Mildred Pierce (1945)
Reviewed on 2011 January 17
Before The Bad Seed or The Good Son, we had Veda, the daughter from hell, in this adaptation of a James M. Cain novel. Dated? Totally. Silly? Kind of, by today’s standards. Still good? Yep.
This film noir opens with a dandy getting shot and works backwards, cutting to a scene of a desolate woman not caring what the ocean mist and rain did to her mink coat and hat as she walks towards the bridge, tempted to throw herself into the water below. Mildred Pierce (Joan Crawford at her hard-shelled best) is soon connected to the body and hauled into the police station at two in the morning, because I think it’s not a real noir unless you’ve got a scene of someone being grilled in a dimly lit police station when everyone else is asleep or looking for a White Castle. Soon Mildred starts her story of wanting to give her children everything, a trait which hasn’t affected her youngest child Kay (Jo Ann Marlowe) but seemingly ruins her daughter Veda (Ann Blyth). I say seemingly because I think Veda could have been born without a soul, but the end result is the same. This isn’t a huge epiphany here, because we see that Veda is a spoiled bourgeois brat pretty much the first time she opens her mouth. Mildred is going to make sure her daughters have the best of everything, no matter what price she has to pay.
It’s interesting that ol’ Mildred can think so quickly on her feet and yet be so blind as to what a monster Veda clearly is, and that helps move things along. Too bad she didn’t pop the brat in the mouth earlier, but then we wouldn’t have a plot. As other reviewers have noted, it says a lot about how hard it was for a single woman to scramble back in the day, and how even when you got one with Mildred’s business sense, she was often saddled with other problems. Crawford took home the Best Actress Oscar® for this, with Blyth and the rest of the team holding their own. I don’t think usually think of mixing James M. Cain and estrogen, but it works here.
Three chocolate morsels. Hey, it inspired a Sonic Youth track on their album Goo.