“Mildred Pierce” (1945) is film that should be shown to people who say they don’t like to watch black and white movies. The cinematography here is so good that it is a living thing quite apart from the story and the acting performances, and yet the black and white photography here enhances both story and performances.
“Double Indemnity” 1944 (see this former post), and “The Postman Always Rings Twice” (1946) -- are noir stories even on the page. But “Mildred Pierce” was not written as such. It’s more a character study of a woman who indomitably struggles against privation, and whose Achilles’ heel is her greatest passion, her daughter. In the hands of the Warner Bros. studio, this story, rather than a weepy so-called “woman’s picture” becomes first class Noir.
Largely, this is due to the cinematography.
I’m not going to do a play by play on the plot of this movie, but there are going to plenty of spoilers anyway, so turn back now if you want. Go outside and water my garden. But close the storm door good because the air conditioning’s on.
The novel was made into a TV miniseries last year, and done very well. The performances were great, and the story followed very closely Cain’s novel. Some might say the 1945 movie starring Joan Crawford, which strays from the novel here and there, was re-shaped to make Joan Crawford a heroine, which in movies of that era, for a woman of a certain age, meant depicting her as long-suffering and self-sacrificing.
The shot of Miss Crawford as they converse as a restaurant table through wafting cigarette smoke. Unusual in that neither of them are smoking in this scene; it comes from another table.
We catch a glimpse of a carhop taking an order over the tray mounted on the car door. Have a look here at our previous post about movie carhops.
“It’s only because I want to be alone with you. Come here and let me bite you, you darling boy.” Then she woofs at him like Curly in The Three Stooges.
I also like the way she refers to Zachary Scott, whose oily charm doesn’t fool her a bit -- she knows a bad egg when she sees one -- as “laughing boy”. Bugs Bunny, famous for using the term, was also a stalwart member of the Warner Bros. stable, though I’m sure the studio did not have a copyright on the term.
“Roughly Speaking” (1945) discussed here.
Bess Flowers shows up as a restaurant patron, but really, that is to be expected. She's a walk-on in everything. I noticed her in one of my old vacation videos. She played Loud Woman Who Sat Behind Me on Train.
The novel, as well as the 2011 TV miniseries, shows a different scene. Mildred catches them in bed together, and Mildred’s playboy husband shrieks defensive protests. The 1945 movie may be less titillating, but it is more visually stunning.
Unfortunately, Ernest Haller did not take home an Oscar for his cinematography (Ann Blyth and Eve Arden were both nominated for Best Supporting Actress).
The movie is really his.
And yes, every time I watch this movie I think of the Carol Burnett parody. It even mocks the ocean surf that luridly washes over the opening credits. But it's not in black and white.