- Joan Crawford as Mildred Pierce
- Jack Carson as Wally Fay
- Zachary Scott as Monte Beragon
- Ann Blyth as Veda Pierce
- Eve Arden as Ida Corwin
- Bruce Bennett as Bert Pierce
This film will always be remembered as the film that helped relaunch Joan Crawford’s stalling career, but there is more to this film that at first meets the eye. It is one of the quintessential women’s pictures of the 1940’s that effortlessly blends moments of film noir to heighten its dramatic tale of a mothers self-sacrificing journey to provide for her spoiled daughter. Strikingly photographed, superbly acted and featuring an evocative and intensely dramatic score by Max Steiner, Mildred Pierce is an emotional soap opera that never falls into sentimentality but keeps you glued to the screen as you watch the great Joan Crawford in her excellent comeback role that earned her a Best Actress Oscar.
Mildred Pierce begins with a literal bang, in a classic noir influenced moment. Gun shots ring out as a man clutches his bleeding chest and falls to the floor. Before he dies he breathlessly utters one word “Mildred”. The scene then switches to show the eponymous Mildred, clad in a stunning mink coat and walking a pier, tears beginning to stream down her face. This scene is outstanding as we don’t know whether Mildred has killed the man or not? The audience is unsure of her character at this point as she appears to be the epitome of the femme fatale commonly featured in film noir. We are unsure whether to sympathise with her or loathe her. As the story continues and she is taken into questioning by the police, she begins to narrate her story in flashback up until this point. This is where the film switches gear and examines the dramatic existence of Mildred and how she has changed considerably. She tells of how she slaved away as a waitress before opening a successful chain of restaurants, her sheer determined personality aiding her. Along the way she met rich playboy Monte, who fell for her but used her when he had money trouble. All of the events leading up to Monte’s opening death are influenced by the conniving Veda whose insatiable need for the expensive things drives the story of her determined mother Mildred.
Among the things that drew me to the film was its combination of melodrama with noir, I think this makes for an interesting combination. The performances also drew me in particularly the ones portrayed by Crawford and Blyth. As the determined Mildred, Crawford is outstanding as she embodies this hard-working character who will do anything for her daughter and runs the whole gamut of emotions throughout the movie.Her character is made very believable because of Crawford’s connection with her, many critics have said that Crawford was outstanding in a role when she related to it. I agree with this, but whatever the case Crawford delivers a memorable performance that proved to Hollywood that she was a force to be reckoned with. Equally impressive is the young Ann Blyth as the sneering, materialistic and spoilt Veda Pierce. The whole plot is influenced by her expensive needs and desires as Mildred does everything in her power to provide for her. Blyth makes an impressive mark as Veda, imbuing her with an arrogant and snobbish quality that is a clear difference from her self-sacrificing mother. Crawford and Blyth have a natural chemistry that makes their relationship interesting, especially in the moments when Mildred realises how spoilt and down right nasty her daughter really is.
Many would think that with all this highly charged drama there would be no let up. This isn’t the case as there are two characters that lighten up the proceedings. The first is Wally, a man who used to be in business with Mildred’s first husband who also has a soft spot for the eponymous Mildred. He has the most laughs in the film as her romantically chases her. Jack Carson clearly has a laugh as Wally and his numerous unsuccessful attempts to woo Mildred. The other character is Ida Corwin, the wise cracking friend of Mildred who helped her when she was staring out. Her scenes with customers and lawyers in the restaurant are particularly funny as her dry sense of humour is often mistaken by others. Eve Arden creates a wise-cracking and charming chum that runs parallel with the determined and driven character of Mildred.
Mildred Pierce can be viewed today as a melodrama that is very believable but also a story of a mother’s love and determination no matter what the cost. Even if old movies aren’t your thing, Mildred Pierce may change your mind with its stellar cast and outstanding production values.