“Personally Veda’s convinced me that alligators have the right idea. They eat their young.” Ida
Mildred Piece is a 1945 American film directed by Michael Cortiz, adapted from a James McCain novel and centered around the theme of loving not wisely but too well. It is recognised as the film that turned Joan Crawford from box office poison to Academy Award winner, a film steeped in the film noir tradition yet departs quite a bit as it concerns itself with social issues like class and snobbery and the psychology of motherhood.
Crawford was not Cortiz’s first, second or third choice, and yet a what a performance she gave. She is perfect as the big shouldered, fur-coat wearing dame with, I must say, very enviable gams who, as F.S. Fitzgerald so eloquently put it, “toys with her iced glass with a remote, faintly bitter expression”. And there is plenty for her to feel bitter about. Given her later infamy as the mother from hell, or at least according to one of her adopted children, it is quite ironic that her she plays a mother who has a daughter from hell, the face behind the above alligator quote. Ann Blyth plays Veda , said daughter, with a cool calculated finesse and maturity that you feel frightened and concerned for all those around her. She looks like she’d happily eat her own young, and yours too if you weren’t careful. Shirley Temple was originally considered for the role, but I am glad they went with Blyth. Eve Arden plays Ida Corwin, the best friend with the deep voice and snappy one liners; she’s the kind of friend who knows when to offer a glass and when to offer the bottle. Later we would get to know her better as Principal McGee from Rydell High. (From the movie Grease in case you have forgotten)
Like Bathsheba in Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd, Mildred is pursued by three suitors. Bruce Bennett plays Bert Pierce,her first husband, and the dad who has the measure of his daughter, but not his wife. Then there is Wally, played by Jack Carson, the lecherous estate agent and former partner of Bert’s and finally, there is Monte Beragon, played by Zachary Scott, the handsome, penniless aristocrat who seduces Mildred but is more interested in her money than anything else. Butterfly McQueen, better known as the actress who Scarlett’s maid Prissy in GWTW, plays the house maid Lottie. Some of her scenes are a little cringe-worthy, so it came as no surprise to learn she eventually left Hollywood because the only roles she could get were demeaning.
It is however the relationship between Veda and Mildred that is the primary focus, and what sets in motion the series of events that culminates in the opening scene’s murder. Then through voice over narration and flashbacks, we see how said events played out. The film may be a work of fiction,but given Crawford’s real life relationship with her daughter it is difficult, almost impossible, to watch and not draw comparisons or conclusions. Veda is a nasty piece of work; a manipulative bi**h who exploits her mother’s love, shamelessly lies for money and as if that wasn’t enough, is an insufferable snob full of contempt for the people and work that provides the very money she needs and uses to fund her materialistic lifestyle.
Mildred Pierce is very watchable. There are a number of fabulous houses ,I particularly like the beach house and was saddened to hear it had collapsed into the ocean because of heavy storms in 1983, and spoilt brat she may be, but Veda has good taste. Be warned though – it might make you rethink your children and their supposed adoration towards their parents and it will make you oddly thirsty. So get a glass, drop in a few ice cubes, a splash of soda, a measure of whiskey and enjoy.