One of the Classics: Mildred Pierce.

I think it’s time I introduced a new series for my blog. One that will allow me to explore an area of film that has always fascinated me but also one I don’t have much experience in. And that, is the films of Classic Hollywood. By that,  I mean the first few decades in which Hollywood transitioned from silents to talkies; a period which had been glamourised throughout the decades and fascinates me. All films discussed will have been made between the 30s and late 50s and will be a mix of genres. So, let’s crack on and discuss one of the classics: Mildred Pierce. 

Made in 1945, Mildred Pierce, is classic film noir. Starring Joan Crawford in the title role, it follows a woman who, after separating from her husband, begins to work in a restaurant in order to earn money to spoil her greedy daughter, Veda (Ann Blyth). After success as a waitress, she begins making pies for the restaurant and finally opens her own chain which leads her to great financial success. However, this isn’t just a film about a woman’s rise to success, at its heart it’s a murder mystery and the victim is Mildred’s second husband.

After watching for the first time, it’s no surprise that Crawford went on to win an Oscar for her performance. She delivers a strong performance as a hard working and strong woman, who is dominated by her greedy and ungrateful daughter. Dominated so much, that she’ll do just about anything to keep her happy; even marrying a man she doesn’t love. In fact, performances all round are terrific in this one; even down to secondary character such as Ida (Eve Arden) who plays Mildred’s boss-cum-friend.

Based on a book of the same name, Mildred Pierce is a classic crime film. With the majority of the plot delivered to us through flashbacks of Mildred telling us the chain of events that led to the murder of her second husband. We’re given a bunch of suspects and are allowed to run wild with theories before the final act reveals all; an ending that is both satisfying and saddening.

Like a lot of Noir films, Mildred Pierce has a beautiful mise en scene; the different settings work on different levels; the wonderful, homely feeling of Mildred’s restaurant is juxtaposed to the cold, heartless feeling of her grand mansion. Director Michael Curitz does a wonderful job of bringing a stylish and interesting story to life.

So that’s it. The first in a hopefully long line of classic films that will appear on my blog. Let me know if you liked this one and if you have any recommendations for future posts, let me know! Thanks for reading.

Andrew. 

P.S: If like me, you love that era I must recommend you listen a wonderful podcast series called You Must Remember This, hosted by Karina Longworth it explores Hollywood’s first century and has the most interesting topics. I’ve just finished the series on Joan Crawford which inspired me to choose Mildred Pierce for the first post.

 

 

 

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7 thoughts on “One of the Classics: Mildred Pierce.

  1. sati says:

    I’ve never seen the original but I must watch it after Feud ends. I saw HBO mini series with Kate Winslet and it was excellent, also Kate’s finest role.

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  2. joelnox says:

    Wonderful idea for an ongoing series and a great choice to kick it off! This is such a terrific film from top to bottom with expert craftsmanship in all departments and then the cast as icing on the cake.

    It seems absurd now how many hands this passed through, Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck, Rosalind Russell and Ann Sheridan, before it landed on Crawford’s doorstep. It’s such a defining role for her and was the start of a fruitful period where she did some of her best work, her two follow-ups to this-Humoresque and Possessed are ones I recommend especially the first. She recognized that Mildred was right for her and would salvage her career which was at a low point at the time and it certainly did.

    The thing with it is that she’s not working in a vacuum but is surrounded by a top cast all playing to their strengths. Eve Arden, Jack Carson and Zachary Scott all add a great deal to the film turning parts that could have been filler in lesser hands into memorable friends/adversaries for Mildred. Also I just love Jo Ann Marlowe’s little discussed work as Kay, Mildred’s ill-fated younger daughter. She makes such a strong impression in her short time and adds a great deal of subtext to the ongoing film showing that it’s not necessarily Mildred that made Veda the monstrous pit viper that she is. She also shades Veda somewhat. It’s clear that Kay was the only person that Veda really cared for, she’s the one who could tell Veda to cut her nonsense and it would have some effect, once she’s gone she is no longer troubled by anything as mundane as a conscience.

    But the film’s main conflict rises or falls on Mildred and Veda’s dynamic and without Ann Blyth’s fabulous work as that soulless conniving little worm Veda the film would be terribly diminished. She’s so vivid in her awfulness. I’ve seen the Kate Winslet mini which was okay but it was weakened by the wrongheaded decision to cast two actresses as Veda-one a young child and then Evan Rachel Wood as an adult, neither of whom brought the necessary diamond hard contempt to the part that Blyth did.

    All that marvelous work is then complimented by Curtiz’s superior direction and Ernest Haller’s wonderful inky black mood cinematography.

    Classic film is my sweet spot so I could recommend dozens (probably hundreds) of worthwhile titles but I’ll just toss in a few favorites for now, all very worthwhile if you haven’t already seen them.
    Noirs:
    The Breaking Point-John Garfield and Patricia Neal
    The Big Heat-Gloria Grahame and Glenn Ford

    Comedy:
    The Mating Season-Thelma Ritter and Gene Tierney
    Auntie Mame-Rosalind Russell and Peggy Cass

    Musical:
    Love Me or Leave Me-Doris Day and James Cagney
    It Started with Eve-Deanna Durbin and Charles Laughton

    Drama:
    The Lusty Men-Robert Mitchum and Susan Hayward
    The Heiress-Olivia de Havilland and Montgomery Clift

    If you’re watching Feud (and even if you’re not!) here’s two each for Bette Davis & Joan Crawford:

    Bette:
    Dark Victory & Now, Voyager

    Joan:
    Grand Hotel (her best early performance) & The Women

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    • actualandrew says:

      Wow, thank you so much for that insightful and deep comment. You’ve put my review to shame! Thank you for sharing your views and I completely agree with you. Especially about Ann Blyth’s work as Veda; I despise her with a passion and that wouldn’t be possible if not for Blyth’s terrific work. I’ll absolutely check some of your recommendations out; this is an area of cinema that has always fascinated me but one I have very little experience with so I appreciate your sharing your knowledge because it’s quite clearly something you’re extremely interested. Your input is always welcome around here, Joel! 🙂

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      • joelnox says:

        Thanks for the nice words Andrew! I’m always happy to comment on something that strikes my fancy or offer suggestions, which most any discussion of classic film will do. Though like with everything else I have some I’m not partial to, the 50’s version of Ben-Hur, to a few I flat out hate-Bicycle Thieves & Dragon Seed come to mind.

        Don’t know if you use Letterboxd but he’s a link to some lists I’ve pulled together of films that are more obscure but I think worthwhile, so no All About Eve, Gone With the Wind or Sunset Boulevard and the like-those can take care of themselves, not all from the Golden Age but the majority are that might be helpful in your search to become better acquainted with that period.

        https://letterboxd.com/joelnox/lists/

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