November 1, 2015

Joan Crawford, Mildred Pierce

Won: Academy Award - Best Actress
Mildred Pierce is the film that Joan Crawford is known for. In many ways, the iconography of Mildred in the film nails the image in my head of what I think Crawford to really be--seeing Crawford, steely eyed, stroll about and into a police station, adorned with fur all over her body, only reiterates the perception of Crawford as a glamorous Old-Hollywood icon. On the flip side, seeing this woman play submissive to the characters and circumstances within the film completely contradicts the Mommie Dearest image that has ingrained itself onto Crawford's legacy. In other words, she is as expected and is as not expected here--but overall, she's magnificent.

I think what surprised me most was how much of a sponge Crawford is in this film. There are very delicate and beautifully acted moments in the film in which Crawford absorbs various layers of disappointment through her mug in addition to communicating that vividly and subtly. The tenderness and hurt that she imbues in one of the film's earlier scenes in which Mr. and Mrs. Pierce split are excellently done. Additionally, the blink-and-you-miss-it spasms of enraged outbursts that come out against Veda are delectably bitchy. Ultimately, I did feel that Mildred was written to be a bit too monotonous--it is, after all, another variation of the long-suffering / devoted mother archetypes, and her performance does end up lagging for some time leading up to the film's climax--but the fact of the matter is that Crawford is purely game here, and her completely dedication to the role is evident. It's impeccably strong work on Crawford's shoulders, who creates a character as laborious as she is compliant. And while this is not the powerhouse performance that I thought it would be, it is still one of those instances where an actor completely owns her role, such that you can't imagine another person in the part. What's better, this is a key piece of work that lives up to the hype.


  1. I'm very glad you like Crawford in this role because I think both she and the film itself are often underrated. Yes, it's a 'long suffering heroine' role on the surface, but Mildred is actually an intelligent 'doer' who succeeds more than anyone around her. She's strong and tenacious and Crawford plays those characteristics quite effectively. When she squares off with the magnificent Ann Blyth (who was robbed of her Oscar) as the vicious Veda we get to see two fine actresses at the very top of their game. It's devilishly entertaining.

    This was a 'woman's picture' crossed with film noir (before the term was regularly used for American movies) and yet it's all quite seamless. Director Michael Curtiz has a firm hand on the film's tone and Crawford brings everything she has to the table. She's warm, smart, feisty, motherly and her intense dedication is evident everywhere. Best of all, her characterization of Mildred is consistent throughout the film, which could not have been said for earlier Crawford performances. Like so many great stars who dedicated themselves to their craft, her work improved with the years. "Mildred Pierce" is the best example of this and certainly contains Crawford finest performance. She's the strong center around which everything else revolves and without her, this could have been a maudlin melodrama rather than the classic film it was and is. That Crawford finally got the Oscar she so deeply wanted is bittersweet, given the dredging her reputation would later experience. Still, this was her moment and there is no question that it was no sympathy vote. In fact, it's unthinkable that the Oscar could have gone to anyone but her.

  2. When she finally spoke freely about such things, Crawford maintained she never had a shot an Oscar while at MGM because the company would always throw its support behind Dressler, Garbo, Shearer, and later, Garson. We could argue all night about where she was and wasn't deserving, but the lack of a nomination for A Woman's Face certainly sides with her.

    Curtiz did not want her, and was openly hostile to the idea of her, but so badly did Crawford want Mildred she agreed to test for it, an act of near self-abasement for a star of her caliber. She wanted her first attempt out of the Warners gate to be a winner, and by the time Mildred appeared, it'd been just about two years since signing with them. As filming got underway and progressed, Curtiz was made convinced and the relationship between director and star improved.

    Even if modern audiences see much more early on that Veda is a conscienceless sociopath, the film nevertheless remains one of the most consistently entertaining, despite all passing time. A fascinating examination of mother love taken to near pathology, Mildred Pierce makes the 1940s every bit as intriguing as Double Indemnity. I'm agreement with both you and click5; if Davis had four coming as Regina and Charlotte, certainly Crawford earns the same for Mildred.

  3. I don't remember if I gave it a 4 or a 5, but she's the winner.

    I have strong memories seeing this film as a young teenager (one of the first films I saw on TCM), and being so impressed by the noir style and the turns in the plot. :)) silly me.