2020 Blind Spot Series: Mildred Pierce


What I knew going in: All of it. 

Mildred Pierce (Joan Crawford) is a hardworking woman who starts waiting tables after her husband leaves her. Her spoiled daughter Veda (Ann Blyth) looks down upon this, but she's determined to work her way up to owning her own restaurant. However, now her second husband, Monte (Zachary Scott) has been murdered and she finds herself relaying her story during questioning.

I must be one of the few people who watched the HBO mini series before seeing the actual movie. To be honest, outside of really liking Evan Rachel Wood's performance, I don't remember much of it. So even though I knew the story, this film felt very different than what I was expecting. 

It's funny to me that Joan Crawford has this bitchy reputation yet she's so good at playing these sympathetic characters. I liked Mildred immediately. Sure, she has her faults, but she's easy to root for. Even if you hate that she indulges Veda so much, you can understand why she does it. Ann Blyth was also wonderful here. Veda is the worst. I think I prefer Evan Rachel Wood's take on the character as it had more depth to it, but Blyth was good too. 

Another thing I enjoyed was the set up of Mildred narrating her own story. I thought it was a great way to tell it. I had expected to be luke warm on this the way I was with the mini series (which I now want to re-watch after seeing this) but I really just loved every second of it. 

Recommended: Yes

Grade: A

Memorable Quote: "Harmless." (in response to how she likes her drinks) - Mildred Pierce (Joan Crawford)

10 comments:

  1. This is an excellent film and so glad you saw it. Ann Blyth is still alive although not sure how she 8s doing but she was so great in this role. Joan loved playing the selfless woman even in real life because she 8s a narcissistic person. I have read books on this lady who was quite complicated and someone I would not want to know. She definitely had OCD and wanted to look every inch the selfless person but she had abortions because it would inhibit her career and ruin her figure she thought. She was not nice to the kids she adopted yet, without anyone knowing 7ntil after she died, she paid for all the health expenses and the private room for people who could not afford it in a Texas hospital...I think it was Texas. Ok, I love Eve Arden as you know and love the fact this woman made it on her own. I still have to see the miniseries

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    1. That's what I find so amusing about Joan's filmography is how she plays these nice, selfless women. Or at least the ones I've seen so far, since her off screen antics are so legendary.

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  2. LOVE this film and so glad you did too!!

    It rescued Crawford who had left MGM after decades there when her films started to lose money and she was labeled box office poison. She sat out the next two years of filmmaking (except for a cameo in Hollywood Canteen) waiting for just the right role to reestablish her standing and knew instinctively that this was it. She had to fight to be cast, Bette Davis, who had first crack at any script, turned it down then Rosalind Russell, Barbara Stanwyck and Ann Sheridan were offered the role and passed for various reasons (the first three would have made Mildred work but Ann Sheridan was only 30 in 1945 so she was right to pass!) Anyway Crawford submitted to a screen test something that was unheard of for a star of her stature, but she felt Mildred was her ticket back to the top and swallowed her pride. It was worth it because it’s now hard to imagine anyone else in the role doing what she does with it. It made her second only to Bette Davis in the pecking order at Warners for scripts afterwards leading to one of her most fruitful periods (see her two follow-up films to this-Humoresque and Possessed they contain what she herself considered her best performances)

    I’ve read the source novel and seen the miniseries in that order and the mini follows the book more closely but I thought it lost something in the translation. I’m a big Kate Winslet fan and she is a more resourceful actress than Joan in the main but I didn’t enjoy her performance nor her version nearly as much as this or Crawford’s work. It was just sort of there whereas this one snaps with a diamond hardness.

    Part of the problem for me was having Vida played by two different actresses, it lessens the impact. Evan Rachel Wood was fine but she was just a ruthless bitch not the soulless pit viper that Ann Blyth made her. Vida had one soft spot, her little sister Kay (LOVED Jo Ann Marlowe’s performance) and when she went so went the one shred of Vida’s humanity. Ann Blyth did a great job on subliminally messaging this to the audience and when she realized she could sink her final hook into Mildred.

    Fun fact especially for you, Shirley Temple was supposed to play Vida but conflicts arose and she ended up not getting the role. I know we share a love of Shirley but I don’t think she would have invested Vida with the same level of malevolence as Ann Blyth.

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    1. I would've loved to see Shirley as Vida, if not for her just to sink her teeth into something like this since she never got the chance. I'm not sure if she would've been at Ann Blyth's level either, but that could've been interesting.

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    2. Ya Shirley always was the nice girl and I think that baggage would have worked against her as Vida though she said in her autobiography she was anxious to play the role.

      Ann Blyth had been working in films for only about a year in low budget musicals when she was cast in the film so she was able to be as horrible as necessary with no backlash or image to mess with. She said Curtiz worked with her a great deal to make sure she didn't soften Vida indirectly and between the two of them she created a perfect little horror.

      Hers is a strange case of her studio squandering her potential and yet she still managed to have a successful career. After Mildred she played another girl who spelled trouble in an obscure flick called Swell Guy and then broke her back in a tobogganing accident and was off the screen for a year, actually in her first film back-Brute Force-she spent her entire time onscreen in a wheelchair or bed because she was still recovering. Plus she had done Mildred Pierce on loan out to Warners (one of the premiere noir factories) but was under contract to Universal and noir wasn't there strong suit so once she was able to return to work and since she could sing with a light operatic voice they cast her almost exclusively as docile sweet-natured leading ladies in musicals or romantic comedies. She did well by them for the next dozen years but never had another part that challenged her in the same way.

      After that she married happily (and had five children) and only worked infrequently. One regular gig in the 70's was spokeswoman for Hostess Cupcakes for about ten years! Those commercials are actually my first memory of her, with her kids running around in the background. She's still with us at 93 but the last time she acted was about 35 years ago.

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    3. That's crazy. I didn't know all of that about her. The way studios behaved back then never ceases to amaze me.

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  3. Those two carry the lion’s share of the film’s heavy lifting but they are complemented by three of the best supporting players possible. Jack Carson as Wally Fay, Zachary Scott as Monte and Eve Arden as Ida are all spot on perfect in their roles (something that was a huge miss in the miniseries where none of those roles were memorably played). Eve was Oscar nominated (as was Ann Blyth) and rightly so but I can’t believe Jack Carson wasn’t!

    He balances out Wally’s smarminess with just the right touch of affability. You like Wally while knowing you’d be a fool to turn your back on him.

    Eve of course gets all the best wisecracks (Crocodiles have the right idea….they eat their young!) and knows just how to zing them across.

    At first Bruce Bennett’s performance as Bert seems dull, and as a performer he was usually stolid, but it’s just right for who Bert is and why Mildred thinks she wants to get away from him.

    All that fine work though wouldn’t be nearly as impactful if not for Michael Curtiz’s great direction and his use of that noir staple, shadows. In this particular story they are invaluable starting right from the top with the credits being swept away by waves followed by Scott being shot in moody lighting and simply saying “Mildred” as he dies. It pulls you immediately into the story and never lets go.

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    1. 100% agree with that last paragraph especially. Though I'm just posted this now, I watched it a couple of months ago and I still think of it often.

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  4. While I do prefer Todd Haynes' miniseries version w/ Kate Winslet and ERW, I do like the film version with Joan Crawford.

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    1. Joan was really wonderful. I love Evan so I'm pretty bias against her performance as Vera. She was amazing too.

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