Mildred Pierce feels like a classic noir film, but it still has a couple of problems with the screenplay. It starts great, it ends up nicely, but there’s too much of a rushed storytelling in the middle and doesn’t take full advantage of possible, richer directions.
Joan Crawford as Mildred Pierce
Joan plays Milded Pierce, a woman left by her husband, having to take care of their daughters during economic downturn. She tries to please her daughter Veda by giving the girls a better life: she opens a restaurant, becomes a successful business-woman, gets involved with a sneaky man and just can’t seem to win her evil daughter’s affection. It all ends with a murder. It’s a dramatically rich role about a very determined woman.
The performance is technically irresistible. It’s generally agreed that few actresses had the control over a performance like Joan Crawford had. If you’ve seen some videos/interviews on her acting, they always underline what a pro she was, always knowing where the camera is, when to show tears and so on. And all those assets are perfectly coordinated here: she’s always in control of her scenes in a manner that would seem robotic, except that it’s fabulous because Joan is so damn talented.
She makes it look easy and natural and along the way she also manages to bring emotion to her flawless acting skills. Actually, those emotional scenes are my favorite: the introduction of her character, for example, with the suicide attempt, is PERFECTLY played and set: her gorgeous face, the light, the fur coat and most of all her eyes filled with tears. The slapping scenes are also classics, because Joan is wonderful at playing “vulnerable with dignity” and win the sympathy of the audience.
It’s not a performance that holds a lot of secrets & surprises, because Joan is very good throughout; that’s no reason to blame, but it’s worth mentioning. One thing I didn’t like and it stood out in the film, was the way the screenplay treated the death of Kay and how Joan didn’t do a bit more to grab all the potential of that scene. It was all like: the kid died, one or two tears and now we’re ready to move on. I don’t think that was in the spirit of the character, considering how much Mildred loved those girls. I would’ve expected her to be completely devastated. It’s probably the director’s fault, but Joan should’ve pushed for us to see something that what was more believable for her character.
Joan Crawford gives a remarkable performance, that I probably respect more than I love. I wouldn’t feel completely comfortable in giving more than a but it’s a very strong one. When the camera’s on her in a big, emotional scene there’s perfection that’s hard to match. However, in the regular scenes, she’s her usual great, maybe not with enough surprises or a bit too technical in her acting skills. It’s a very strong performance anyway.