Friday, October 9, 2009

Mildred Pierce (1945)

Getting most of my knowledge about Joan Crawford's acting abilities from The Women and Mommy Dearest, I haven't been in a real hurry to see more of her films, but I'm really glad I finally got around to seeing Mildred Pierce. Crawford stars as the eponymous Mildred, a mother brought in for police questioning after her second husband Monte (Zachary Scott) is found murdered. Her first husband Bert (Bruce Bennett) claims to be the killer, and Mildred launches into an account of her life after they separated to try to clear his name. They had decided to split up after quarreling about how to raise their two daughters: He's willing to live humbly, while Mildred is convinced that she must dote on them lavishly, wishing them luxuries she had never received from her working-class family. Her older daughter Veda (Ann Blyth), is especially spoiled, becoming more and more obsessed with money as she grows into a teenager.

Aided by wise-cracking hostess Ida (Eve Arden), Mildred takes a job as a waitress and baker for a busy restaurant to support her family. She eventually opens up her own place, with consultation from Bert's old real-estate partner Wally (Jack Carson), who's persistently flirting with her. She meets and shortly falls in love with Monte when she buys his land for her restaurant, but his extravagant lifestyle coupled with Veda's growing demands force her to go against her own better judgment for the sake of her daughter's happiness, even if it leads to... murder. (Insert thunder crash and lightning bolt)

Ok so this movie is advertised as some sort of smoldering murder mystery with Crawford as a seductive assassin or something. Not true. It's actually a really involved and surprising (for its time) character study of a very strong, dedicated, and independent mother, vaguely reminiscent of Kitty Foyle. It just happens to have a murder mystery within it. I really liked the character of Mildred, even though I couldn't understand her blindness to her daughter's faults. She's sort of badass, really, and just so much more capable than anyone else in the movie. I like that though romance is a continuing aspect of the story, it's never the driving force. She is never relying on a man or allowing anyone to take advantage of her. So congratulations, Joan Crawford, I now understand what the big deal is. Eve Arden is pretty fabulous as Ida too, but she isn't in the movie enough.

The story is intriguing and well-structured, even if the flashback style is a little awkward here (she's like, "Bert didn't kill Monte! Now let me tell you my life story to illustrate this one point"). I enjoyed how it begins with a dead body, then slowly introduces different elements of the murder and various characters' motivations; plus there's a cool twist at the end (though it's partly foreseeable). It's filmed beautifully, making excellent use of the black and white format with a heavy attention to shadows. There are some sharp 40's suits and lots of drinking. Mildred Pierce is just a really good movie all around!

4.5/5

3 comments:

  1. I just saw this film for the 1st time the other night. what a coincidence to find your blog about it. I loved it!!!

    ReplyDelete