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Joan Crawford's Oscar® winning performance as Mildred Pierce (1945), determined mother of the ever-ungrateful Veda (Ann Blyth), marked Crawford's debut at Warner Brothers after a long career at MGM. Based on the novel by James M. Cain, Mildred Pierce is a dark tale of thwarted desires and the American dream gone wrong. Art Director Anton Grot's sets exploited this theme and presented a visual interpretation of how the up-and-coming American middle class should live.
Ironically, the film was made around the time Jack Warner asked the studio's cinematographers and art directors to "devise new means of cutting corners without losing any of the quality." Apparently there was concern that too much detail was being used in sets, which in turn, took more time to light and thus slowed up production. Despite this proclamation, Mildred Pierce suffered no loss of set detail. Beneath its noir lighting lay strikingly complex settings like the Beragon beach house. So essential to the plot that it opens the film, Beragon's home is a twisting maze of rooms and staircases that perfectly represent Grot's desire to build "menace into the sets."
Ann Blyth, in the role of Veda Pierce, had previously played a few juvenile roles in innocuous fare like Babes on Swing Street (1944) before she got to sink her teeth into the plum role in Mildred Pierce. She is so convincingly evil, mean-spirited, and obnoxious in the role that her peers nominated her for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar.
There was nothing typical about Crawford's performance in Mildred Pierce. Not only was Oscar kind to her, but it revived her slowed career and led to Humoresque (1946), Possessed (1947), and later, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962). In fact, Director Michael Curtiz had not even wanted Crawford for the role of Mildred, making her consent to a screen test. It seems he didn't like her trademark shoulder pads. After the success of Mildred Pierce, Curtiz and Crawford patched up their working relationship, and Joan gave her director a peace offering - a pair of custom made shoulder pads.
Director: Michael Curtiz
Producer: Jerry Wald
Screenplay: Ranald MacDougall (based on the novel by James M. Cain)
Cinematography: Ernest Haller
Art Direction: Anton Grot
Set Decoration: George James Hopkins
Editing: David Weisbart
Music: Max Steiner
Cast: Joan Crawford (Mildred Pierce), Ann Blyth (Veda Pierce), Zachary Scott (Monte Beragon), Eve Arden (Ida Corwin), Jack Carson (Wally Fay), Bruce Bennett (Bert Pierce)
BW-111m. Close captioning, Descriptive video.
by Stephanie Thames