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The film's working title was House on the Sand. Files on the film included in the Warner Bros. Collection at the USC Cinema-Television Library add the following information about the production: When studio executive Jack L. Warner proposed filming the James M. Cain novel, Joseph I. Breen of the MPPA wrote in a letter dated February 2, 1944, "...the story contains so many sordid and repellent elements that we feel the finished picture would not only be highly questionable from the standpoint of the Code, but would, likewise, meet with a great deal of difficulty in its release...." Breen went on to suggest that the story be dismissed from further consideration. The major changes made by the writers to conform to the Code involved the elimination of overt references to extra-marital sex and the blackening of Veda's character. "Monte's" murder was added by the screenwriters for dramatic purposes.
Producer Jerry Wald wanted Ralph Bellamy for the role of "Bert;" Donald Woods was also considered for the part and George Coulouris tested for it. Bonita Granville, Virginia Weidler and Martha Vickers tested for the part of "Veda." Modern sources add that Jack Carson was also considered for the part of "Monte." Some scenes were filmed on location in Glendale and Malibu, CA. The U.S. Navy granted permission to film in Malibu despite wartime restrictions, but asked to be allowed to view all footage shot there. In 1983, the Malibu house used in the film collapsed into the sea after a week of storms. Other than a brief appearance in Warner Bros.' Hollywood Canteen, this film was the first that Joan Crawford made for Warner Bros. According to information included in the file on the film in the Warner Bros. Collection, Cain sent a first edition of the novel to Crawford on March 7, 1946, which was inscribed, "To Joan Crawford, who brought Mildred to life just as I had always hoped she would be and who has my lifelong gratitude." In the November 2, 1946 issue of Saturday Evening Post, Crawford named "Mildred Pierce" as the role she liked best.
Crawford's performance in this film earned her her only Academy Award. The film helped redefine Crawford's image, and modern critics have noted that she was subsequently thought of as an actress as well as a star. The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture; Eve Arden and Ann Blyth were both nominated for Oscars for Best Supporting Actress; Ernest Haller was nominated for his cinematography and Randall MacDougall received an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay. According to modern sources, writer Catherine Turney was credited on some release prints, but chose to have her name removed. Among the many versions of the screenplay, William Faulkner's rewrite differed significantly from the others, according to modern sources. He wrote an elaborate voice-over narration and concentrated on Mildred's restaurant business, describing sleazy, underhanded business dealings. Veda is even more calculating and cold than she appears in the final film. Modern sources add that because of script problems some of the film was improvised by the actors together with director Michael Curtiz. Zachary Scott reprised his role in a Lux Radio Theatre broadcast on June 6, 1949, co-starring Rosalind Russell, and in a second Lux Radio Theatre broadcast on June 14, 1954, co-starring Claire Trevor. He also reprised the role in a Lux Video Theatre program on September 20, 1956, co-starring Virginia Bruce, and in a second Lux radio broadcast on June 14, 1954, co-starring Claire Trevor. Scott also reprised the role in a Lux Video Theatre program on September 20, 1956, co-starring Virginia Bruce.