Mildred Pierce (1945)

Directed by Michael Curtiz

Apparently film legend Joan Crawford’s star didn’t always sparkle. At one point, her career was in something of a funk, presumably the result of having made a series of films that didn’t register with the public. Then the movie Mildred Pierce came along.

This movie is all Joan Crawford and she’s brilliant in it. It didn’t hurt, of course, that her director was Michael Curtiz (Casablanca, The Adventures of Robin Hood).

Based on a James M. Cain novel, Mildred Pierce is film noir with healthy portions of soap opera. It’s a melodramatic thriller that opens with a murder. It immediately becomes a -who-done-it with some misdirection.

Mildred (Crawford) is a wife and mother who is overly, and unhealthily, devoted to her eldest daughter Veda (Ann Blyth). Despite their poor circumstances, Mildred is determined to give Veda whatever she wants. It’s this determination, to the exclusion of anyone else, even her other daughter, that prompts her husband (Bruce Bennett) to leave.

On her own, Mildred pulls things together and begins building her fortune – all for the benefit of Veda. It’s rags-to-riches as she manages to become quite wealthy having built up a string of restaurants called Mildred’s.

It’s what Mildred is willing to do and sacrifice to create a well-off life for Veda that makes Crawford’s character interesting. The entire movie depends on her portrayal of this single-minded woman and her servitude to her daughter’s whims.

Among her sacrifices are business deals with less than trustworthy men and a romance that goes sour with a self-centred socialite whose fortunes go poorly.

She even marries a man whom she does not love (nor loves her) for the sake of giving Veda what she wants.

Veda, for her part, is a bright and beautiful girl who is totally self-absorbed. She is the archetypal spoiled brat with no sense of gratitude.

She is a snob with acute social awareness but no pride.

It all leads to murder, the movie beginning with it then closing with it, the story of Mildred being placed between the opening and closing as an extended flashback (recounted in a police station).

Everything in the movie depends on Crawford and she delivers. It’s a case where a film succeeds or fails depending on a single actor’s performance and in Mildred Pierce is succeeds with flying colours.

Crawford manages to communicate the irony of a strong-willed woman who is helpless before her obsessive need to please her daughter. It really is one of Hollywood’s great performances.

Director Curtiz manages to finesse the film between its dark, noir quality and its melodrama to present an intriguing and enthralling story.

Highly recommended.

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