Monday, January 17, 2011

Joan Wins an Oscar

Let's just get it out of the way, Mildred Pierce (1945) is an essential film.  From the first moment that we see Mildred (Joan Crawford), as she contemplates a leap off a bridge, to the conclusion, this is a film that sucks you in with its performances, dialog, and images.  It is a quintessential film noir, and perhaps Ms. Crawford's finest performance. Mildred Pierce tells the story of the ultimate movie Mom.  Mildred wants the best for her two daughters, teenage Veda (Ann Blyth) and tomboy Kay (Jo Ann Marlowe).  Mildred's efforts to create a better world for her daughters, however, seems to have created a monster in Veda, a selfish, nasty, and snobbish young lady who looks down on her mother, and has no appreciation for Mildred's sacrifices.  After husband Bert (Bruce Bennett) loses his job, and seems uninterested in getting another, Mildred strikes off on her own, using her talent for cooking and her own personal determination to open a successful restaurant.  And that, of course, is when the problems really start for Mildred.  Her involvement with two men Monte Beragon (Zachary Scott) and Wally Fay (Jack Carson) will only bring her more misfortune.  And Veda, now running with the wealthy crowd, is doing all in her power to make sure she remains in the upper classes.
The cast here is exceptional, most especially Eve Arden as Mildred's friend and partner Ida Corwin.  Ms. Arden is wonderful in everything she does, but here she brings a tone to the movie that it so desperately needs. Without her, the movie would have been a morass of sorrow. With her jibes and asides, Ida acts as both chorus and comic relief in this most serious of films. Much of our discussion focused on Jack Carson's Wally vs. Zachary Scott's Monte; which of the two men was the bigger creep.  The votes seemed to favor Monte, who is so selfish and craven.  But there was commentary on Wally's ability to betray his business partner, his ability to immediately attempt to seduce his wife, AND his willingness to turn on Mildred when it is advantageous for HIM.  And, when handing out the prizes for evil, we did not forget that most famous of movie bitches, Veda Pierce, truly a remarkably evil lady.

Oh, and the next time you watch the movie, take a look at the scene where Mildred and Monte go swimming.  The suit Mildred wears could have been loaned to Lana Turner for The Postman Always Rings Twice!  To those who felt Ms.Crawford had no sex appeal, take a look at her here.  We surely know why all the men are interested in her!  Here is a trailer:
If you haven't ever seen Mildred Pierce, run don't walk to your local library and borrow it (or put it on your Nexflix cue, or watch it the next time it airs on TCM). You won't be disappointed.