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USA 1945
Directed by
Michael Curtiz
109 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Mildred Pierce

Mildred Pierce is a murder mystery liberally adapted by Ranald MacDougall from a James M. Cain novel that uses the flashback-with-voice-over technique to recount the inexorable chain of events which eventually destroy Mildred Pierce's dreams of being someone, dreams which principally are motivated by the desire to win the love of a spoilt daughter who despises her. It is a classic of the era hybridizing the film noir with the "woman's film" and today has cult status largely because of Joan Crawford's lead performance.

Coming from a working class background Mildred marries soundly at the age of seventeen but her real estate developer husband (Bruce Bennett) goes bust in the Depression and leaves her for another woman. Determined to give her two daughters the opportunities that she never had she eventually becomes financially successful (she is not averse to using her sex appeal to do so) but nothing is good enough for her eldest daughter, Veda (Ann Blyth).

The film proceeds through the narrative at a relentless pace at the same time sympathetically portraying the lot of the single woman struggling to succeed/survive in a man's world (the contemporary ambience of Southern California is tellingly created) although its denouement is often seen by feminist writers such as Joan Mellen as ideologically reinforcing the "weaker sex" stereotype. 

Crawford, who won Best Actress at the Oscars for her performance, carries the lead well and Eve Arden plays her usual wise-cracking tough gal character as Mildred's best friend, Ida.

FYI: Crawford (born 1905 as Lucille Fay LeSuer) had a successful career during the silent era and had married Douglas Fairbanks Jr in 1929 (but was divorced by 1933). This film was her comeback to stardom after some less-than-stellar efforts during the '30s and it put her in the studio pantheon along with Bette Davis and Barbara Stanwyck who had been Curtiz's first and second choices for the role. Her youthful arrest for prostitution was expunged from the record books years later by her good friend J. Edgar Hoover.

Todd Haynes directed a five-part HBO mini-series in 2011 with Kate Winslett in the lead. Although more faithful to the Cain novel it is long-winded and often doughy and is sorely wanting in the noir aspects that make Curtiz's film so appealing today 




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