'Mildred Pierce' is an acclaimed classic movie which has been classified variously as a "film noir", a "woman's soap opera", a "weepy" or a "murder-mystery". It is essentially a combination of all these categories. The movie was based on the hard-hitting 1941 novel by James M. Cain. The plot is simplified and the number of characters reduced.
The movie was made in 1945, directed by Michael Curtiz who already had several top movie successes to his credit including 'Angels With Dirty Faces' in 1938, and 'Casablanca' in 1942. The movie features a compelling comeback performance by Joan Crawford in the starring role, after a slump in her career and a two year absence from movies. As well as Crawford's unforgettable performance, the acting of the supporting cast, particularly Ann Blyth, Jack Carson and Eve Arden, is first class and makes the film completely believable. The black and white cinematography of Ernest Haller is memorably evocative and adds to the film's noirish quality with frequent use of contrasting light and shadow.
The film was a major box-office hit and was critically acclaimed. It was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (Eve Arden and Ann Blyth), Best Screenplay (Ranald MacDougall), and Best B/W Cinematography (Ernest Haller). Joan Crawford won the film's sole Academy Award for Best Actress for her title role.In 1996 the movie was selected for preservation in the United States Library of Congress National Film Registry.
Like other good 'who done it' 1940's movies, 'Mildred Pierce' starts with a murder and then works back. A definitive 1940's women's picture and a seething domestic soap opera, Mildred Pierce is also a superbly nasty noir, one that plays havoc with the era's ideals of maternal devotion and mom's apple pie.
PlotJoan Crawford plays Mildred Pierce, a housewife saddled with two kids, a mortgage, and a philandering husband (Bruce Mennet). She decides to do something about her drab existence and starts by kicking out and divorcing her husband. We see her switch roles from middle class home-maker to successful, divorced business woman. She progresses from a waitress picking up tips to a successful restaurateur who could give tips on the money market and CD rates. She endures unfaithful, feckless men, a pretentious, ungrateful bitch daughter from hell (Veda, played wonderfully to the hilt by Ann Blyth) but ultimately financial and personal disaster overwhelm her.
Mildred is admirable for her hard work and self-sacrifice. She is smart, ambitious, and driven, qualities respected and rewarded in the American ethic. But gradually, as she detaches from her husband, and as she favors the unbearable, snobbish Veda over her sweeter younger daughter, putting the child's death behind her with no evident afterthought, we begin to sense an unhealthy, even pathological, aspect to Mildred's compulsion.
When she and Veda are both fatefully drawn in by a smooth, duplicitous cad (Zachary Scott), the possessive Mildred's smothering, neurotic indulgence and the ungrateful Veda's precocious appetites inevitably boil over in sexual betrayal and rage. It is a very, very good movie and I'm not going to spoil it for you by divulging the ending.
ProductionStudio boss Jack Warner bought the rights to the Cain novel in early 1944 for $15,000 . For the screenplay he chose Ranald MacDougall's version from scripts submitted by eight different writers. MacDougall was a recent Warner Bros. recruit, having previously written just one credited screenplay, for 'Objective Burma' earlier in the year. During filming the working title of the movie was 'House on the Sand'. Shooting began at the start of December, 1944.
Joan Crawford, before she became a successful actress had herself worked as a waitress. She had been through a lean patch prior to the movie and was happy to have a screen test for the juicy title role. Michael Curtiz was unsure about her until the test showed that she was the ideal Mildred. Other leading actresses had been in consideration including Barbara Stanwyck, Olivia de Havilland, Joan Fontaine, and Myrna Loy. The movie marked a triumphant comeback for Crawford and returned her to the top tier of Hollywood stars.
Producer Jerry Wald for some reason favoured Shirley Temple for the role of the obnoxious Veda. Bonita Granville, Virginia Weidler and Martha Vickers were also tested for the role before Ann Blyth got the part.
The owner of Monty's Beach House, used in the opening scene, was director, Michael Curtiz. It was built in 1929 in Malibu. It collapsed into the ocean after a week of heavy storms in January 1983.
Main CastJoan Crawford ... Mildred Pierce Beragon
Jack Carson ... Wally Fay
Zachary Scott ... Monte Beragon
Eve Arden ... Ida Corwin
Ann Blyth ... Veda Pierce Forrester
Butterfly McQueen ... Lottie
Bruce Bennett ... Albert ('Bert') Pierce
Lee Patrick ... Mrs. Maggie Biederhof
Moroni Olsen ... Inspector Peterson
Veda Ann Borg ... Miriam Ellis
Jo Ann Marlowe ... Kay Pierce
CreditsDirector ... Michael Curtiz
Executive Producer ... Jack L. Warner
Producer ... Jerry Wald
Screenplay ... Ranald MacDougall, William Faulkner, Catherine Turney
Original ... Based on the novel by James M. Cain
Music ... Max Steiner
Cinematography ... Ernest Haller
Editing ... Carl Lerner
Distribution Company ... Warner Bros.
Release date ... September 24, 1945
Running time ... 111 minutes
Academy AwardsOne Win:
Best Actress ... Joan Crawford
Five Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Picture ... Jerry Wald
Best Supporting Actress ... Eve Arden
Best Supporting Actress ... Ann Blyth
Best Black-and-White Cinematography ... Ernest Haller
Best Screenplay Writing ... Ranald MacDougall