Films of the noir era usually focused on one character who, though no saint himself, had a strict view of just how much bending of “right” was acceptable. The hardboiled dick who lets the dame off despite the fact that she is guilty as hell because the guy had it coming is the typical storyline. There is one other twist which is that everyone, including the point-of-view character is so deeply mired in muck that they are irredeemable.
By 1945, however, Michael Curtiz decided that the genre needed a new twist, and used that feeling to create his take on Mildred Pierce, an adaptation of the novel by James Cain (who you might remember from here).
In this film, while some characters are certainly sleazy, there is only one who is actually bad… and the rest of them spend the entire film putting themselves at risk in order to try to help that one character (I don’t want to spoil the film for anyone who might be watching). Their reward? Betrayal of all sorts, from sexual to downright criminal.
Other than that particular twist, the film is notable for the way Mildred Pierce creates a business empire against all odds, often hindered by friends and family. It’s a sign of how the war had affected American society – audiences accustomed to women performing war work were definitely ready to see them on screen as strong business leaders. Although this isn’t the central theme of the movie, it is strong enough to be very notable. And Joan Crawford is extremely believable in the role, one can’t help but think that she was a much better choice than the other women considered for casting.
This is a good complement to the noir era, something to watch if you’re really into noir in all its permutations. Of course, it’s a film a casual viewer might never actually get to, but for fans of the genre, it’s a must.
Also, a shout out to surviving cast member Ann Blyth, who is notable because she was a key member of the cast – and central to the plot.