Mildred Pierce (1945) – A Review…

Joan Crawford as Mildred Pierce 1945
Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce

I’ve always heard about this film and finally got around to watching it.

Based on the popular 1941 novel by James M. Cain, Joan Crawford plays Mildred Pierce, who when we first meet her appears to be set on the road of being a traditional housewife and mother. Then abruptly divorce hits and she has to rely on herself to make a living. Her determination pays off into her becoming a successful restaurant owner. However, she will discover all the money she has won’t bring peace between her and her eldest daughter.

Crawford is the main attraction here. At this point in her career, she had been away from films for two years and Mildred Pierce was her triumphant return. It paid off with her winning an Oscar for her performance.

The film itself plays out as a heavy melodramatic story of this mother/daughter relationship. There are a bunch of popular soap opera devices – romance, deaths, fights, extravangance.

It can get somewhat cliche feeling, but director Michael Curtiz keeps the film moving at a steady pace and I did get involved with the story because of the main actors. I especially enjoyed Jack Carson’s performance as Wally, whose continuing flirtations with Mildred results in some fun, relaxed exchanges.

Mildred Pierce 1945
Ann Blyth and Crawford

I’ve often heard Mildred Pierce described as a film noir and there is a murder mystery that bookends the story told in flashback. There’s also voiceover narration another popular noir device. But those elements are the only things that really make the film coming close to belonging in the noir genre for me.

And quite frankly, those scenes feel like a different film from the main linear family and business story of Mildred’s. So, I view Mildred Pierce as simply a drama that centers on a strong willed woman. It is something quite unique to see in a 1945 film.

That’s one thing that is very interesting in how it depicts this ‘independent’ woman during the mid-40’s. It makes sense after WWII, Rosie the Riveter and women really becoming more of a presence in the workplace, the character of Mildred Pierce represents that. The novel by James M. Cain was written in 1941, so the film must of felt very current when it was released to audiences in 1945.

From what I’ve read the more recent HBO five part mini-series starring Kate Winslet is a much more faithful adaptation of the novel and from what I’ve read from some critics, outshines this classic film. I’m going to have to check it out at some point.

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