Friday, September 29, 2017

Mildred Pierce 1945

              “Please don’t tell anyone what Mildred Pierce Did” This great tag line is what probably first attracted movie audiences to this femme noir soap opera. Made at Warner’s right on the cusp of war & peace, it was the comeback role and an Oscar for Joan Crawford who a few years before was ungraciously given the boot and dumped by M.G.M. where she toiled and starred for nearly 20 years. Here’s your shoulder pads and fuck me ankle heels now get out and don’t let the gate smack you in your ass. Cruel.  
          However the god’s of movie land were looking out for her, and she was picked up by the hard edge Brothers Warner who were the opposite of M.G.M.s gloss & glamour. Warner’s was the meat and potatoes of the studios and Joan was their perfect blue plate special.
               Mildred was based on the grim pulp potboiler by James M. Cain that was grimmer than the film , but you can get good and dirty just by watching the movie. The film is still working class and with all that good restaurant stuff included but there is murder and occupations added or changed. 
               The film is in its new Criterion transfer is simply gorgeous and the opening scene should leave you gasping for air. We see from a high distance a woman but only the back of her, she’s wearing a beautiful mink coat with a matching hat and it is of course our Joan who is seen walking down a pier and we soon learn is contemplating suicide. Minutes before we saw the death of one of the main characters who falls to the floor calling out for Mildred, a rosebud moment and soon Mildred is in police headquarters and the flashbacks start.
             We’ve seen this kind of police headquarters scene 100’s of times but this one boasts superb sound design that stands out as Mildred tells her story with the help of Michael Curtiz the great director and the superb craftsmen and women who put this terrific film together. 
               Joan was still stunning, a few years away from the start of her gorgon days, but here she looks gorgeous in her ankle strap fuck me shoes and those high and mighty 40’s clothes and frocks. The sad part of the story is the terrible relationship between Joan and her nasty viperous daughter Veda played well done and piping hot and steaming by the young Ann Blyth before she was in all those vapid M.G.M musicals of the 50’s and who also got an Oscar nomination for all her meanness.
           Their sick relationship colors and covers the whole film in a web of deceit and sickness with no one recovering from all this crap. Bad for them but great for us who get to revel in all this delicious stickiness. We first meet Mildred slaving away baking cakes and pies to sell to her neighbors. Joan is dowdy, but not too convincing as a house frau, working hard to buy nice things for her Veda but pretty much ignoring her younger daughter Kay which will come back to haunt her. Her husband the bland but visually appealing Bruce Bennett (who by the way played Tarzan in several B’s) is out of work and out of favor with Mildred so they separate and Mildred goes looking for a job.
           Soon enough she finds one in a restaurant that is hosted by the great wise cracking Eve Arden (also Oscar nominated) who takes Mildred under her sarcastic wings and a great friendship begins. Mildred works hard and long becoming a top notch waitress and she keeps her job a secret from Veda who of course looks down on her mother for being so common as to actually work for a living.
                 The ambitious Mildred soon gets it into her head to open her own restaurant and with the help of Wally Fay an ex partner of her ex husband’s and a realtor who is slimy and sleazy and is always putting the make on her helps her find a perfect location to plant her dreams. Wally is played by the great Jack Carson (was there ever an actor who showed disgust better than Carson?) and Zachary Scott plays Monte Beragon, the slimy and sleazy financially troubled playboy and pussy hound about town who owns the perfect location that Mildred desires, and she’s the perfect location that Monte desires. 
             Say no more. I can say no more, except to say that Scott was perfect for this part, as he himself was something of a wolf  a bi-costal and bi-sexual man about the world. Handsome in a cheap sort of way, he made his mark in the early 40’s playing the sort of role he did so well here, and was married for a while to Ruth Ford who he nicknamed “Ruthless Ford”. 
                  Ford was the sister of the American surrealist and founder of View Magazine Charles Henri Ford both of whom I would see all over the place in the New York art world of the early 70’s. Sadly I missed seeing Zachary at all those Gotham Book Mart parties as he  passed away in 1965 from a brain tumor.
             The art direction is loaded with rich and wonderful details in the textiles (lots of plaids) and the mid-century modern furniture and interiors especially so in the restaurant sequences with its rich and intricate details both in the dining rooms (I want it all), in the bustling kitchens and in the vivid montage sequences that show the rise of Mildred’s empire. This look was the work of the great Anton Grot and George Jean Hopkins both who started to work at Warner’s in the early 30’s and 40’s. The beautiful cinematography (even the shadows have shadows) so rich and inky was by the great Ernest Haller who began his remarkable career in the 1920’s and worked through the 60’s at Warner Bros. Also of note and not credited is the great Butterfly McQueen as Mildred’s maid who has a nice plump role and brings a marvelous authenticity and expected charm to the role.  Directed by  Michael Curtiz with great style and flair who started making movie in his native Hungry in 1912 before coming to Hollywood in 1926 and working at Warner Bros where he directed in all genres including The Adventures Of Robin Hood, Casablanca, Yankee Doodle Dandy and Mildred Pierce. One of the ten best films of 1945.


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