Mildred Pierce follows the titled character proving to her cheating husband she can become independent and successful. The story biggest strength lies heavily in the title heroine. She’s a complicated individual that’s easy to sympathize with, relate to, and made compelling for all the right reasons. She’s receives substantial amount of development that does more than help her become three dimensional. Demonstrated numerous times Mildred Pierce is a strong dedicated individual and an intelligent one at that too. Being able to accomplished great things when she puts her mind on something, but when it comes to her home she’s not as confident. There’s a clear distinction made between business Pierce and at home Pierce. In both environment Pierce demonstrate a skills to understand an issue and quickly make her mind on how to resolve even if it’s not the most rational in hindsight. Yet, it’s when we see Mildred Pierce troubled home life where it made more evident of her weakness. Making way for a depiction that analyzes ambition and class struggles. Where the intentions is exactly part of the problem and what prevents it problem from being fixed. A depiction between Pierce and her daughter Veda clashing their personality with one inherited wealth vs. earned wealth. Both characters are flawed with opposing feelings with their vastly different lifestyle. It’s difficult to the blame either individual for the way the story pans out as both as much in the right as they are in the wrong.
Aside from the title protagonist the film isn’t short on great characters. Just about every major player in the plot are fleshed out. Each presenting a sentiment of the period it was made in. Bert Pierce represents men insecurity in a era where it was for a man to support his family with his own two hands. Veta Pierce represents the ever-changing youth and their opposition to previous generations customs. Monte Beragon represents the death of the upper class with his decay in power and money becoming accessible by the common man to gain. Ida Corwin is altogether unconventional with her husband-and-wife relationship with Mildred. These characters and others are supported by strong characterization that fleshes them out as three dimensional characters than just being a sentiment of an era. Never do what the characters represents comes off as an artifact of its era.
Michael Curtiz’s direction is truly superb in the way he presents the story as well as delving into the mind of its titular character. Curtiz also plays up to the noir style of the film by creating an opening sequence while never revealing who kills Monte. This would create a tone where it becomes very dark during Mildred’s interrogation scenes. By the time the third act arrives, the mixture of melodrama and noir finally blend as the tone of the film darkens. Cinematographer Ernest Haller does a phenomenal job with the film’s black-and-white photography from the wondrous, sunny look of the suburbs that Mildred lived in early in the film to the dark, eerie world that comes in later in the film. Max Steiner score is excellent from its sweeping theme that plays to the melodrama of the film to more uplifting pieces that plays to Mildred’s rise. Steiner’s score is definitely another of the film’s highlights as it’s truly spectacular.
The cast is definitely wonderful for its array of some very memorable performances from the big actors to some small roles by other actors. Mainly Joan Crawford in one of her finest performances as the title character brings realism to a woman in the 1940s trying to do what is right for her children. Bringing a sense of frustration over her spoiled child, but never once coming off as a mean spirited mother. It’s an overall iconic performance from the legendary Crawford. Ann Blyth is superb as Veda, the ungrateful daughter who wants to become rich and ambitious as she is also a selfish, spoiled, and uncaring. With a stylized yet dramatic performance, Blyth succeeds in creating an unsympathetic character that everyone loves to hate. Jack Carson hints of a man with self-esteem issue, and even though he tries to cover it with playful banter, it comes through in his facial expressions. Zachary Scott is another strong additive to this mixture. As Monte, he carried himself very cool and laid back. His words were spoken softly, yet confidently. He very seldom needed to raise his voice, because his choice of words were so dead-on that the point was made with little effort.
Mildred Pierce is a masterpiece having one of the finest and most compelling leading character to have been written. The 1940’s sentiment are very true to its era depicting accurately the changes in society without becoming a relic of its own time. Instead it uses these sentiments to giving more meaning to multilayered characters, but also serves as strong story characters adding to what’s already a compelling and multilayered film.