Eddie Muller (Film Noir Foundation)
The story of Mildred Pierce is a story of compromises. 1941 saw the publication of James Cain’s novel, which tells the story of a woman who, during the Depression, shows great initiative in setting up her own business but falls victim to her misguided maternal love for an unworthy daughter. The American success story here becomes the story of a defeat; but the novel is too unwholesome and alarming from a sexual perspective, and too acute from a social one, to pass by the censor unscathed. Warner Bros. circumvented the obstacles by pulling out its conventional weapons: a film noir framing, an opening scene featuring a gunshot by an unidentified hand, and the inevitable ‘moral retribution’ at the end. In short, Hollywood brought Cain back into the fold of the typical crime narrative (in those very months, Wilder and Chandler were working on Double Indemnity at Paramount) which, with Mildred Piece, he had hoped to escape: “Her only crime was to have loved that child too much”. Two screenwriters were engaged: Ranald MacDougall for the overall structure and the noir elements and uncredited Catherine Turney for the flashbacks that reconstruct her failed relationships with men and with her daughter (and which make Mildred Pierce one of the women’s films most widely studied from the perspective of feminist theory). Mike Curtiz holds everything together with a sound grasp of codes and a clear visual flair: tracking shots to pick out Joan Crawford’s open wide eyes, window shutters carving up the light; above all, he displayes the sensibilities of a “painter of regret and resentment” (Christian Viviani).
How many regrets, how much resentment, and how many compromises, in the life of Mildred Pierce. Here she is in a brightly lit kitchen, pulling cakes out of the oven and putting up with an adulterous husband – at least until the useless soul shows himself to be incapable of providing her daughter with the standard of life that the unbearable girl demands. After years of alternating success and misfortune, she marries the most spineless of men encountered by chance, just to assure her daughter some status (and by this point she is able to call her “cheap and horrible” – no mean feat for a film made in 1945 – but still cannot escape her influence). She will be paid back according to the conventions of melodrama and noir, but the cruel thing is that, even though it decisively assumes its heroines point of view, Mildred Pierce remains the story of a terrible mother and a terrible daughter trapped in a social predicament with no way out. Joan Crawford towers masterfully over the film, on the cusp between her resplendent sex objects of the Thirties and the roles of her mature years, carved in wood and pain.
Cast and Credits
Sog.: dal romanzo omonimo di James M. Cain. Scen.: Ranald MacDougall, Catherine Turney. F.: Ernest Haller. M.: David Weisbart. Scgf.: Anton Grot. Mus.: Max Steiner. Int.: Joan Crawford (Mildred Pierce), Jack Carson (Wally Fay), Zachary Scott (Monte Beragon), Eve Arden (Ida Corwin), Ann Blyth (Veda Pierce), Bruce Bennett (Bert Pierce), Lee Patrick (Maggie Biederhof), Moroni Olsen (ispettore Peterson). Prod.: Jerry Wald per Warner Bros. Prod.: Warner Bros. DCP 4K. D.: 111’. Bn.
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