Monday March 28, 2011 14:07

Movie #0044 – Mildred Pierce (1945)

Posted by Michael

Directed by: Michael Curtiz
Starring: Joan Crawford, Jack Carson, Ann Blyth
Picture credit: True Classics
First Viewing

Synopsis: After getting divorced, a woman builds herself up from nothing, with her spoiled daughter always looming large in her thoughts.

With the HBO miniseries by Todd Haynes starting to air, I figured it was probably a good time to finally watch this film. And I’m definitely glad that I did. I’ll be checking out the Haynes version, but there’s little doubt that it has quite a lot to live up to.

The film starts with a literal bang as we see a character get shot; it’s a pretty great way to start the movie, and a guarantee that it has your attention right from the get-go. From there, Mildred Pierce’s story unfolds in flashback — and there is a fair amount of story to be told. I can see how a six part miniseries was made from this material, as quite a lot happens in this movie (and I can only imagine that quite a bit more had to be cut from James M. Cain’s novel). That’s not to say that the film feels rushed or disjointed; it definitely doesn’t.

The film was directed by Michael Curtiz, who was prolific, putting it mildly, with a stunning 173 films to his credit (according to his IMDb page, at least). He also directed another film that I’ve already watched for this blog, The Adventures of Robin Hood, and I’m sure I’ll be talking about at least a couple more (including Casablanca, a film widely regarded as one of the best of all time). Curtiz was never known as a flashy director, but he was no visual slouch, either. Pierce is frequently classified as a film noir, which seems like a bit of an odd categorization (aside from the murder-mystery framing device, the film has little in common with typical film noir), though there are definitely some noirish stylistic flourishes here. It’s a good looking film. The movie also moves at a really fast pace — sometimes it’s a little too easy to get distracted when you’re watching a movie at home, but this one had my undivided attention from the memorable opening right to its closing moments.

Mildred Pierce is quite melodramatic — and that’s not a bad thing. Melodrama is frequently derided as being a lesser form of storytelling: mere soap opera, not worthy of serious consideration. And certainly, bad melodrama is painful to watch. But if done right (as it is here), the heightened emotions of melodrama can be quite compelling.

And of course, I have to mention the performances, particularly Joan Crawford — Crawford deservedly won an Oscar for this film, which revitalized her flagging career. This is a role that could have easily been overplayed, but Crawford really nails it. There’s a great depth to her character, and I think a lot of the credit for how well the film works must go to Crawford.

Buy the movie at Amazon

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