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Mildred Pierce (1945) is a Warner Bros. feature film starring Joan Crawford, Ann Blyth, Jack Carson, Zachary Scott, and Eve Arden in a noir-ish tale about a long-suffering mother and her ungrateful daughter. The screenplay by Ranald MacDougall, William Faulkner, and Catherine Turney was based upon the 1941 novel Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain. The film was directed by Michael Curtiz and produced by Jerry Wald with Jack L. Warner as executive producer. Mildred Pierce was Crawford's first starring film for Warner Bros. after leaving MGM and won her the Academy Award for Best Actress.


Ann Blyth as Mildred's selfish daughter Veda.
While the novel is told by a third-person narrator in strict chronological order, the film uses voice-over narration (the voice of Mildred). The story is framed by the questioning of Mildred by police after they discover the body of her second husband, Monte Beragon.

The film in noir fashion opens with Beragon (Scott) being shot. He murmurs the name "Mildred" as he collapses and dies. The police are led to believe that the murderer is restaurant owner Mildred Pierce (Crawford), who under interrogation confesses to the crime. She then relates her life story in flashback.

We see housewife Mildred unhappily married to a newly unemployed Bert Pierce (Bruce Bennett). He was originally a real estate partner of Wally Fay (Carson), who propositions Mildred after learning that she and Bert are about to divorce. Mildred keeps custody of her two daughters: Veda (Blyth) and Kay (Jo Anne Marlowe).

Mildred's principal goal is to provide for eldest daughter Veda, who longs for possessions the family cannot afford. Mildred needs a job and the best she can find is as a waitress — a fact she hides from Veda. One day, Veda gives their maid Lottie (Butterfly McQueen) Mildred's waitress uniform, thinking nothing of it, until Mildred admits that she is a waitress, infuriating Veda, who thinks it a lowly employ.

Mildred's younger daughter Kay contracts pneumonia and dies; to bury her grief, Mildred throws herself into opening her own restaurant on the coast (next to what appears to be the Santa Monicamarker beach). With the help of her new friend and former supervisor, Ida (Arden), Mildred's new restaurant is a success. Wally helps her buy the property, and then it expands into a chain of "Mildred's" throughout Southern California.

Mildred continues to smother Veda in affection and worldly goods, but Veda is nonetheless appalled by Mildred's common background and choice of profession. Mildred goes as far as entering into a loveless marriage with the formerly wealthy Monty Beragon in order to improve her social standing and impress her daughter. Beragon lives the life of a playboy but needs to sponge off her, much to Mildred's dismay and potential ruin. Mildred ends up losing business thanks to Monte's manipulation and Veda's greed.

When Veda takes up with the scheming Monty, a showdown ensues at the beach house where the film began. We discover what really happened: that Veda, furious over Monte's unwillingness to take her seriously, is the one who shoots him. Mildred can cover for her daughter no more, and Veda is led off to jail.


Critical reception

The staff at Variety liked the film, especially the screenplay, and wrote, "At first reading James M. Cain's novel of the same title might not suggest screenable material, but the cleanup job has resulted in a class feature, showmanly produced by Jerry Wald and tellingly directed by Michael Curtiz...The dramatics are heavy but so skillfully handled that they never cloy. Joan Crawford reaches a peak of her acting career in this pic. Ann Blyth, as the daughter, scores dramatically in her first genuine acting assignment. Zachary Scott makes the most of his character as the Pasadenamarker heel, a talented performance."

Critic Jeremiah Kipp gave the film a mixed review: "Mildred Pierce is melodramatic trash, constructed like a reliable Aristotelian warhorse where characters have planted the seeds of their own doom in the first act, only to have grief-stricken revelations at the climax. Directed by studio favorite Michael Curtiz in German Expressionistic mode, which doesn't quite go with the California beaches and sunlight but sets the bleak tone of domestic film noir, and scored by Max Steiner with a sensational bombast that's rousing even when it doesn't match the quieter, pensive mood of individual scenes, Mildred Pierce is professionally executed and moves at a brisk clip."

Comparison to novel

The adaptation was designed as a thriller and a murder was introduced into the plot. The novel Mildred Pierce spans a period of nine years (from 1931 to 1940), whereas the action of the film is set in the 1940s and spans only four years. Accordingly, in the film, the characters do not really grow older: Mildred does not change her appearance, she does not put on weight and become matronly; Veda ages only four years, from around 13 to around 17. Generally speaking, Mildred is more of a tycoon in the film; her restaurants are glamorous places, and she owns a whole chain ("Mildred's") rather than just three. All references to the Depression and the Prohibition era were removed.

The plot is simplified and the number of characters reduced. For example, Veda's training and success as a singer (including her performance at the Hollywood Bowlmarker) were dropped in the film and her music teachers merely mentioned in passing. Lucy Gessler, a key character in the novel and Mildred's good friend, is not present in the film, while Mildred's numerous domestic servants are reduced to a single young housemaid.

DVD release

Mildred Pierce is available on Region 2 DVD in a single disc edition which includes an 86-minute documentary into the career and personal life of Joan Crawford with contributions from fellow actors and directors including, Diane Baker, Betsy Palmer, Anna Lee, Anita Page, Cliff Robertson, Virginia Grey, Dickie Moore, Norma Shearer, Ben Cooper, Margaret O'Brien, Judy Geeson and Vincent Sherman, Mildred Pierce is also included in a Region 2 release a signature collection of Joan Crawford's films together with the films, Possessed, Grand Hotel, The Damned Don't Cry! and Humoresque.

The Region 1 edition is flipper single disc with "Joan Crawford; The Ultimate Movie Star" documentary and a series of trailer galleries on the reverse of the film.


Classic-era film noirs in the National Film Registry
1940-49 The Maltese Falcon |Shadow of a Doubt |Laura |Double Indemnity |Mildred Pierce |Detour

The Big Sleep |The Killers |Notorious |Out of the Past |Force of Evil |The Naked City |White Heat




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