Mildred Pierce is a 1945 drama film directed by Michael Curtiz and starring Joan Crawford in her deserved Oscar-winning performance. It is a major drama of the day and for all the good reasons as it is incredibly good.
It follows a woman who is so obsessed of providing everything for her spoiled daughter. And even after realizing how despicable her daughter is, she still stands beside her leading to tragic circumstances in a grand melodrama fashion. Now granted, some people may and do find problems with this story. And a major problem that is. Some could argue that the story is hard to believe in the protagonist’s actions for why would anyone tolerate such an awful behavior from a child and still stand by her. That opinion is perfectly understandable and I get that. But I however have a different stand on it. That approach is in my opinion the movie’s highlight as it showcases how powerful a parent-child bond is and no matter how awful a child can be, a parent will still want to protect her because she not only loves her and she is her own child, but because she invested so much in her. In that respect, I sympathized a lot with her character and I found that exploration to be fascinating.
As for the plot itself, it is very good. I was engaged from start to finish with its riveting storyline. The beginning is excellent and from that point on it wonderfully follows her life with for once finely used flashbacks in a polished way thanks to ingenious direction and terrific editing. And the ending and the whole last act is just phenomenal, so intense and powerful and a reason why this works both as a drama and as a noir thriller for it wonderfully incorporated the noir elements, especially with its dramatic and dark conclusion.
The character development in Mildred Pierce is just fantastic with each and every character being properly explored and portrayed. The protagonist is, as I stated before, so heartbreaking and such a tragic figure that you can easily relate and root for her. She is a wonderfully depicted, warm and kind character that is probably the standout here along with the daughter of course. Speaking of her, Veda is probably one of the most despicable and awful characters ever in a film! She is so despicable and such a terrible person that you just can’t help but hate her and I did! She is so well acted and has such a presence that all of her sequences are horrific even and oh so powerful. It is on behalf of the filmmakers that she was so finely realized because the choice to have her true personality come only later and with hinting her nature before makes Mildred’s realization all the more powerful and her troubles all the more devastating. And secondly, the approach of vilifying her works wonders here as it makes you despise her and root for Mildred which is the biggest reason why the movie works wonderfully as that conflict is at the center of the story.
Wally is also a highly unlikable character, and by that I mean an unlikable person as the character is excellently written as are all of the other characters as well. His constant flirting with Mildred and his repulsive behavior with her relatives and husbands is so realistic and well realized. Monte is also a very despicable person and I disliked him even more than Wally as his flirting with Mildred was so cheesy and downright awful as are his later actions and attitudes towards money and working. But Ida is so endearing as her coworker that you can’t help but love her. Yes, she is a typical coworker female character, also seen in ‘Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore‘, but she was one of the firsts here and her kind nature towards Mildred and her advice she gave to her are so beautiful. And her grounded approach in both her looks and her personality is remarkable as well. As for Bert, he is a really nice man and one of the few good people in this film. Yes, Mildred Pierce is loaded with despicable persons with most of its characters being just terrible but it works to its advantage as it is all the more dramatic and realistic.
The movie is also terrific on technical standpoint. The directing from Curtiz is once again remarkable and he brings such a polished feel to this movie. The score is really well done as well and the dialogue is splendid. The tone is also deftly handled and the movie wonderfully balances between the two genres of drama and noir. It has a brain and a heart meaning that it is both clever, meaningful and very emotional. The movie is also very unpredictable with its murder mystery with a surprise ending that is one of the many standouts here. It is also wonderfully paced and edited with never a dull or rushed scene.
The acting is gorgeous! Joan Crawford is just marvelous in this rather difficult role, perfectly believable and likable. She truly gave a powerhouse performance that is in my opinion one of the best female performances of the forties. But Jack Carson is also incredibly good here and Eve Arden is wonderful as charming Ida. But it is Ann Blyth’s performance that carries the whole movie along with Crawford’s. She is amazing in her bursting moments and also very good in crying and emotional sequences as well. She was so stupendous here.
I have just one problem with Mildred Pierce and that one problem prevented me from giving it a five star rating. It may sound silly but it is unfortunate and was expected as the problem is quite big. What am I talking about? I am talking about Kay. She is the character that ruined this movie or the choices they did with her. As the second child of Mildred, she was never given proper attention and the fact that she died and that the reactions from Veda and Mildred were not as properly hysterical as they should have been is all the more reason why her inclusion doesn’t work and she shouldn’t have been in the film at all and it would have turned out to be much better without her.
As for the movie’s Oscars, it got one win and five nominations. Joan Crawford won for Best Actress of course and this was a spectacular choice and one of the best acting choices from the Academy in those years. Both Ann Blyth and Eve Arden were deservingly nominated as both gave powerhouse performances. The screenplay is excellent and a great choice for the nomination as is the cinematography. And it is one of the strongest Best Picture nominees that year and although it is nowhere near as good as ‘The Lost Weekend‘ which is just phenomenal, it is still the second best and it deserved all of its nominations.