I’m pretty sure I got this movie shortly after watching Mommie Dearest, the 1981 biopic about the horrors Christina Crawford went through being the daughter of Joan Crawford. I hadn’t seen many (maybe even ANY) Joan Crawford movies, and because this was the film that reignited her career, I guess I thought it was a good place to start.
Joan Crawford deserves the Oscar she won for Mildred Pierce. She plays the titular character, a mother who will do anything to make her spoiled rotten bitch of a daughter happy. At first it was hard not thinking of her as the Joan screaming about wire hangers, but she quickly convinced me she was a hard-working, respectable single mother doing the best she can. It made me wonder how her daughter felt watching her mother act so sweetly towards another child.
The opening scene is that of a man being shot by someone off screen. Later we see Mildred standing on a bridge looking forlorn as she contemplates jumping. She doesn’t, and we find out it was her husband who was just killed. Mildred is brought in for questioning, and she recounts her life building up her restaurant business to get enough money to buy her daughter expensive things for the past few years and how it got to this point.
This is the kind of film noir I can get into. Not only do we have a film depicting the struggles of a single mother, but it also passes the Bechdel test! Mildred has a few non-man-related conversations about business and her daughter, Veda, with what might be my favorite character, Ida, played by Eve Arden. (I’ve learned she was also in Otto Preminger’s Anatomy of a Murder, which I’ve seen in pieces and might write about in the future.) Ida gives Mildred her first job as a waitress, and Mildred brings Ida along with her on her journey to success. Ida is a no-nonsense kind of girl with some great lines like, “Personally, Veda’s got me convinced that alligators have the right idea. They eat their young,” and she never seems to be involved with a man. She’s refreshing to see in this story about a woman who just can’t catch a break.
Despite what seems to be progressive about this movie, the lesson in the end seems to be, “Women, you just can’t do it in your own.” The husband Mildred kicks out at the beginning for being an unemployed dick and cheating on her is the same person she ends up walking away with at the end. In addition, we have depictions of African Americans leaving MUCH to be desired. Mildred’s maid, Lottie, is a black woman who doesn’t know how to hold a telephone receiver correctly and sleeps “all morning” while Joan works her ass off. Her only purpose is to be goofy and lazy, and it definitely hasn’t aged well. Obviously, it’s 1945. Film representation of women and POC had a long way to go (and still does).
For a Sunday viewing, I had a good time watching Mildred Pierce. Now that I’ve finally watched my Criterion blu ray, maybe I’ll get around to watching and reading some of the bonus material that came along with it.