Mildred Pierce (1945)
By Eric Jessen 6/19/09
Watching Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce is like staring at a brick wall. Gazing off in the distant made her look strong. She had that half tilted up chin that we always see from Barack Obama. One reviewer called it “a milestone in feminist cinema.” The occasional poignant teary eyed moment won her her first Oscar. This movie is all about Joan. Her character weathers one hardship after another, and we sit exhausted from all the bloated melodrama.
This is my first review. It's somewhat of an experiment for me. Before I watched Mildred Pierce I was already worried about what to write. I told myself to be objective, don't prejudge, or try to write the review in your head before the movie's over. I wanted to be objective because it's easy to be negative. So many reviewers overlook good movies and write a predictably negative self-righteous review. But in this case, with this movie, I couldn't help myself. I tried very hard to like this movie and to like Joan Crawford's acting. Mildred Pierce is well made with good black and white photography. The opening sequence on the dock got me thinking I was in for another exciting noir, easily my favorite genre....
I just got up and walked around for 20 minutes to think how to summarize the plot. It's very convoluted. Well here we go. Shots fired, there's a murder, we didn't see the shooter but the dying man cried out “Mildred.” From then on we follow Mildred (Joan Crawford) to the dock where she contemplates suicide, then to the police station where she and many others are questioned over the murder of her husband. Through her conversations with the police a series of flashbacks reveal that she was once a pleasant housewife with a family and a nice husband (not the dead one). This is where the movie goes down hill. Mildred and her original husband Bert (Bruce Bennett) are dull and with no chemistry. Just as soon as we meet Bert he and Mildred are splitting up in scene that is awkward and without passion.
After that some new characters are thrown into the mix. There is Mildred's daughter Veda, played by Ann Blyth as unbearably tawdry and redundant. There's also Wally Fay, played by Jack Carson, who we saw a little earlier (still not the dead guy). Carson's Wally is the high point of the movie. Wally is a smooth talking businessman, with just the right amount of cheap and smart.
Finally I'll tell you about the dead man. The dead man is Mildred's second husband played by Zachary Scott. He's a broke dilettante, and who though charming, can't live without money, which makes his and Mildred's relationship hot and heavy, or at least that's the premise. Scott does a fair job but any time he or Carson try to create chemistry with Joan she does what, acts like a brick wall. Is the idea that if she seems in any way vulnerable around men she's less of a dignified strong woman. Crawford's acting is often characterized as without emotion, but in Mildred Pierce her stubbornness to keep a straight face seems intentional. Either way the result is my boredom and frustration.