Throughout WWII women had stepped up, taken factory jobs and realized the joy and accomplishment of working and providing. In 1945, men were returning from war and pushing Rosie the Riveter out of her job and back into the home, where she was to get to work on creating the Baby Boomer generation. Not all women went willingly. Some realized their potential and went on to provide for themselves, no man needed even when raising a child. Mildred Pierce is one of these stories brought to life with a noir murder mystery twist.
Mothers will do anything to win their daughter’s love and Mildred Pierce (Joan Crawford) is no exception. The movie opens with the murder of her husband, Monte Beragon. As Mildred is being interrogated by the police, it goes into flashback where the real story is. After her first husband, Bert (Bruce Bennett), leaves Mildred she has to find a job to support her and her two daughters. She spoils the girls, especially the older one, Veda (Ann Blyth), who demands the best of everything. Mildred finds a job as a waitress, but hides it from Vera, knowing she would look down on such work. When Vera does find out, and disapproves, Mildred opens her own restaurant and becomes quite a success. As she’s more able to buy her child’s love, she falls into a messy love triangle, between her ex-husband, future husband and business partner.
The ladies truly run this show. Joan Crawford won the Oscar for Best Actress as Mildred. She plays this self made woman with such gusto; it’s a performance to be rivaled to this day. From grief, love, strife and determination, Crawford strikes into every emotion, brings a modern model for women to life and is the force moving the film.
Ann Blyth and Eve Arden were both nominated for supporting actress. Blyth portrays Veda, surprising everyone with the treachery and loathing she is capable of without losing a speck of her beauty. Arden has a small role as Ida, who helps Mildred run her restaurant and provides support. Though she doesn’t have much screen time, she delivers some great one-liners, mostly about men. She seems to be the most free of the three women, probably because she doesn’t have men to deal with.
The movie is filmed meticulously. The lighting is always perfect and character move in and out of the shadows with a purpose. Throughout the film, shadows and silhouettes are used as well as mirrors. These techniques go a long way, in a film that is ruled by its actresses. New dimensions are created that makes you have to think more, rather than stare and drool. It’s visual candy for your eye and mind.
Watch Mildred Pierce with some spoiled brat kids to scare them into straightening out. Or better yet, give them a quick history lesson on feminism in the forties. Otherwise, the importance of a woman running a business may be lost on them.
“Personally, Veda’s convinced me that alligators have the right idea. They eat their young.”