Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


MILDRED PIERCE (1945). Director: Michael Curtiz.

"I wish I could get that enthused about working." -- Monte

"You were probably frightened by a callus at an early age." -- Ida

Mildred Pierce (Joan Crawford) has to make it on her own after she throws her husband out, so she winds up as a waitress and eventually works her way up to owning a chain of restaurants. Her chief motivation is her older daughter, Veda (Ann Blyth), to whom she is devoted and whose love she desires more than anything. Unfortunately, Veda is "spoiled rotten" -- to put it mildly, and Mildred's second husband, Monte Beragon (Zachary Scott) is certainly no bargain, either. Barbara Stanwyck, who'd not only appeared in an earlier epic of mother love, Stella Dallas, but who'd also starred in Double Indemnity, another adaptation of a James M. Cain novel, wanted to star in this film and she probably would have been more appropriate. However, Crawford, who won an Oscar, is no slouch in the part, with her effective "Hollywoodish" acting reflecting the fact that the film is essentially a very well turned out melodrama [the murder that opens the film is not part of the novel]. Ann Blyth is so good as the venal Veda [was she ever again as notable?] that she practically steals the film from Crawford. Zachary Scott and Jack Carson are terrific as, respectively, Monte and Mildred's business partner; in fact Carson was probably never seen to better advantage. Eve Arden is her usual adept sarcastic self as Ida, who works for Mildred, and Butterfly McQueen is a sheer delight as Mildred's maid, Lottie, who's always saying "Beg pardon?". [There seems to be something going on with this character that was left on the cutting room floor.] Bruce Bennett is also notable as Mildred's first husband and Veda's father, and the always notable Lee Patrick appears briefly as a woman with whom he becomes involved. Moroni Olsen scores as the police inspector, as does little Jo Ann Marlowe as Mildred's tragic younger daughter, Kay. John Compton, who was uncredited as Veda's handsome temporary husband, Ted, appeared mostly on TV shows until the early sixties. Max Steiner's theme music is memorable, although one wonders why he recycled some of his famous Now, Voyager music elsewhere in the picture. Ernest Haller's photography is, as usual, first-rate. Frankly, there's quite a bit you could quibble with about this movie, but it's undeniably smooth, well-paced, well-directed by Curtiz, and boasts some great dialogue, an interesting plot and characters, and some very excellent performances. It's interesting that Crawford's real-life daughter, Christina, turned out to be much, much worse than Veda, with her pre-fabricated book attacking her mother that by now has been discredited by virtually every thinking person. NOTE: Mildred Pierce has been remade as a cable mini-series, written and directed by Todd Haynes, and starring Kate Winslet as Mildred, Guy Pearce as Monte, and Evan [sic] Rachel Wood as Veda.

Verdict: Not quite a masterpiece but definitely a classic. ***1/2.

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