Click on the headline to link to a Wikipedia entry for the film adaptation of James M. Cain’s Mildred Pierce.
Mildred Pierce, starring Joan Crawford, Ann Blyth, Jack Caron, Zachary, Scott, based on the novel by James M. Cain, Warner Brothers, 1945
Apparently the urge to overindulge one’s children is not solely a recurring phenomenon of the “baby-boomer” generations. And just as apparently the object of those 1940s indulgences were, as in the film under review Mildred Pierce, just as ungrateful as the children of today’s baby-boomers. At least in fiction just in case one of those current objects stumbles on to this review.
Now the name of high- end steamy pot-boiler novelist James M. Cain is well-known to this writer. His classic Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice (and their film adaptations) have been fulsomely reviewed in this space. But here is the twist in Mildred Pierce. While saucy housewife waiting to break out from stifling suburban existence (1940s California suburban, there is a difference), that self-same Mildred Pierce (played by Joan Crawford) of the title, has her own qualifications for femme fatale-dom in a demure way the real femme here is strictly junior varsity, her daughter, Veda (played kittenishly by Ann Blyth). So it was a little disconcerting, after having seen the likes of Miss Cora (played by Lana Turner) in Postman and Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity twist their men around so badly that they could not see straight and came back for more, and gladly, to see this junior varsity edition at work. But not for long.
I better lay out the drift of story and you will see what I mean. California suburban housewife and devoted mother Mildred, up from poverty, or close to it, wanted to give her two daughters (although only Veda counts) what she didn’t have. Fair enough. But apparently something got messed up in the Pierce gene pool or in any social or moral sensibilities as they passed to Veda. Veda, no matter what, wanted more and everything. Well Papa Pierce fell on hard times (and was doing a little two-timing as well) and the Pierces decided to divorce. Mildred decided, very unconventionally for the times, to open a restaurant to keep the wolves from the door (and keep Veda in things, many things, ungratefully accepted). Part of that process was to get backing, and a few breaks. The backing comes from Wally (a money mad real estate deal maker) and the breaks from Monte, scion to a descending family fortune but still capable of putting on the high society faux charm for Mildred (and Veda).
The whole mix, the whole class mix, was wrong though, and because this is a crime film noir something bad had to happen. And the callous and very class-conscious Monte was the fall guy, a very dead fall guy with about six slugs in him. As the film unwinds backwards to find out who did the dastardly deed about five different candidates emerge, including Mildred, ready to fall on their swords to protect someone. That someone of course being Veda who when Monte threw her over got, uh, a little high strung and wasted the poor guy. As always though in crime noir truth and justice will win out and Veda had to take her fall and will have many a lonely night to think over her errors in some dank California women’s prison far from the bright lights of Los Angeles night clubs. Hey, nobody said every femme fatale, junior edition, was going made it to the “bigs.”
P.S. I don’t know about you but after watching some of these Cain film adaptations and a few other crime noir gems like Jane Greer in Out Of The Past and Rita Hayworth in The Lady From Shang-hai somebody should take these femmes aside and give them a little instruction in shooting with guns. They all seem, and maybe it is because they are a little nervous or agitated, to feel the need to pump about six slugs in every guy that has wronged them. Terrible waste of ammo, terrible, although like I said maybe they were just the slightest bit angry at the time.