicion. Mildred admits her occupation, and Veda acts disgusted by her mother's "common" behavior. Mildred aspires to open her own restaurant, and with the help of family friend Wally Fay (Jack Carson), she locks down a piece of real estate for it. Mildred decides to divorce Bert for the security of her future business. The owner of the building, Monte Beragon, seems to be a well-mannered, intelligent man, and he begins a romance with Mildred after she buys the property.
Bert visited his daughters and took them on vacation, but upon their return informs Mildred that Kay has come down with pneumonia. They get her to a doctor, but he is unable to save her. A grief-stricken Mildred puts every ounce of her energy into her restaurant, which quickly becomes successful. Her divorce comes through, and she and Bert part on good terms. Mildred uses her new found wealth to open more restaurants, and to shower Veda with luxurious gifts. Veda grows more and more spoiled and ungrateful, and enters into a relationship with a wealthy young man. Monte, meanwhile, has been using large amounts of Mildred's money to furnish his own playboy lifestyle, and also becoming strangely close with Veda. Mildred leaves him, but gives him a large sum in compensation.
Veda claims that she had eloped with Teddy Forrester, a young man from a wealthy family, though she admits to not loving him. Teddy's mother insists they annul the marriage and Mildred agrees, though she does not care for Mrs. Forrester's snobbish attitude. At the lawyer's office, the Pierce's are about to be denied a $10,000 settlement for the annulment, due to Mildred's wealth. To secure the payment for herself, Veda claims that she is pregnant. When she arrives home, she gloats to her mother that her pregnancy was a lie, and that she now has the money to leave home forever. Mildred rips up the check. Veda slaps her, and is turned out of the house.
Mildred, deeply hurt and conflicted by Veda's actions, lives in Mexico for several years before returning home to California. She meets with Bert and asks after Veda. He takes her to Wally Fay's bar, where she now performs as a lounge singer. Mildred reunites with her and begs her to come home, but Veda insults her further and claims that she wants the life Monte had described to her years ago. Mildred leaves, determined to win her daughter back. She visits Monte, and asks him to marry her. He agrees, in exchange for ownership of a third of Mildred's restaurant stock.
Bert visits Mildred after her wedding, and she admits she does not love Monte, but will do anything to bring Veda home. Bert reveals that Veda has agreed to return, and she shares a tearful reunion with her mother, promising to change her spoiled ways.
During a lavish birthday party for Veda, Mildred is held up at the office discussing the financial toll her business has taken, due to Monte's scheming dealings. When Mildred arrives home, she is told that Monte and Veda have gone to Monte's beach house. Mildred follows them there, and discovers them kissing. Veda again acts entitled and cruel to her mother, boasting that Monte had only stayed with Mildred to have access to her daughter, and that they will soon marry. Mildred, incredibly hurt, leaves the house. Monte then rejects Veda's advances, saying he never loved her, and calling her "a rotten little tramp." A livid Veda pulls a revolver (belonging to her father) and shoots him dead. He gasps Mildred's name before collapsing.
Mildred returns to the house after hearing the shots. Veda admits to killing Monte, and begs her mother to cover for her and provide her with money and time to escape. Knowing she can provide nothing more for Veda, Mildred calls the police. At the station, as Mildred finishes her interrogation, Veda is led in. After prompting from the police and further evidence, it is admitted that Veda is the true killer. She is calmly led to jail as Mildred weeps. Free to go, Mildred leaves the station, where she meets Bert. They walk away together, leaving their past behind.