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:

Mildred Pierce starts out with a bang. Literally.

Mildred Pierce starts out with a bang. Literally.

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.”

This scene is mesmerizing. No matter how many times I see it.

This scene is mesmerizing. No matter how many times I see 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!)

Wouldn't you love to have a pal like Ida? I would.

Wouldn’t you love to have a pal like Ida? I would.

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?"

“What’s on your mind, lady?”

“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)

"Alligators eat their young."

“Alligators eat their young.”

“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.

~ by shadowsandsatin on January 22, 2014.

24 Responses to “Top 10 Reasons Why I Love Mildred Pierce”

  1. A good piece, well written and full of good points – as in both interesting and informative.

    Don’t feel TOO bad about assuming it was Mildred who fired the shots.. I mean, that is what they were obviously saying. OK, maybe, perhaps, a little too obvious. I guess it depends a little on how soon in ‘Noir watching’ you see this.. (and chances are, as it’s one of the biggies, it will be early on). If you have seen loads, the lack of a shot of the shooter may at least raise suspicions, but to the normal film watcher.. you are, in effect, told it is her. And certainly as the film progresses, and you forget you only have part of the story, all the circumstantial evidence is built to support that assumption.

    Thank you, reading this was a great start to my day.
    (II live in the UK, so all these things come in overnight and I always get them first thing!)

    • Hi, Ray — thanks so much for your great comments — they were a great start to MY day! You’re so right about forgetting, as the story goes on, that you’ve only seen one little piece of the whole pie — another reason to love this movie; you get totally caught up in the story.

  2. Fabulous look at this great movie. Love the dialogue quotes. Aren’t they terrific.

  3. My opportunity to see “Mildred Pierce” on the big screen comes this March at the Bell Lightbox, home of the Toronto International Film Festival. I will be sharing the experience with my daughter who declares “Mildred Pierce” a great mother-daughter bonding movie.

    It truly is one of those movies that gets under your skin and stays there for many of the reasons you so eloquently expressed.

    • Hi, CW — you are in for a treat! I envy you having that first-time experience ahead of you. And to see it with your daughter, too! Most awesome. Thanks so much for your comment.

  4. Such a great picture, and a terrific list of reasons to love it! I always suggest MILDRED PIERCE to women who are just getting into watching noir. It really does brilliant things with the conventional character types and situations.

    • Hi, Jennifer! I always recommend Mildred Pierce to noir newbies, too! It has just enough noir to be the real thing, but not so much that newcomers can’t handle all the darkness!

  5. You really nailed all the fabulous things about this movie. I have to say that Eve Arden just knocks me out whenever she is in a movie. She is the perfect woman friend! And Veda — what more can you say about Veda? I saw a hilarious spoof on Mildred Pierce at a gay theatre here in town, with a guy playing Veda — you would have loved it! They were right on with everything, and it was such fun. Good piece!

    • Thanks, Becky! Totally agree with you about Eve Arden — she is a real favorite of mine, although when I think about it, I really haven’t seen her in that many movies. She was great, though. I sure would love to see that spoof — I bet it was a riot.

  6. ::Applause:: I love this post. And the fact that you called Veda “a massive bitch” because that is SO WHAT SHE IS!🙂

    There are so many great lines in this movie and the lighting and long shots. My husband and I were watching this last night and I kept pointing out all the great lines, the clothes and the lighting.

    • Thanks, Raquel! Wasn’t she a bitch, though? Oh, my heavens. She should’ve been slapped, and often (and by someone who knew how!) (Okay, now Rhett Butler is in my head.) I totally agree about the lighting and the lines — it’s just one great scene after another.

  7. A highly entertaining post that pretty much summarizes all the reasons why MILDRED PIERCE remains a classic. And I can’t argue with your description of Veda as a “massive bitch.”

  8. I’m with you! “Mildred Pierce” is one of my all-time favorites, as is the Carol Burnett parody. It always makes me hungry for chicken and waffles. Plus it’s kind of Ann Blyth’s Hamlet.

    Another great line (may not be accurate. I’m just remembering it this way): “Leave something on me; you want me to catch cold?”

    What a terrific site you have!

    • Thank you so much, Beth – your site is great, too! Do you know I don’t think I’ve seen Carol Burnett’s parody of Mildred Pierce? I know I’ve seen the ones on Sunset Blvd. and GWTW — I wonder if it’s on You Tube. I love this, BTW: “Ann Blyth’s Hamlet.” Too funny.

  9. Don’t ban me but I’m not a fan of Mildred Pierce!
    Of course I feel like a complete fool for admitting that after you’ve pointed out all of the reasons I should be a fan of the film. Very valid reasons I might add.
    I’ll have to watch it again while referring to your list. ha ha

    I just didn’t care for Joanie’s films during this era or her acting. I’ll take my Joan in flapper outfits, riling up handsome suiters, or leering from behind her gal pals in her silents through the 30s.

    With all that said, I truly enjoyed Blyth’s performance.

    Going to go hide now!
    See ya soon,
    Page

    • No, Page! Nooooooooooo!!!!!!! LOL

      To be honest, pre-Code Joanie is my favorite, too, but I do love her in the Mildred Pierce/Humoresque era, too. If you watch MP again, I’d love to know what you think of it.

  10. […] Jack Carson, Zachary Scott, Bruce Bennett, and Butterfly McQueen. And, in case you’re interested, here are some of the reasons why I love this movie so […]

  11. I *love* little Jo Ann Marlowe! Her Carmen Miranda alone… I used to not appreciate this movie as much as I’ve come to understand is necessary. Chicken and Waffles. “Leave SOMEthing on me; I might catch cold.” The beach house. The car. The French. Mrs. Biederhof. Oh!

    Thanks for another great read.

  12. Would you believe I have never seen it?

  13. Reblogged this on wack60585.

  14. Fantastically written!
    I love Joan Crawford’s performance in this film.

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