Saturday, April 13, 2013

Worth Watching: Mildred Pierce (1945)

Title: Mildred Pierce
Director: Michael Curtiz
Language: English
Rating: Unrated

The movie opens with a man getting murdered. "Mildred" is the last thing he says. From there, the setting shifts to a nearby dock, where Mildred Pierce (Joan Crawford) is walking by moonlight. Is she the murderer?

Mildred is the kind of person who could have enjoyed much more success and contentment in life had she not been in the habit of nursing vipers at her breast. One of them is her daughter, Veda (Ann Blyth), who's monstrously spoiled.

Joan Crawford and Ann Blyth as Mildred and Veda in Mildred Pierce

The other is Monty (Zachary Scott), a man whose character is so cloying and rotten I found him physically revolting. He starts off as Mildred's lover. Then he becomes her second husband. He's like fruit that's been lying out in the sun for days; he just makes you want to gag.

Joan Crawford and Zachary Scott in Mildred Pierce

Both Veda and Monty live parasitically off of Mildred, who from the start of the movie is driven by the desire to give Veda all the opportunities she herself never had growing up.

Yet another untrustworthy person in Mildred's life is Wally (Jack Carson), and the two have an interesting dynamic. He's a sleazy guy, but you also sense that, deep down, he has a grudging respect for Mildred, especially after she launches her restaurant business. Wally isn't as terrible as Veda and Monty, but he's opportunistic and won't let sentiment or honor get in his way when he wants to press his advantage; his awfulness, in large part, comes from the way he wants to conquer Mildred, try to get her to be his when she's down and short on options. But what makes him a more tolerable character than the spoiled daughter and repugnant second husband is that he doesn't pretend to be what he isn't. He's upfront about his crassness, his egoism, and his more unsavory motives. Watching Joan Crawford and Jack Carson act together in this movie is a treat.

Another character who's interesting to watch is Mildred's best friend and colleague, Ida (Eve Arden), who is a decent, sane presence in the midst of all the betrayals and sleaziness. She also mocks Monty's laziness at one point ("you were probably frightened by a callous at an early age," she tells him). Too bad Mildred doesn't take her advice more often.

Eve Arden as Ida in Mildred Pierce

Although there's a bit of redemptive hope at the end of the movie, Mildred is meant to be a woman who loses out on a lot in life, because of her obsessive need to please and protect her daughter. Joan Crawford, with her large, haunting eyes, gives an amazing performance here.

Joan Crawford's large haunting eyes in Mildred Pierce

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