Oscar Vault Monday – Mildred Pierce, 1945 (dir. Michael Curtiz)

This is one of my favorite films from the “film noir” era of classical Hollywood (although, you could argue it’s pre-noir, since a lot of scholars place 1946 as the first year of that era; but that’s neither here nor there). Joan Crawford gives one of the greatest performances of her long and diverse career and director Michael Curtiz (whose most famous film is probably Casablanca) hits all the right notes. The film was nominated for six Academy Awards, winning one: Best B&W Cinematography, Best Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress Ann Blyth, Best Supporting Actress Eve Arden, Best Actress Joan Crawford (won) and Best Picture. The other films nominated that year were Anchors Aweigh, The Bells of St. Mary’s, Spellbound and winner The Lost Weekend.

Michael Curtiz is a director I love. I thought I’d seen a lot of his films when I hit about 15 or so, then I realized he directed nearly 150 films. This is one filmography I will probably never complete. He was nominated for Best Director five times: Captain Blood, 1935 (this was a write-in nomination; he lost to John Ford for The Informer), Angels With Dirty Faces and Four Daughters, both 1938 (he lost to Frank Capra for You Can’t Take It With You), Yankee Doodle Dandy, 1942 (he lost to William Wyler for Mrs. Miniver) and Casablanca, 1943 (this was his last nomination, but he won). I recommend all five of those films if you’ve not seen them.

I’m also a huge Joan Crawford fan. She was in 94 feature films, 32 of which were during the silent era. She’s an actress who went through several phases during her career and her turn as Mildred Pierce ushered in one of those phases (it was her first film with Warner Bros. after leaving MGM). As much as I love her in this film, my favorite of her films from this era is 1946’s Humoresque (with a dynamite turn from John Garfield), a film I cannot recommend enough. This was Crawford’s first Academy Award nomination; she would go on to be nominated two other times: Possessed (1947) and Sudden Fear (1952). Joan is very earnest as the titular mother and entrepreneur, Mildred Pierce. Although she does have a few scenes where she is quiet sexy, this role is very different from the vamps she played in the 1920s and 1930s; if that’s the Joan you are used to, prepare for something strikingly different.

Ann Blyth plays one of the greatest bitches in celluloid history, as Mildred’s spoiled, social-climbing daughter Veda. I’ve only seen the actress in one other film (Brute Force), but if this is the only role she’s really known for, that’s not bad at all. It’s an iconic turn that will never be forgotten.

I adore Eve Arden in this film. She plays one of those wise-cracking best friend types to Crawford’s leading Mildred and she steals ever scene she is in. She actually says my favorite line in the film. Although this was Arden’s only Oscar-nominated performance, her career spanned six decades and she is one of the most highly regarded character actresses of her generation.

Jack Carson is one of those actors who was in everything but is widely forgotten now. Just look at his filmography! He’s great as the scheming Wally Fay, who, despite his best efforts, never manages to get Mildred for his very own.

Lastly I wanted to talk about Zachary Scott, who is so slick as playboy Monte Beragon, whose murder at the beginning of the film is the inciting incident of the frame narrative. This was one of Scott’s first film roles, in a twenty-year career wherein the actor mostly played villains and “mysterious” men. Sadly, he died at the age of 51 from a brain tumor.


About Marya E. Gates

Cinephile to the max.

Posted on September 19, 2011, in Oscar Vault Monday and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

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