Wednesday, June 24, 2015

1945: Joan Crawford for Mildred Pierce

Joan Crawford illustrates the importance of not spoiling one's children as the title character in this film noir. The movie opens with the murder of Mildred's second husband and reveals her back-story through an interview with a detective who's trying to discover the identity of the killer. Through the ups and downs of her life, Mildred has remained firm in one thing only: her complete devotion to her obnoxious, bratty daughter, Veda.

This movie frustrates me so much. This is the fifth time I've watched it, and I still haven't decided whether I like it or not. Mostly it's well-done, although the story drags a lot, which I think is partly to build suspense. My main problem is that I kind of hate all the characters, except for Mildred's younger daughter and Eve Arden's character, neither of whom is in very much of the movie. I feel bad for Mildred, but I also don't because most of the bad things that happen to her are her own fault. In most films about mothers, their devotion to their children is portrayed in a positive light, but not this one. Mildred worships Veda, who consequently grows up spoiled and horrid. This then raises the question: how much are parents to blame for the way their children turn out? I don't know the answer, but I have to blame Mildred for a significant proportion of Veda's awfulness. Yet I still can't help sympathizing with her. Crawford brings such a sense of reality to the character that the ridiculous things she does to try to please Veda almost seem logical. So even though I do blame her for most of her own unhappiness, I'm nevertheless rooting for her throughout.

Although I'm not sure how I feel about this film, I do know that it's very well-acted, at least by the actresses in it. The actors leave something to be desired, but the male characters are fairly one-dimensional, so they didn't have much to work with. But the actresses are very good. Eve Arden and Ann Blyth were both nominated for Best Supporting Actress, and I think they should have gotten to share it, but they both lost to Ann Revere for National Velvet. Crawford won the film's only Oscar, and she pretended to be sick because she didn't want to be at the ceremony if she lost (she let the press into her room when she won). Anyway, she does a remarkable job of playing Mildred. She's particularly effective at conveying her emotions while appearing to try to hide them, which makes us feel that we know her better than the other characters in her world. It's this connection with the audience that made Crawford such a marvelous actress, and this is one of the best examples of it I've seen from her.

Joan Crawford had a very interesting career with several different phases. It began in the silent era and continued into the early 1970s, during which time she played a wide variety of roles, to varying degrees of success. If I'm not sure how I feel about Mildred Pierce, I'm utterly befuddled when it comes to my feelings about Joan Crawford. I do find it rather fascinating that she won her Oscar for playing a terrible, over-indulgent mother, given that, at least according to her daughter, she was in reality a terrible mother in the opposite extreme. But many of her fans to this day fervently deny the claims of Mommie Dearest, so let's not get too deep into that. Anyway, this was Crawford's first Best Actress nomination, and her only win. She was also nominated for 1947's Possessed and 1952's Sudden Fear. I think she deserves her recognition because despite my confusion about her, one thing is clear: she certainly had talent.

Stay tuned for Olivia de Havilland, the earliest Best Actress Winner who's actually still alive right now!

No comments:

Post a Comment