Pop Culture 101: MILDRED PIERCE
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Joan Crawford in the film version of her adopted daughter's scathing tell-all book, Mommie Dearest (1981), Faye Dunaway is seen rehearsing a scene from Mildred Pierce. As her abused real-life daughter looks on, Dunaway/Crawford enacts the scene in which Mildred slaps daughter Veda hard, then says remorsefully, "I'm sorry I did that. I'd have rather cut off my hand."
Carol Burnett did a hilarious send-up of the film on her long-running TV variety show, mimicking Crawford's trademark look with wildly exaggerated lips, eyebrows, and shoulder pads. In the skit, the character's last name was changed to "Fierce." Vicki Lawrence, a regular cast member on Burnett's show, also parodied Veda's character to perfection in the same skit.
Parodies of Crawford, especially as she appears in this picture, have long been a staple of drag acts. Fueled in recent years by Christina Crawford's revelations of her volatile, battering mother, drag performers have gotten a lot of humorous mileage out of screaming "Veda!" and repeating the famous Mildred line - "Get out before I kill you!" - with wide-eyed venom.
Because of his grand manner and curious way with the English language, director Michael Curtiz was often the butt of Hollywood jokes himself. One funny quote attributed to him was made famous by actor David Niven. During filming of The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936), in which Niven appeared, Curtiz wanted many riderless horses in the background during the final charge. The director's instructions for the scene - "Bring on the empty horses." ¿became the title of Niven's autobiography.
On their first day spent together, Mildred and Monty kiss by the fire accompanied by a song on his record player. The same tune recurs throughout the picture as a motif for the couple's affair. Careful listening reveals it's the theme Max Steiner composed for the Bette Davis picture Now, Voyager (1942).
Mildred Pierce certainly wasn't the first Hollywood film to deal with obsessive mother-daughter relationships. Years before, Claudette Colbert had suffered valiantly for her resentful child in Imitation of Life (1933) and in 1937, Barbara Stanwyck played the ultimate martyr, sacrificing her happiness for her daughter in Stella Dallas (Belle Bennett played the same role in the silent 1925 version). But Mildred Pierce was the first film to cast the mother-daughter relationship in such a dark light, with the latter being depicted as pure evil.
by Rob Nixon & Jeff Stafford