Seven Shadows – Day Two: MILDRED PIERCE by Andrew D.
Directed By: Michael Curtiz
Written By: Ranald MacDougall, from novel by James M. Cain
Main Cast: Joan Crawford, Ann Blyth, Zachary Scott, Bruce Bennett, Jack Carson
Save for the beginning and the end, Mildred Pierce isn’t your typical piece of film noir, at least it’s not what I think of when I picture the genre. As the film opens, gunshots fill the air and a mustached man, whom we later learn is Monte Beragon (Scott), keels over dead, his last word: “Mildred!” From there we head to the police station where suspects are being filed in, Mildred Pierce Beragon (Crawford), now Monte’s widow, one of them. Mildred is sat in front of the police captain’s desk and from there we’re into a flashback. We learn that Mildred wasn’t always married to Monte, as we travel back to the day she separated from her first husband, Bert Pierce (Bennett) due to a bunch of little problems, most notably Mildred’s handling of their two daughters – Veda and Kay. You see, Bert has just lost his job and Mildred tries her best to make a few bucks here and there, baking pies and selling them around town. Mildred wants nothing more than to be able to provide for her daughters and quickly realizes that her eldest, Veda, has expensive tastes. When Bert moves out, Mildred has to take a job as a waitress. She picks it up fast, making enough in tips to support her and the girls and being able to provide Veda with fancy dresses and singing lessons, among other things. Eventually Mildred becomes such a good waitress that she decides to open up a restaurant of her own – enter Monte Beragon, owner of a property that would be perfect for a restaurant. Along with friend and business consultant/real estate man Wally Fay (Carson), Mildred buys the property and opens up what turns out to be a booming restaurant called “Mildred’s.” In fact, the restaurant does so well that Mildred turns it into a chain and makes a pretty good living for herself. All the while she’s being courted by Monte, whom Veda loves to flaunt about the town with, flaunting her wealth. I know it doesn’t sound like a piece of film noir, but don’t worry – soon greed, deception and murder rear their ugly heads and you won’t believe the outcome!
This was my first time seeing Mildred Pierce and boy, I didn’t know what I was missing having not seen it prior to tonight. This was a hell of a picture, no bones about it. Mildred Pierce uses its opening moments to show you a dark world – a man being murdered, Mildred ready to throw herself over a bridge, the introduction of Wally Fay and his following of Mildred back to her beach house, complete with a few drinks and a notion that he might get lucky. During the opening moments of the film, it really does feel like that greedy underworld that I often associate with film noir. Then we get to the police station and Mildred starts to tell her story. After a while, I started to forget those opening moments and allowed myself to be consumed by what was happening onscreen at any given time – Mildred being a typical housewife, baking pies, waitressing to make ends meet. Then, as we started to roll into the second half and everything still seemed pretty hunky-dory as far as the situations were concerned, I started to remember those opening moments again. I started to realize that, “Hey, there’s a murder coming and something so heinous that Mildred flirts with the idea of offing herself.” That’s when I started watching the clock. Not because I was bored and wanted it to end, but because I knew there were only twenty minutes left and in the flashback Mildred still hadn’t even married Monte!! If I was the type who bit their nails, then certainly I’d be typing with bandages wrapped around my fingers, because by the time we got the payoff, I was ready for some answers. I won’t spoil anything here, but trust me: you need to check this one out!
Oh and let’s not forget the cast. Joan Crawford turns in a performance that won her an Academy Award and rightfully so. She’s so sexy here, but not in a blatant way – in a classy way. The rest of the cast is fine too, as I thought Zachary Scott and Ann Blyth were both marvelous. In fact, I can’t believe I had never even heard of Zachary Scott before, but there was something about him that made me want to listen when he spoke. Before I got to the computer tonight, I was saying to myself, “The character of Veda Pierce may be one of the nastiest villains I’ve seen on film in a while” and I’ll be damned if the character wasn’t nominated for the “AFI 100 Years…100 Villains” list. Oh and how about Michael Curtiz, who’s shown me some great versatility as I’ve worked my way through the book and knocked my socks off with films like this, Captain Blood and Angels with Dirty Faces. I’m not a fan of Casablanca, but why is it that directors always seemed to get recognized for the wrong picture? When people remember Curtiz, they should be citing one of the films I named above, not the movie set in Morocco with Bogie and Bergman.
So basically what I’m getting at is that this film is really a breath of fresh air and one that I’d recommend to people who aren’t fans of classic or black & white pictures. It’s one of those old movies that really makes you forget that it was made in 1945 and just comes across as what it is – a damn fine film!
RATING: 9/10 I can’t go the full ‘10’ because as of press time I’m just not feeling it. Or maybe I’m just hoping that film noir gets even better than this and want to save my ‘10’ for one of the next five.