With a single cough, the fate of good daughter Kay is sealed while bad daughter Veda lives on.

Joan Crawford as Mildred and Ann Blyth, who is 93 years young today the sixteenth of August 2021, as Veda, the most ungrateful daughter in cinema history, in Michael Curtiz 1945 noir masterpiece “Mildred Pierce” adapted from the 1941novel by James M. Cain.

I love all of those old Hollywood movies for their dogged lack of subtlety in the health department. When a character coughs (and just one cough is all it takes) in a pre-1960 film, you know they will be dead in the next scene or certainly in the scene after that. Remember poor Elizabeth Tylor in “Jane Eyre”. From the first wheeze you knew she was a goner. Unfortunately, this very scenario plays out in “Mildred Pierce” with Veda’s (happy ninety-third birthday Ann Blyth) younger sister Kay. With just one cough we know that Kay’s fate is sealed and that she will not survive the trip to Big Bear with Veda and their unfaithful daddy Bert. Actually, she does make it back in an oxygen tent and, one of the best moments in the film, the saddest but also the most deliciously camp, is when poor Kay takes her last breath. Even before Joan or even Veda have 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 that other great Joan movie (or Bette movie) “Baby Jane” is that it can play 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 very grateful.

Mildred Pierce is available for streaming on Amazon Prime Video and Apple TV

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