Joan Crawford is Mildred, and Ann Blyth is Veda, the most ungrateful daughter in cinema history. It’s drama and camp blended to perfection. We are watching Michael Curtiz’s 1945 film noir masterpiece “Mildred Pierce.”
I love “Mildred Pierce” for its lack of subtlety in the health care department. Watching it reminds me that when a character coughs, even just a single cough, in a pre-1960 Hollywood movie, you know that they will be dead in the next scene or certainly in the scene after that. Remember poor Elizabeth Taylor in “Jane Eyre”. From that first delicate wheeze, you knew she was a goner.
Unfortunately, this scenario plays out in “Pierce” with Veda’s younger sister, Kay. You know, the good daughter. With just one cough we know that Kay’s fate is sealed and that her chances of surviving the trip to Big Bear with Veda and their unfaithful daddy, Bert, are slim!
Astonishingly, she does make it back to Glendale – but in an oxygen tent! This allows Curtiz to set up one of the most memorable scenes in the movie. When poor Kay takes her last breath, even before Joan or Veda has time to react, the nurse is turning off the precious oxygen supply.
This scene never ceases to send me into paroxysms of laughter. And then I realized that the unique gift of “Mildred Pierce,” just like “Baby Jane,” is that it plays as drama and camp simultaneously with no dichotomy involved. Directors Michael Curtiz and Robert Aldrich pulled off a rare feat. And for that, I am etremely gratteful.
- Director: Michael Curtiz
- Cinematography: Ernest Haller
- Screenplay: Ranald MacDougall
- Production Design: Anton Grot
- Music: Max Steiner
- THE PLAYERS
- Joan Crawford as Mildred Pierce Beragon
- Ann Blyth as Veda Pierce Forrester
- Jack Carson as Wally Fay
- Zachary Scott as Monte Beragon
- Eve Arden as Ida Corwin
- Bruce Bennett as Albert “Bert” Pierce
- Butterfly McQueen as Lottie
- Lee Patrick as Mrs. Maggie Biederhof
- Moroni Olson as Inspector Peterson