Directed by Michael Curtiz
Screenplay by Ranald MacDougall
Based on the novel by James M. Cain
Starring: Joan Crawford, Jack Carson, Zachary Scott, Eve Arden, Ann Blyth, and Bruce Bennett
Mildred Pierce (Crawford) has no choice but to move forward after her philandering husband (Bennett) leaves her for another woman. Soon Mildred’s desire to provide for herself and her children consumes her. When simply providing isn’t enough, Mildred continues to build her empire. This attempt at success is also an attempt to earn the love and respect of her daughter, Veda (Blyth). With those around her seeking out their own agendas, Mildred finds out that nothing is as it seems.
In retrospect, you could easily call this Joan Crawford’s (Grand Hotel) greatest film performance. Her emotional portrayal of the conflicted and driven Mildred earned her an Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role. Her performance seems to somehow balance itself on Mildred’s fragility and her strength. In addition to Crawford’s win, this film was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (Arden, Blyth), Best Screenplay, and Best Cinematography. Despite losing out in these categories, the film stands as one of the greatest examples of film noir.
Director Michael Curtiz (Casablanca) is equally responsible for this wonderful movie. Working with James M. Cain’s (Double Indemnity) novel, and a great screenplay from Ranald MacDougall (Cleopatra), Curtiz was able to create a shadowy world perfect for the story. Curtiz brought his German expressionistic style to this movie in great ways. The choices made for lighting and camera angles truly add to the suspense and intrigue of the film. In addition to Crawford, Curtiz also had a number of other great actors to work with. This includes Jack Carson (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof), Zachary Scott (The Southerner), Eve Arden (Anatomy of a Murder), Ann Blyth (The Helen Morgan Story), and Bruce Bennett (The Treasure of the Sierra Madre).
As mentioned above, this is a visually powerful film. The contrasting moments in the film go from an artificial brightness to a murky shadowy darkness. In addition to the lighting and camera work, this film also uses wonderful set design and costuming. Crawford is transformed throughout the film, with her wardrobe serving as an indicator of the changes within her life. This is also true of the set design, which seems to adapt to the changing circumstances of the story without becoming obvious or out-of-place.
This is a wonderful film, and likely one of the best examples of great film noir. If you’re a fan of any of the actors you need to check this one out. I would also recommend this to fans of drama, suspense, or mystery. This does have a very deep and powerful story that I would suggest to anyone who loves classic cinema. I give this one 5 out of 5 stars.