“Personally, Veda’s convinced me that alligators have the right idea. They eat their young,” says Ida Corwin to Mildred Pierce.
Joan Crawford was let out of her contract with MGM in the early 1940s and subsequently looked for challenging roles. She campaigned hard for the lead role in Warner Bros.’ adaptation of James M. Cain’s novel Mildred Pierce. Director Michael Curtiz initially didn’t want to cast her, going so far as to try to offer the role to Bette Davis, Olivia De Havilland, Joan Fontaine, and Barbara Stanwyck (they either turned it down or were busy at the time). Curtiz finally relented and cast Crawford after seeing her screen test. Despite their conflicts during production, no one can argue about the quality of the Academy Award-winning film. I saw Curtiz’s Mildred Pierce on the big screen seven years ago at the Chelsea Cinemas as part of their Thursday night Chelsea Classics program hosted by the hilarious drag queen Hedda Lettuce, and it was a wonderful experience. This review of Mildred Pierce is my entry in the Joan Crawford Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood.
1945’s Mildred Pierce follows a hard-working mother who’s trying to provide for her family and goes to great lengths to gain the love of her oldest daughter (who is quite spoiled and yearns for a higher social status). Curtiz brought together a terrific ensemble that included Crawford (as Mildred Pierce), Jack Carson (as Wally Fay), Zachary Scott (as Monte Beragon), Eve Arden (as Ida Corwin), Ann Blyth (as Veda Pierce), Butterfly McQueen (as Lottie), Bruce Bennett (as Albert Pierce), Lee Patrick (as Maggie Biederhof), Moroni Olsen (as Inspector Peterson), Veda Ann Borg (as Miriam Ellis), and Jo Ann Marlowe (as Kay Pierce). Best Actress Oscar winner Crawford gives a commanding performance as a self-sacrificing mother whose undying love for her children (particularly her uncaring oldest daughter) ultimately leads to tragedy. Carson shines as Mildred’s life-long friend and business partner, as does Scott as Mildred’s second husband. Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee Arden is a scene stealer as Mildred’s best friend and voice of reason, and Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee Blyth is spoiled and cruel as Mildred’s ungrateful daughter.
The Oscar-nominated screenplay by Ranald MacDougall fairly adapts Cain’s novel, making several changes from its source (the time setting was altered, the story re-molded to fit into the film noir genre, some characters were composited or eliminated, the murder portion and flashback structure were added due to the Production Code, etc.). Ernest Haller’s Oscar-nominated black-and-white cinematography gives the film a noir atmosphere. The costumes looked gorgeous (especially the fancy ones worn by Crawford), and the makeup by Perc Westmore was well-done. David Weisbart’s editing keeps the film moving at an excellent pace, and Max Steiner delivers a haunting, dramatic score. Curtiz’s Best Picture Oscar nominee Mildred Pierce is one of the best film noirs of the 1940s with a strong emphasis on female performances (bringing Crawford a well-deserved Oscar) and a thrilling, heartbreaking story.