Movie Critique - Mildred Pierce

Stars: 5 / 5

Recommendation: Film noir classic with powerful story, impactful acting by the cast, and the entire plot showcasing on maternal instincts, materialistic fancies and craving to climb social ladder all leading to a phenomenal murder.

Mildred Pierce is a 1945 American crime-drama film noir directed by Michael Curtiz, produced by Jerry Wald and released by Warner Bros. The film comes with a plethora of talented star cast that includes Joan Crawford, Jack Carson, Zachary Scott, Eve Arden, Ann Blyth and Bruce Bennett. 

When Mildred Pierce's (portrayed by Joan Crawford) first husband Bert Pierce (portrayed by Bruce Bennett) is charged with murdering Mildred's second husband Mote Beragon (portrayed by Zachary Scott), she doesn’t believe it. And a tale she tells to the law enforcement to have them understand why she thinks they are wrong.

The primary plot was based on the 1941 novel of the same name by James M. Cain and screenplay was written by Ranald MacDougall. This was Ranald's second film for which he wrote the screenplay. A few changes definitely took place with the movie compared to the novel - most importantly introduction of a murder. And mostly told in flashback mode as opposed to the chronological order the novel tells.

Joan Crawford in the titular role is spectacular as always. You can see her transforming from a mere baker making ends meet to owner of a series of elegant restaurants. Her acting was different to compared to other Joan Crawford films I saw - not so high strung and much more subdued. No wonder she won an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role for this film.

Crawford's Mildred Pierce parades in a rather lavish mink coat in the beginning and ending scenes of the film, and some during the film as well. This originated the famous Hollywood adage "Nobody suffers in mink quite like Joan Crawford!"

Ann Blyth portrays the role of Veda Pierce Forrester, a manipulative and despicably devious child who grows into a much more evil woman and hating her mother. Ann's Veda feels that she is entitled to the best of everything in the world without working for it and earning it. Ann played the devious and calculated social climber role to T.

"Our Miss Brooks" Eve Arden is Ida Crowin, Mildred's boss were she works as a waitress. Her Miss Brooks' sarcasm and comic view towards life comes across through Ida very clearly in this film. 

Both Ann and Eve were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, their only nomination ever, but lost to Anne Revere for National Velvet. Angela Lansbury was also nominated for her role Sibyl Vane in The Picture of Dorian Gray the same year.

The male leads of the film - Zachary Scott as Monte Beragon, Jack Carson as Wally Fay, and Bruce Bennett as Albert "Bert" Pierce - definitely had to up their game to keep up with Crawford, Blyth and Arden's characters in the film.

The opening credits are shown over an ocean scene with the waves washing away the credits. Very symbolic of the life that Mildred Pierce goes through where things come in to her life and they wash away with no constancy. 

The theme music heard through out the film was originally written for the 1942 America drama film Now, Voyager by Max Steiner. It is the popular song "It Can't Be Wrong". Interestingly enough Now, Voyager starred Crawford's life-long rival Bette Davis in the lead. Here is the original song from that film.

The opening scene is almost copied scene to scene in the 1997 American epic romance and disaster film Titanic in which Jack tells Rose that if she jumps into the water, he will have to jump after her and get sick. Here is the one from Mildred Pierce - look for the scene where she is trying to get off the railing and a cop stops her and talks her out of it. 

And here is the one from Titanic.

The film though considered a crime-drama, it leans towards being a psychological thriller with violence on the edges. Well, with the amount of arguments and conflicts that went on between Crawford and director Curtiz, violence was bound to happen. Thankfully it got restricted only to onscreen scenes.

We have a protagonist who is a mother, and a femme fatale who is a daughter in the film. Yet the film focuses on the single working mother who works hard to make ends meet and also keep her daughter out of trouble as much as possible. 

A saga of a mother's blind love for her daughter who doesn’t care for anything but money; of a daughter who hates her mother and looks for the next prize to go up the social ladder; of a man who is soft and kind but fails to realize what he had most; of two conniving men who con both the women of their hearts and minds. 

Film noir classic with powerful story, impactful acting by the cast, and the entire plot showcasing on maternal instincts, materialistic fancies and craving to climb social ladder all leading to a phenomenal murder. A dark dark story told brilliantly causing chills to go up the viewers' spines. A must watch masterpiece from the yesteryears. 

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Movie Trivia:

a. In 2011 HBO aired a miniseries titled Mildred Pierce that follows the novel as closely as possible. Kate Winslet was in the titular role with Guy Pearce as Mote Beragon, Evan Rachel Wood as Veda, and Mare Winningham as Ida.

b. In Gainesville, FL there is a restaurant named Mildred's Big City Food named after the film's titular character.

c. Note that in the theater across from the restaurant is playing 1944 Mr. Skeffington starring Betty Davis who had turned down the role for this film which eventually went to Joan Crawford.

d. Lux Radio Theater broadcasted a 60 minute radio adaptation on June 6 1949 and July 14 1954 with Zachary Scott reprising his role.

e. Bruce Bennett and Joan Crawford again worked together in the 1952 Sudden Fear, seven years later.

f. The brooch Mildred wears at the time she proposes marriage to Monty is also seen in the 1942 American wartime romantic drama Casablanca and Now, Voyager. Also the mink coat that Mildred wears is used first in the 1945 American romantic comedy film Christmas in Connecticut earlier the same year for Barbara Stanwyck's character Elizabeth Lane.

2) Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

a. Head of a crew visible on the passenger side of the car in the opening scene briefly.

b. The way how the kid sits in the toy wagon changes between scenes.

c. For Veda's 17th birthday only 16 candles are on the cake.

d. How did Mildred's petite uniform fit so well on Lottie (portrayed by Butterfly McQueen) who is much plumper than Mildred?


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