The San Antonio-born actress (born, Lucille Fay LeSueur) might be best known now for her daughter, Christina’s, “tell-all” memoir, “Mommie Dearest,” alleging a lifelong pattern of physical and emotional abuse by Crawford. And the film based on the book starring Faye Dunaway (“No wire hangers!”).
But from the 1920s until the late ‘40s, Crawford, through an up-and-down career, was one of the biggest stars and one of the highest-paid women in the U.S.
Crawford’s inflated sense of her talents drove her to create her own publicity and make herself a star in Hollywood.
Crawford built her career by playing plucky, wise-talking hardworking young “flappers,” which made her popular with scores of movie-going girls.
Then, after an almost 20-year career at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studio, Crawford, who was considered “box-office poison,” moved to Warner Bros., where she made “Mildred Pierce” (1945) and accomplished her ultimate goal — she won the Academy Award for Best Actress.
“Mildred Pierce” is a film noir about a long-suffering mother (Crawford) and her ungrateful daughter, Veda (Ann Blyth), and is directed by Michael Curtiz — “Captain Blood” (1935), “Angels with Dirty Faces” (1938), “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and “Casablanca” (1943).
The film is based on a novel by James M. Cain. He also is responsible for the source material for classic film noir movies, “The Postman Always Rings Twice” (1946) and “Double Indemnity” (1944).
“Mildred Pierce” is told in flashbacks. The first image you see is the murdered man, Monte Beragon (Zachary Scott, another native Texan). The rest of the story is revealed during interviews with police detectives.
Mildred leaves Wally, in the hopes he is found by the police with the dead body.
It is a twisted, sinister and sadistic moment and colors the audiences’ perception of Mildred through the rest of the movie.
The best thrillers and whodunits delicately lie to their audiences. It’s a matter of pulling focus off the real killer and making the audience see another character as “obviously” guilty. “Mildred Pierce” is a very good thriller.
“Mildred Pierce” is a stunning example of film noir. Curtiz shows his mastery of camera angles, lights and shadows, and even the usually innocuous sounds of a police squad room become eerie and terrifying.
The cast is wonderful and perfectly chosen. Simply by looking at them you see huge parts of their back-story: Monte, the sniveling, suave rich boy; Albert “Bert” Pierce (Bruce Bennett), a rugged, tough manly man; and Wally, a shady businessman and good-time drinking buddy (and keep your wife away from him).
Blyth is great as Mildred’s spoiled, entitled daughter. It’s also important to note, Blyth is a stunningly gorgeous woman — they don’t make movies stars like her anymore.
Crawford is great in “Mildred Pierce.” Her Oscar was well deserved.
Overall, “Mildred Pierce” is a fine example of how great film noirs can be and proof a good murder mystery is all black and white.
“Lost & Found” is a weekly column and review of films the author Seames O’Grady, self-professed movie expert, has in his DVD collection or on his Netflix queue, but just hasn’t got around to watching until now.