Top 10 Reasons Why I Love Mildred Pierce
Along with Double Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings Twice, and Sudden Fear, Mildred Pierce is one of the few films noirs that I have had the pleasure of seeing on the big screen. Because of this, it’s a sentimental favorite of mine, but I also love it on its own merit – and there’s so much to love! Here are the top 10 reasons why I’m wild about Mildred Pierce:
1. The film’s opening. We’re taking in the view of a beautiful beach house on the edge of the Pacific when the film’s pleasant score is suddenly interrupted by the sound of repeated gunshots. Inside the house, we see that the target of the shots is a tuxedo-clad, mustachioed gent, Monte Beragon (Zachary Scott) who falls forward into the camera, muttering one name before he dies: Mildred. I’m not ashamed to admit (well, maybe a little) that the first time I saw Mildred Pierce, I went through the entire film firmly convinced (incorrectly) that I knew who killed Monte.
2. Jo Ann Marlowe. She played Kay Pierce, the younger of Mildred’s two daughters. I don’t remember ever seeing her in any other movie (although the IMDB states that she played uncredited roles in Yankee Doodle Dandy and Of Human Bondage), and her last film was in 1950, but she was a delight to watch, cute as a button and a completely natural young actress.
3. The little signs that point to the fact, early on, that Veda is a massive bitch. Like when she chides her baby sister for playing ball in the street and mussing her clothes, telling her she looks like a “peasant.” Her snooty tone when she informs her mother that “Valse Brilliante” means “brilliant waltz.” And when she returns her mother’s declaration of love, but adds, “don’t let’s be sticky about it.”
4. The scene where Mildred learns that Veda lied about her pregnancy in order to extort money from her would-be spouse. It starts with Veda tenderly kissing the ten thousand dollar check she received. From there, it doesn’t take long for it to dawn on Mildred that, in her own words, Veda is “cheap and horrible.” Veda delivers her great speech about why she wanted the money (see below) and when Mildred tears up the check, Veda serves up a slap that literally knocks Mildred off her feet. But, boy, when she gets up! I love the steely look in Mildred’s eyes, the barely perceptible quaver of rage in her voice, and her economical choice of words when she tells her daughter, “Get your things out of this house before I throw them into the street and you with them. Get out before I kill you.”
5. Jack Carson. In doing a little research for this post, I learned that during his career, Jack Carson was never even nominated – let alone won – an Academy Award, or any other kind of movie award. Such a shame, because Carson’s portrayal of Wally Fay was definitely of award-winning caliber. Carson took this fellow, infused him with equal parts humor, intelligence, and charm, threw in some ruthlessness and deceit, added a dash of cool – and gave us one of his most memorable and watchable characters.
6. The women’s clothes. My favorites were the suit and matching hat worn by Veda on the day she got her new car, the shiny striped number Ida wore to Veda’s 17th birthday party, and the jaunty little hat Mildred had on in the scene in the attorney’s office. Honorable mention to Mildred’s gorgeous fur jacket. (Sorry, PETA!)
7. Ida Corwin. She was the cool pal that every woman would love to have – somebody you could share a drink with in the middle of the day, and count on to give it to you straight, no chaser. Both literally and figuratively. If you know what I mean.
8. Joan Crawford. Actually, this should have been number one. What was I thinking?
9. Maybe it’s the romantic in me, but I love the fact that Mildred winds up with Bert in the end.
10. And, finally, the lines – oh, the lines! Like these:
“Being a detective is like making an automobile. You just take all the pieces and put them together one by one. First thing you know you’ve got an automobile. Or a murderer.” Inspector Peterson (Moroni Olsen)
“I was in love with him, and I knew it for the first time that night. But now he’s dead and I’m not sorry. He wasn’t worth it.” Mildred Pierce (Joan Crawford)
“What’s on your mind, lady? You know what I think? I think maybe you had an idea you’d take a swim, that’s what I think. You take a swim, I’d have to take a swim. Is that fair? Just cause you feel like bumping yourself off, I gotta get pneumonia. Never thought about that, did you? Okay. Think about it. Go on, beat it now. Go on home before we both take a swim.” Policeman on Pier (Garry Owen)
“With this money, I can get away from you. From you and your chickens and your pies and from everything that smells of grease. I can get away from this shack with its cheap furniture. And this town and its dollar days, and its women that wear uniforms and its mean that wear overalls. You think just because you made a little money, you can get a new hairdo and some expensive clothes and turn yourself into a lady. But you can’t. Because you’ll never be anything but a common frump whose father lived over a grocery store and whose mother took in washing. With this money I can get away from every rotten, stinking thing that makes me think of this place or you!” Veda Pierce (Ann Blyth)
“Oh, men. I never yet met one of them that didn’t have the instincts of a heel.” Ida Corwin (Eve Arden)
“Personally, Veda’s convinced me that alligators have the right idea. They eat their young.” Ida Corwin (Eve Arden)
“You still don’t understand, do you? You think new curtains are enough to make me happy. No, I want more than that. . . . The way you want to live isn’t good enough for me.” Veda Pierce (Ann Blyth)
“You don’t really believe I could be in love with a rotten little tramp like you, do you?” Monte Beragon (Zachary Scott)
Don’t miss Mildred Pierce, airing on TCM Thursday, January 23rd, as part of the spotlight on Joan Crawford. You only owe it to yourself. (For real, though.)
Note: A version of this post appeared at 1001 Movies I (Apparently) MUST See Before I Die, as part of the Seven Shadows blog event.