Mildred Pierce (1945)

“With this money I can get away from you. From you and your chickens and your pies and your kitchens and everything that smells of grease. I can get away from this shack with its cheap furniture. And this town and its dollar days, and its women that wear uniforms and its men that wear overalls.”

‘Mildred Pierce’, directed by Michael Curtiz in 1945, is an American film noir starring Joan Crawford as the title character. The movie starts with the murder of a playboy called Monte Beragon, played by Zachary Scott, in Pierce’s living room and then, through flashbacks, tells the story of Pierce’s life and how it lead to this killing. Pierce is initially married to an unemployed man and is forced to scrape money together making cakes to support her two daughters. Her eldest daughter, Vede, played by Ann Blyth, is spoiled and snobbish and drains all the money Pierce makes. Pierce leaves her husband, eventually starting her own business but her relationship with her daughter and her new lover Beragon continues to be rocky and leads to a tragic conclusion. It’s a film centred on two strong female performance from Crawford and Blyth. The movie charts their fractious relationship as they compete for power. It’s dark, noirish with a visual style that draws from German impressionist cinema, with a strong motif of shadow and light. This style increases through the film, the opening of the flashback with Pierce as a housewife is shot more romantically, more ‘Hollywood’, but as the film progresses, the visual imagery becomes darker and more abstract. The other thing that struck me through the film is how witty and smart the dialogue was. The relationship between Pierce and her business partner Ida is particularly strongly drawn and their scenes together are highlights of the film.

Would I recommend it? It’s a rich and unsettling film with a number of strong female performances and characters. Crawford won an Academy Award for playing Pierce, but Blyth, playing the corrupt daughter, deserved plaudits as well. Watch in a double bill with ‘Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore’ for another single mother who turns to waitressing.

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