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James M Cain's novel 'Mildred Pierce' was much tougher, dirtier,
violent and cynical than the gorgeously mounted movie it became, but
the film still manages to maintain enough of the flavor of the book to
be interesting. The portrait of working class life in Southern
California works well, as does the depiction of a marriage that breaks
down because of disappointment and resentment rather than anything
melodramatic. Within its first hour MILDRED PIERCE captures something
anxious about American life and marriages and families that is more
true than most of what movies had shown up to that time, and it would
prove to be even more so in the postwar world to come. The movie
actually becomes more false and synthetic as it moves into Mildred's
rise in life, but by then the plot and characters have taken hold.
And so has the film's increasingly bleak look at what women can expect when they live and work alone in a man's world, beset by men who want to exploit them, sexually and otherwise. This too, though softened from the book, would have seemed refreshingly frank to many of viewers at that time.
What raises the film to the level of classic is the first class work from every professional in every department. Joan Crawford is not much more expressive here than she was in her later MGM pictures, but this character suits her limited talents so well that she seems better than in almost anything else she did. All her Warners pictures used her more effectively than MGM usually managed to do, perhaps because in them she is invariably exploited, abused, maligned, even tortured. The bad behavior her Warners characters inspire in others is so extreme that she doesn't need to be. These plots do what Adrian's sometimes garish clothes did for her at MGM: they give her a personality, make her seem more interesting than she really was, and they make her sympathetic despite her essential coldness. Crawford gets able support from Ann Blyth, Eve Arden (as comedy relief; she is almost appearing in another movie entirely), Zachary Scott and especially Jack Carson, dead-on as a sweaty hustler and low rent lothario, bringing nuance to what could have been a one-note portrayal. Bruce Bennett isn't really a good actor in the role of Mildred's first husband, but he's perfectly cast -- he looks like an Okie from one of Dorothea Lange's photographs who went west to 'make it' and never did.
And as has been frequently mentioned here, Ernest Haller's cinematography (especially in the brilliant prints now being shown on cable) is consistently evocative and beautiful. So many of his shots live in the memory: in the scene where a mink wearing, gun wielding Mildred comes upon Monte and Vida kissing, the image is an almost primal one of betrayal and glamor -- the way their profiles are in darkness, the way Ann Blyth arches back against the bar, the hard, dim glitter of lame and the billows of tulle from her gown. The way Vida tumbles forward into almost blinding lamplight while Monte's face hardens behind her -- these are the kinds of wonderful images the best old films regularly delivered. Also excellent is Anton Grot's art direction, opulent but still managing to help create the particular SoCal atmosphere of this picture. And as usual, Max Steiner's score is effective, but as an earlier poster noted, he recycled a couple of motifs from his Oscar-winning score to NOW, VOYAGER. And director Michael Curtiz must be praised for keeping everything in perfect balance. This is one of the most admired '40s pictures and well worth a look.
Joan Crawford, one of the world's great movie stars, truly shines in
"Mildred Pierce", a tense, prickly film noir full of suspense and
Joan is Mildred, a hard working pie and chicken maven who becomes a successful restuaranteur. Ann Blyth is superb as her nasty daughter Veda, who stoops to every level to get what she wants. Eve Arden and Jack Carson are unstoppable as Mildred's friends. "Mildred Pierce" was directed by the famed Michael Curtiz, best known for his work in "Casablanca". But it is my opinion that his best work is "Mildred Pierce". The lighting, the costumes, the sets, and most importantly, the writing all help this gem of a film become a true classic.
Joan won an Oscar for her breathtaking performance, but the tour de force powerhouse in "Mildred Pierce" was Ann Blyth. Black hearted Veda was the lynch pin of this movie, and Blyth's portrayal made Veda seem all too real and frightening. Nominated for an Oscar, she should have won.
Don't miss this timeless nail-biter
Joan Crawford's tour-de-force as a self-sacrificing mother is a real
stunner. Directed by Michael Curtiz, and based on James M.Cain's steamy
novel, "Mildred Pierce" is a slick stylish sudser that ranks among the best.
After a decade-long streak at MGM, Crawford, made her way over to Warner Bros. It was a brilliant move as Crawford won an Oscar (as Mildred) and ended up back on top.
As the title character, Crawford brings a sense of steely determination and guts. As a devoted housewife, Mildred puts the needs of her family first. So when her husband (Bruce Bennett) begins a sleazy affair with a woman down the street, Mildred kicks him out and starts life anew. Nothing - not even one daughter's death and another daughter's selfishness - stops Mildred from working her way to the top. She goes from waitress in a greasy diner to the wealthy owner of a successful restaurant chain. But despite her achievements, Mildred must contend with a slimy lover (Zachary Scott) and her increasingly vile and spoiled daughter, Veda (Ann Blyth). All the drama comes to a rousing climax, which culminates in a physical altercation between brat and mom.
Crawford's gut-wrenchingly sympathetic performance draws you in, and the sparks that she and the wonderful Blyth create are unforgettable. Also, a playful Eve Arden as Mildred's pal, spouts off some terrific dialogue.
"Mildred Pierce" is an exceptional piece of work that uses some of the finest elements of classic cinema. The story moves along at a sleek pace, and thanks to the writers, "Mildred" never sinks in the froth of its own soapiness. A powerful, emotional cinematic experience.
Joan Crawford won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of
the title character
in this 1945 offering by Warner Brothers. Ms. Crawford was in her prime then
and members of
my generation, who remember her in films such as 1968's Berserk and 1970's
sometimes surprised to learn how attractive and talented she was in her
The mean-spirited commentary of her life which we have been subjected to
death in 1977 notwithstanding, still there was a certain hard edge to her
personality which shown
through in her screen roles. That she was able to win filmdom's greatest
prize by playing a
willing victim and vulnerable woman is perhaps the greatest tribute to her
abilities as an artist. At
any rate, she was the star of this film noir classic, a story that holds up
well after 57 years.
Mildred Pierce was an ordinary housewife of the era. No skills, relied on
her husband for
sustenance and leadership and was crushed when he ditched her for another
daughters were her whole life, doting unhealthily on Veda, the older one,
especially (a very
young Ann Blyth, herself nominated for Best Supporting Actress for this
film). But, Veda was a
schemer, conniver and social climber from the word go and it was ultimately
her actions which
brought an interesting human interest story to a thunderous climax. The
story fascinates as we see
Crawford, through iron will and determination, become an independent,
woman even as she makes tragic error after tragic error in her personal
Mildred Pierce really is a rare animal, as it truly is more of a human
interest story than
any other in the film noir genre. The cast is great: Jack Carson,
outstanding as Mildred's lifelong
friend and would-be suitor, Bruce Bennett as Mildred's nice but weak-willed
Scott as the caddish successor to Bruce Bennett for Mildred's affections,
and Eve Arden (still
another nomination for Best Supporting Actress) in one of her trademark
roles as a no nonsense
gal pal. In Mildred Pierce, we have murder, love, misguided love, love not
jealousy, misunderstanding, and good intentions/bad results. Could it be
this film is so intriguing
because we see in our own lives one or more of these very human conditions?
With those broad shoulders, those wall-to-wall eyebrows, that steely
look on her face, and wrapped in those expensive clothes, the
inimitable Joan Crawford exudes glamour and resolve as famed Mildred
Pierce, housewife turned businesswoman, in this Michael Curtiz-directed
film, part mystery, part melodrama.
The film's story, told in flashbacks, begins with mystery, and it is helped along by terrific B&W lighting. Most of the rest of the story is sheer melodrama, with talky dialogue that erupts from confrontations between various characters. The most important confrontations occur between Mildred and her ungrateful, scheming daughter Veda, who requires tons of money to be happy. As the story moves along, Mildred buys and successfully operates a restaurant, but it's not enough to win approval from her odious daughter. Mildred's love for Veda is deep. But Mildred, we learn, is also a take-charge woman who won't take any guff from anyone, at least from caddy suitors or prospective in-laws.
It's a great story. And in addition to the topnotch cinematography, the film has great production design, costumes, and editing. We're also treated to some pleasantly nostalgic music from the 1940s. Crawford gets good support performances from Ann Blyth, Eve Arden, and Jack Carson. I also liked Butterfly McQueen, the little lady with the high-pitched voice who plays Mildred's maid.
I suspect this film would have been worthy of praise, even with someone else playing the title character; the film is that good. But no other actress would have had the stage presence of the impressive Joan Crawford. It's mostly because of her that "Mildred Pierce" will be remembered and loved, for generations to come. It's also partly because of "Mildred Pierce" that Joan Crawford will be admired as a Hollywood legend, for generations to come.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Excellent, riveting story. I watched it on DVD (not having been alive
to see the theatrical run) and did not pause once for refreshments or
breaks. If a movie can captivate you start to finish, immersing you to
the extent that you do not want to break the spell, then it is
I believe it is misclassified. Mildred Pierce did not really strike me as Film Noir. That may be because I went into it expecting Film Noir and, while some of the genre elements are present, it really never stayed in that territory. Mildred Pierce is very much a simple character study, almost a biopic. It starts and ends addressing a murder, and Mildred's flashbacks occur while she's at the police station, but that's pretty much the extent of the Film Noir influence.
Instead the movie focuses on who Mildred is and how she became that way. At the time of the murder she is an accomplished and successful businesswoman. She did not start out that way and the movie traces her life path at a steady and interesting pace.
Joan Crawford is well, she's Joan Crawford in the title role. The only flaw I can find in the movie is that Joan has difficulty expressing vulnerability. She looks so imperious and so strong that it is sometimes tricky to accept that her character is so downtrodden. One cannot completely excuse Joan for this either as, even when Mildred is a single mom of two daughters, desperately broke, she still wears clothes that look far above her particular station. This was always a signature quirk of Crawford's where she was loathe to appear in public looking anything less than the glamorous movie star and, likewise, did not want to appear unattractive in her movies. Compare this to Bette Davis or more recently Charlize Theron (in "Monster"), two actresses who happily "uglied" themselves for certain roles.
That is a rather negative tangent though and I should state that this aspect of Joan's presentation of Mildred was, to me, a minor flaw. Overall she was solid throughout, demonstrating quiet dignity when faced with challenges, unwanted advances and even heartbreak. Her two moments of rage were presented in an authentic contrast. So, Crawford delighted this viewer and I cannot imagine anyone else in the role.
The supporting cast was excellent as well. Jack Carson (one of my favorite character actors) shined as the wolfish friend who really treated her better than either husband. Zachary Scott was so authentic as the lazy, formerly rich hanger-on both in acting and appearance that he was almost a caricature. Eve Arden's role was smaller but it contained plenty of her famous sarcastic wit. Bruce Bennett was the weak link in the cast but, to his defense, his character of Bert didn't really have much to do other than be a catalyst for Mildred's success in the early part, and then a mildly sympathetic shoulder in the later.
The best performance possibly goes to Ann Blyth as the hateful daughter Veda. Blyth played Veda as porcelain, untouchable and wholly uncompassionate. Veda barely bothered to hide her contempt from her love-blind mother and feigned sadness or remorse when the situation demanded it. She was unapologetic to the end. A fascinating portrayal.
Highly recommended if you have an opportunity to see it. Like a novel, the movie is best viewed in an otherwise quiet, dark environment so that it can be afforded full focus.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This film might very well be director Michael Curtiz's best movie ever. He
was working at the top of his form; it didn't hurt to have a great team
behind him. Mr. Curtiz worked very well with Joan Crawford, who was about
one of the most professional actress in the Hollywood of the 30s and 40s.
For this Crawford vehicle, the novel of James Cain was chosen, even though
it was probably a high risk to take in those days of hypocrisy and
Several commentaries in this forum classify the film as an example to the genre "film noir", but if by that, the criteria is based on the great black and white cinematography, it is completely wrong, in this viewer's humble opinion. This novel is a hybrid of pulp and mystery writing. It is pure melodrama, so in vogue at the time when this movie was made.
The way the story is told in flashbacks holds the viewer's interest because it makes one feel as though Mildred did the terrible deed, when in reality she is nothing but a victim herself of her cunning little daughter, who couldn't care less for the mother that gave her life. Mildred is the kind of woman who will sacrifice herself in order to give her daughters the life she didn't have, only to be resented by Veda, the child who is the monster and always wanted more. Veda is just the opposite of her younger sister, who dies, inexplicably, and becomes the center of attention for the ever doting Mildred.
Veda is a spoiled child, and she knows it! She plays her hand very well knowing she has Mildred eating out of the palm of her hand. By wishing to be what she is not, Veda enters a world of sophistication she is not prepared for, even though she fakes it. One can almost see her falling into the greedy arms of Monte Baregan, the playboy who is the love object of both mother and daughter. He will be their downfall.
We cannot think of anyone, but Joan Crawford, playing the title role. She was at the pinnacle of her career, something that Michael Curtiz knew and got a great performance out of her. Ms Crawford is totally convincing as the mother of the story tormented by the same monster she created.
Ann Blyth was fairly new to films when she appeared in this picture. At times she looks extremely young, even younger than what she is supposed to be in the film. That Ms Blyth holds her own, playing opposite to Ms Crawford, speaks volumes. Her career never had such a fantastic moment as the creation she made of Veda.
Jack Carson was an excellent actor who always played secondary roles, but he shines as Wally. Zachary Scott also, plays the oily Monte with great panache. Perhaps the direction of Curtiz helped his performance, but then again, compared with his work with the director in "Flamingo Road", he makes this Monte become real. Eve Arden, as Ida, doesn't have much to do, but she was always so good in everything she did.
There is something that no one has commented upon, and it is the great, if brief, performance of Butterfly McQueen, who alas, is not even mentioned in the IMDB credits. She might have been uncredited in the film, but it is about time to give this woman the recognition she very well deserved in her brief scenes on the movie.
Mr. Curtiz couldn't ask any better than Ernest Haller as his cinematographer. This man's work is nothing short of genius. He was a huge talent behind the camera! The music by Max Steiner is always effective, however, there is a moment in the film that one hears a few notes of the score of another movie, and frankly, I'm not sure whether it's from "Now Voyager", or another film. It's very quick, but it surprised me, as Mr. Steiner was a very original composer.
This film is not only a classic, it is Hollywood at its best!
The story that unfolds in Mildred Pierce is complicated and dark, and at its
darkest, is a chilling portrait of a mother so devoted to her children
(well, child, really) that she would go to any and all lengths for them.
Although some of the situations and scenes suffer from the passage of time
(the modern audience in the cinema, myself included, couldn't help laughing
at some of the more ludicrous things said/done), the film as a whole worked,
mostly on the strength of the performances.
Joan Crawford won her only Oscar for her role, and it was well-deserved--she held the film together with a confident performance that ranged from charming and sassy, to desperate and almost frightening. The final scenes of the film, especially, captured Mildred at her most pathetic, and Crawford looked utterly despondent in the telephone scene. Ann Blyth is utterly convincing as the spoilt, deeply disturbed Veda, narcissistic and unrelentingly manipulative of her mother. And the best supporting performance had to come from Eve Arden, who played Mildred's friend Ida--Arden saunters across the screen, stealing scenes left and right, before disappearing from view again. She was excellent!
The film is well worth the watch--not brilliant, but definitely very good. I also like the story-telling technique and the direction (the director made quite clever and frequent use of shadows and mirrors), and it's good that the darkness and melodrama was frequently mitigated by the well-written dialogue. 8/10.
I love this movie. Joan Crawford gives a stunning performance as Mildred, and I have never seen anyone with those eyes! I saw this with my mum on video when I was young, and I thought Joan was the most beautiful woman in the world! Color film could never give her such transcendent perfection. Butterfly McQueen, the maid Lottie, stole my heart as well; her sweet yet practical manner makes her an unforgettable asset to this film. You can't help but love her. Veda is a perfect nasty, her frozen beauty matching her frozen heart. I always thought that the penniless playboy looked like one of Tex Avery's Wolves! Watch "Red Hot Riding Hood" to see what I mean! It's a crying shame this movie only got one measly award. Even if you don't like Noir or older films, this one you can make an exception for. The sight of Joan in that incredible fur hat with THOSE EYES makes this more than just another movie.
What a great movie this is even on my (I think) 4th viewing. Joan Crawford excels in the title role as does co-star Ann Blythe who normally played sickly sweet heroines. Here she is the manipulative narcissistic daughter. The tension builds throughout this movie, the script is excellent and all the minor roles are cast and played beautifully. Eve Arden is wonderful as the second banana, she is dry, droll, witty and jaded and gets this across so well and is a wonderful counterfoil to Joan's intense mothering. The ending is very satisfying and feels exactly right. Why don't they make them like this anymore. a 9 out of 10.
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