What I Love About: Mildred Pierce (1945)Posted: October 10, 2013
This Saturday night the Astor Theatre will be playing one of my absolute favorite noirs: Sorry, Wrong Number. I’m giddy like a school girl over the prospect of finally seeing it on the big screen It also made me realise I hadn’t posted a film review in quite some time. Sorry, Wrong Number was one of the very first posts that I wrote for this blog (my how time flies). So I thought I’d pick another great film noir, with a delightful dash of camp Joan Crawford thrown in
WILA: The Story
Mildred Pierce is a great addition to the noir category. It’s dark shadowy cinematography is juxtaposed with sunny Southern California life, good and evil living uneasily close to one another, it reminds me of Shadow of A Doubt in certain ways.
The opening scene witnesses a murder, shots ring out and a shadowy figure is seen leaving the scene of the crime, and we are led to believe that it is Mildred Pierce (Joan Crawford). She is questioned by the police. She takes us back to the beginning when all her troubles began, and the remainder of the film is told in this flashback (another hallmark of noir). It is a classic Joan Crawford picture, with the familiar theme of a hard-working woman doing the best she can (this was 1945, remember). She is perfect as embittered Mildred, coping with a divorce from her husband the best way she knows how: when the going gets tough, she rolls up her sleeves and bakes cakes and pies (for the money, of course). She works hard to give her daughters the best she can, beginning with waitressing, working her way up and eventually opening her own diner.
WILA: The Performances
Ann Blyth is a knockout as the love-to-hate-her daughter, Veda. Mildred’s intentions to give her daughters everything she can leads Veda to become money hungry, snobby and scheming. Her performance is frighteningly good. The scowl on her face is at times that perfect blend of evil disguised with a smirk. She was deservedly nominated for Best Supporting Actress, and it’s easy to see why, the film may be titled ‘Mildred Pierce’ yet it’s Ann Blyth as Veda that steals the show sometimes.
But of course, this is a Joan Crawford picture. She dominates the picture with her silence and glares saying as much as the lines she delivers and she is perfect in the role. Crawford did manage to secure an Oscar, and it’s obvious to see why, the character of Mildred Pierce has to be believable as somebody who struggled and overcame the odds to establish herself as a business woman. It’s the plot of the story, it creates the circumstances where drama unfolds. A mild-mannered brow furrowing actress wouldn’t have been convincing in the role, it needs a survivor. Crawford, who had been in pictures before there was sound, was made to undergo a screen-test to prove she was suitable for the role, and I’m afraid to think who may have been cast if she didn’t live up to the studios standards. I should bite my tongue. Joan? Not living up to a studio’s standards? Perish the thought.
Eve Arden as Ida is the perfect antidote to Joan’s at times hard-in-the-face acting. She is sarcastic yet warm, quick witted but nonthreatening and she compliments Joan well. She’s best describe by her own summary:
‘… good old Ida, you can talk it out with her man-to-man – I’m getting awfully tired of men talking with me ‘man-to-man’, I think I’ll have a drink myself’.
A sequence of the film that simply cracks me up every time is how Joan goes about learning the restaurant trade.
We see her in the kitchens for the first time, clamoring for position amongst the other more competent waitresses. They shout their orders over each other, meanwhile Joan desperately & sweetly says:
‘Two chicken dinners, one without gravy’
Ida (Eve Arden): “Two chicken dinners hold one gravy” Then turning to Mildred, “You can’t say ‘without’, you gotta say ‘hold’”
In an extremely quick montage that is pure Hollywood, we see Mildred transformed into a fully competent waitress, barking her orders, picking up trays and collecting her tips. What cracks me up is the magic of the movies that makes it seem as though the only skill needed to “learn the restaurant trade” is to replace ‘without’ with ‘hold’ and voila, you’ve got it down pat.
WILA: The 1940s Factor
A postman carries a change-of-address card, Joan Crawford wears a fur coat that would make PETA see red and hard liquor is knocked back like water. This is what I love about a lot of older films, but Mildred Pierce seems to takes these anachronisms and amplify them, perhaps because of the film noir styling these seem more obvious. It’s cinema that attempts to portray real life, but it is sometimes too easy to remember it is a Hollywood-styled film, full of rouge, glamour and shots most-becoming.