“I’d do anything for those kids, do you understand? Anything!”
Divorced housewife Mildred Pierce (Joan Crawford) works as a waitress to keep her two daughters — spoiled Ann Blyth and tomboyish Jo Ann Marlowe — living in style. With the help of an adoring male admirer (Jack Carson), she opens up a successful chain of restaurants, and soon marries a wealthy playboy (Zachary Scott) — but none of Mildred’s efforts are good enough for her social-climbing daughter Veda (Blyth), whose desire for money and status soon lead to fatal consequences.
Response to Peary’s Review:
Joan Crawford finally won an Oscar for her performance in what is now regarded as her most iconic film: a combination “women’s picture” / noir in which the femme fatale (Blyth) wreaks havoc on her hapless mother rather than a male lover. As Peary notes, we can’t help feeling that Mildred “is foolish for leading her life to please her daughter”, given that Blyth “isn’t worthy of anyone’s devotion” — yet part of the undeniable power of noir lies in recognizing the hero[ine]’s fatal flaw (in this case, undue motherly devotion), and feeling for him/her as he/she travels down a path towards Hell. While Peary remains less-than-impressed by Crawford’s performance — claiming that she plays “every scene in an understated manner” — I disagree; Crawford perfectly expresses the gritty determination underlying every choice Mildred makes, from kicking out her first unemployed husband, to hiding her “menial” job as a waitress, to working all hours of the day and night to make her business a thriving success.
While Crawford’s performance is clearly the dominant one, she’s surrounded by a host of excellent supporting actors. Jack Carson gives what may be the best performance of his career as an “innocent” bystander throughout Mildred’s rise and fall; equally enjoyable — though given far too little screen time — is Eve Arden as Mildred’s wisecracking (what else?) boss-cum-employee (she gets some of the best lines in the film). Ann Blyth is likely best remembered — for better or for worse! — for her performance here as evil Veda, a girlish woman who possesses not a sympathetic bone in her body; her angelic face is a perfect foil for her psychopathic actions, revealed most horrifically when she fakes a pregnancy in order to bilk $10,000 out of her clueless and adoring new husband. Blyth is an essential aspect of the film’s success, and remains inextricably linked in our minds with Mildred.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Joan Crawford as Mildred
- Ann Blyth as evil Veda
- Jack Carson as Wally Fay, Mildred’s would-be lover
- Eve Arden as Ida, who has some of the best lines in the film: [to an ogling man] “Leave something on me — I might catch cold.”
- Ranald MacDougall’s Oscar-nominated screenplay
- Effective use of Los Angeles locales
- Ernest Haller’s cinematography
- Anton Grot’s set designs
- Max Steiner’s score
Yes, as a genuine classic of American cinema.
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)