Mildred Pierce dotes on her daughters while husband Bert looks to Maggie Binderhof for affection. They soon divorce, leaving Mildred to raise the girls on her own. Elder daughter Veda goads her mother about their lack of money and in response Mildred proposes opening a small restaurant.
Realtor Wally Fay advises her while making numerous rebuffed passes and introduces her to Monte Baragon whose property becomes the first of a chain of restaurants. Mildred has an affair with Monte. Meanwhile, money-hungry Veda pretends to be pregnant by wealthy Ted Forrester in order to bilk his family of $10,000. Mildred tears up the check, is slapped by Veda, and orders her daughter to leave.
After time away, Mildred returns to find Veda singing in a cheap club. Veda will return only if Mildred promises luxury, so Mildred agrees to marry Monte in exchange for a third of her businesses. It soon becomes clear that something is going on between Veda and Monte. Mildred learns of this only after Monte has sold out his third of the her business leaving her bankrupt. She goes to Monte's beach house to kill him... Shots ring out, but what really happened?
Joan Crawford ... Mildred Pierce Beragon
Jack Carson ... Wally Fay
Zachary Scott ... Monte Beragon
Eve Arden ... Ida Corwin
Ann Blyth ... Veda Pierce Forrester
Bruce Bennett ... Albert ('Bert') Pierce
Lee Patrick ... Mrs. Maggie Biederhof
Moroni Olsen ... Inspector Peterson
Veda Ann Borg ... Miriam Ellis
Jo Ann Marlowe ... Kay Pierce
James M Cain's novel 'Mildred Pierce' was much tougher, dirtier, violent and cynical than the gorgeously mounted movie it became, but the film still manages to maintain enough of the flavor of the book to be interesting. The portrait of working class life in Southern California works well, as does the depiction of a marriage that breaks down because of disappointment and resentment rather than anything melodramatic. Within its first hour MILDRED PIERCE captures something anxious about American life and marriages and families that is more true than most of what movies had shown up to that time, and it would prove to be even more so in the postwar world to come. The movie actually becomes more false and synthetic as it moves into Mildred's rise in life, but by then the plot and characters have taken hold.
And so has the film's increasingly bleak look at what women can expect when they live and work alone in a man's world, beset by men who want to exploit them, sexually and otherwise. This too, though softened from the book, would have seemed refreshingly frank to many of viewers at that time.
What raises the film to the level of classic is the first class work from every professional in every department. Joan Crawford is not much more expressive here than she was in her later MGM pictures, but this character suits her limited talents so well that she seems better than in almost anything else she did. All her Warners pictures used her more effectively than MGM usually managed to do, perhaps because in them she is invariably exploited, abused, maligned, even tortured. The bad behavior her Warners characters inspire in others is so extreme that she doesn't need to be. These plots do what Adrian's sometimes garish clothes did for her at MGM: they give her a personality, make her seem more interesting than she really was, and they make her sympathetic despite her essential coldness. Crawford gets able support from Ann Blyth, Eve Arden (as comedy relief; she is almost appearing in another movie entirely), Zachary Scott and especially Jack Carson, dead-on as a sweaty hustler and low rent lothario, bringing nuance to what could have been a one-note portrayal. Bruce Bennett isn't really a good actor in the role of Mildred's first husband, but he's perfectly cast -- he looks like an Okie from one of Dorothea Lange's photographs who went west to 'make it' and never did.
And as has been frequently mentioned here, Ernest Haller's cinematography (especially in the brilliant prints now being shown on cable) is consistently evocative and beautiful. So many of his shots live in the memory: in the scene where a mink wearing, gun wielding Mildred comes upon Monte and Vida kissing, the image is an almost primal one of betrayal and glamor -- the way their profiles are in darkness, the way Ann Blyth arches back against the bar, the hard, dim glitter of lame and the billows of tulle from her gown. The way Vida tumbles forward into almost blinding lamplight while Monte's face hardens behind her -- these are the kinds of wonderful images the best old films regularly delivered. Also excellent is Anton Grot's art direction, opulent but still managing to help create the particular SoCal atmosphere of this picture. And as usual, Max Steiner's score is effective, but as an earlier poster noted, he recycled a couple of motifs from his Oscar-winning score to NOW, VOYAGER. And director Michael Curtiz must be praised for keeping everything in perfect balance. This is one of the most admired '40s pictures and well worth a look.
Joan Crawford's tour-de-force as a self-sacrificing mother is a real stunner. Directed by Michael Curtiz, and based on James M.Cain's steamy novel, "Mildred Pierce" is a slick stylish sudser that ranks among the best.
After a decade-long streak at MGM, Crawford, made her way over to Warner Bros. It was a brilliant move as Crawford won an Oscar (as Mildred) and ended up back on top.
As the title character, Crawford brings a sense of steely determination and guts. As a devoted housewife, Mildred puts the needs of her family first. So when her husband (Bruce Bennett) begins a sleazy affair with a woman down the street, Mildred kicks him out and starts life anew. Nothing - not even one daughter's death and another daughter's selfishness - stops Mildred from working her way to the top. She goes from waitress in a greasy diner to the wealthy owner of a successful restaurant chain. But despite her achievements, Mildred must contend with a slimy lover (Zachary Scott) and her increasingly vile and spoiled daughter, Veda (Ann Blyth). All the drama comes to a rousing climax, which culminates in a physical altercation between brat and mom.
Crawford's gut-wrenchingly sympathetic performance draws you in, and the sparks that she and the wonderful Blyth create are unforgettable. Also, a playful Eve Arden as Mildred's pal, spouts off some terrific dialogue.
"Mildred Pierce" is an exceptional piece of work that uses some of the finest elements of classic cinema. The story moves along at a sleek pace, and thanks to the writers, "Mildred" never sinks in the froth of its own soapiness. A powerful, emotional cinematic experience.
This film might very well be director Michael Curtiz's best movie ever. He was working at the top of his form; it didn't hurt to have a great team behind him. Mr. Curtiz worked very well with Joan Crawford, who was about one of the most professional actress in the Hollywood of the 30s and 40s. For this Crawford vehicle, the novel of James Cain was chosen, even though it was probably a high risk to take in those days of hypocrisy and censorship.
Several commentaries in this forum classify the film as an example to the genre "film noir", but if by that, the criteria is based on the great black and white cinematography, it is completely wrong, in this viewer's humble opinion. This novel is a hybrid of pulp and mystery writing. It is pure melodrama, so in vogue at the time when this movie was made.
The way the story is told in flashbacks holds the viewer's interest because it makes one feel as though Mildred did the terrible deed, when in reality she is nothing but a victim herself of her cunning little daughter, who couldn't care less for the mother that gave her life. Mildred is the kind of woman who will sacrifice herself in order to give her daughters the life she didn't have, only to be resented by Veda, the child who is the monster and always wanted more. Veda is just the opposite of her younger sister, who dies, inexplicably, and becomes the center of attention for the ever doting Mildred.
Veda is a spoiled child, and she knows it! She plays her hand very well knowing she has Mildred eating out of the palm of her hand. By wishing to be what she is not, Veda enters a world of sophistication she is not prepared for, even though she fakes it. One can almost see her falling into the greedy arms of Monte Baregan, the playboy who is the love object of both mother and daughter. He will be their downfall.
We cannot think of anyone, but Joan Crawford, playing the title role. She was at the pinnacle of her career, something that Michael Curtiz knew and got a great performance out of her. Ms Crawford is totally convincing as the mother of the story tormented by the same monster she created.
Ann Blyth was fairly new to films when she appeared in this picture. At times she looks extremely young, even younger than what she is supposed to be in the film. That Ms Blyth holds her own, playing opposite to Ms Crawford, speaks volumes. Her career never had such a fantastic moment as the creation she made of Veda.
Jack Carson was an excellent actor who always played secondary roles, but he shines as Wally. Zachary Scott also, plays the oily Monte with great panache. Perhaps the direction of Curtiz helped his performance, but then again, compared with his work with the director in "Flamingo Road", he makes this Monte become real. Eve Arden, as Ida, doesn't have much to do, but she was always so good in everything she did.
There is something that no one has commented upon, and it is the great, if brief, performance of Butterfly McQueen, who alas, is not even mentioned in the IMDB credits. She might have been uncredited in the film, but it is about time to give this woman the recognition she very well deserved in her brief scenes on the movie.
Mr. Curtiz couldn't ask any better than Ernest Haller as his cinematographer. This man's work is nothing short of genius. He was a huge talent behind the camera! The music by Max Steiner is always effective, however, there is a moment in the film that one hears a few notes of the score of another movie, and frankly, I'm not sure whether it's from "Now Voyager", or another film. It's very quick, but it surprised me, as Mr. Steiner was a very original composer.
This film is not only a classic, it is Hollywood at its best!
* Bette Davis and Rosalind Russell turned down the title role, and Barbara Stanwyck was very keen to take it, but Joan Crawford got in first and it earned her an Academy Award.
* Joan Crawford had been under contract with Warner Brothers for two years before starring in this movie. To get the role, she had to submit to a screen test after years of flops at MGM--her previous studio--and turning down several scripts at Warner Brothers.
* Shirley Temple was originally considered for the part of Veda Pierce.
* Shooting the early scenes, director Michael Curtiz accused Joan Crawford of needlessly glamorizing her working mother role. She insisted she was buying her character's clothes off the rack, but didn't mention that her own dressmaker was fitting the waists and padding out the shoulders.
* William Faulkner contributed to the script, but his additions were not used. He wrote a scene that had Butterfly McQueen consoling Joan Crawford while singing a gospel song.
* Monty's Beach House, used in the key opening scene and several others, was actually owned by the film's director, Michael Curtiz. It was built in 1929 and stood at 26652 Latigo Shore Dr. in Malibu. It collapsed into the ocean after a week of heavy storms in January 1983.
* Michael Curtiz was initially less than keen at working with "has-been" star Joan Crawford as she had a reputation for being difficult. Curtiz was soon won over by Crawford's dedication and hard work.
* Ann Sheridan was considered for the lead.
* Mirroring her own life, Joan Crawford had also supported herself as a waitress and saleswoman before she achieved success as an actress.
* Producer Jerry Wald was keen to exploit the potential of James M. Cain's novel. He envisaged the idea of a climactic murder, then restructuring the story using flashbacks. He also infused the project with a higher moral tone that is in the original novel. With these changes, he was able to extract a cautious go-ahead from the Breen Office, which then prompted studio head Jack L. Warner to approve the purchase rights to the novel in early 1944.
* Eight different screenplays from a succession of writers were written before Ranald MacDougall's version was accepted.
* The film's release was deliberately held back until September 1945 in the hopes that it would find a more sympathetic audience in a post-war atmosphere.
* Jack L. Warner originally wanted Vincent Sherman to direct the film but Jerry Wald held out for Michael Curtiz.