Drama and Camp
Joan Crawford is Mildred and Ann Blyth, is Veda, the most ungrateful daughter in cinema history. It’s drama and camp blended to perfection, and we are watching Michael Curtiz’s 1945 film noir masterpiece “Mildred Pierce”.
Just One Cough!
I love “Mildred” for its dogged lack of subtlety in the health department. It reminds me that when a character coughs, just once, in a pre-1960 Hollywood movie, you know that he or she will be dead in the next scene or certainly in the scene after that. Remember poor Elizabeth Taylor in “Jane Eyre”. From the first delicate Cough! You knew she was a goner. Unfortunately, this very 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!
She does make it back to Glendale but in an oxygen tent. As a result, one of the best moments in the film, the saddest and the campiest, is when poor Kay takes her last breath. Even before Joan or Veda has had time to react, the nurse is turning off the precious oxygen.
This scene never ceases to send me into paroxysms of laughter. And then you realize that the amazing 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 always incredibly grateful.