Mildred Pierce (1945)

Seventy-five years ago today, the film Mildred Pierce premiered. Joan Crawford won her only Academy Award for the role she played. She deserved it, her performance is beautiful. You need to watch this movie.

Title: Mildred Pierce
Directed by: Michael Curtiz
Produced by: Jerry Wald
Screenplay by: Ranald MacDougall
Based on: Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain
Starring: Joan Crawford, Jack Carson, Zachary Scott, Eve Arden, Ann Blyth, Bruce Bennett
Music by: Max Steiner
Cinematography: Ernest Haller
Edited by: David Weisbart
Distributed by: Warner Bros.
Release date: September 28, 1945 (New York)
Running time: 111 minutes
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $1,453,000
Box office: $5,638,000 ($80 million in 2019 dollars)
Academy Award: Best Actress in a Leading Role, Joan Crawford

Monte Beragon, the second husband of Mildred Pierce, is murdered. The police tell Mildred that her first husband, Bert Pierce, has confessed. Mildred protests that he is too kind to commit murder, and reveals her story to the officer in flashback.

Mildred and Bert are unhappily married. Mildred must sell her baked goods to support the family after Bert splits with his business partner, Wally Fay. Bert accuses Mildred of favoring their two daughters over him. Their quarrel intensifies after a phone call from Bert’s mistress, Maggie Biederhof, and they separate.

Mildred retains custody of 16-year-old Veda, a bratty social climber, and 10-year-old Kay, a tomboy. Mildred’s principal goal is to provide material possessions for Veda, who longs for high social status and is ashamed of her mother being a baker. Mildred hides the fact that she has taken a job as a waitress, but Veda learns the truth and treats her mother with derision.

Mildred meets Monte Beragon, a Pasadena society playboy and heir whose inheritance is almost depleted. Beragon owns the building that Mildred wants to purchase for a restaurant, and he pursues a romantic interest in her. While the two are at his beach house for a weekend, Kay contracts pneumonia and dies after a trip with Veda and Bert. Mildred channels her grief into work and throws herself into opening a new restaurant. With the help of her friend and former supervisor, Ida Corwin, Mildred’s restaurant is a success. Wally helps Mildred buy the property, and soon she owns a chain of restaurants throughout Southern California.

Veda secretly marries well-to-do Ted Forrester for his money and position, but his mother objects. Veda agrees to dissolve the marriage but claims she is pregnant and demands $10,000 from the Forresters. Veda smugly confesses her pregnancy is a sham to Mildred, who tears up the check and throws Veda out of the house.

Bert, too distraught to simply tell Mildred about Veda’s latest escapade, takes her to Wally’s nightclub, where Veda is performing as a lounge singer. After seeing several sailors in the audience wolf-whistle at Veda in her sexy costume, Mildred begs her to come home, but Veda sneers and says her mother can never give her the lifestyle she deserves.

Desperate to reconcile with her daughter, Mildred coaxes Monte into a loveless marriage to improve her social status, with Monte’s price being a one-third share of Mildred’s business to allow him to settle his debts. Veda, eager to live out her dream as a debutante, pretends to reconcile with her mother and moves into Beragon’s lavish mansion.

Eventually the cost of supporting Monte and Veda’s rich lifestyles—and Monte’s underhanded ploy to retain his share in the business while causing his wife to forfeit her own—bankrupts Mildred, forcing her to sell the restaurant chain. After driving to his beach house to confront Monte, Mildred finds Veda in his arms. Veda scornfully tells her mother that Monte intends to marry her after divorcing Mildred, who runs to her car in tears. When Monte tells Veda he would never marry her because she is a “rotten little tramp”, she shoots him.

Veda begs her mother to help conceal the murder; Mildred reluctantly agrees. Fed up with Wally’s misdeeds—helping Veda blackmail the Forresters, hiring her to sing in his seedy nightclub, assenting to Monte’s business moves against her, and making constant sexual overtures toward her—Mildred tries to pin the murder on Wally by luring him to the beach house. Police officers arrest Wally when he flees in panic after seeing Monte’s body, but the investigating officer tells Mildred that Wally cannot be the killer because he has no motive.

Back in the present, the detectives admit they knew all along that Veda committed the murder. Mildred tries to apologize as her daughter is led away to jail, but Veda rebuffs her. Mildred leaves the police station to find Bert waiting for her outside.

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