To speak rather candidly for a moment, rather than with my usual cynicism about just about everything life throws at me, I do think living independently is important. I think very few films are able to operate such a message, and if they do, then the end goal of our lone wolf character is always either cohabitation with another, or companionship. Their life is unfulfilled, see About a Boy for details of such a bleak existence. But Mildred Pierce, the classic piece from Casablanca director Michael Curtiz, offers up independence that feels not just necessary, but preferable to the alternative.
Joan Crawford’s leading performance as the eponymous character alternates between revelling in contentedness and toiling in disparity throughout, setting out to prove that she can live life on her own and make for a successful style of living after her unfaithful husband abandons her. An evidently impressive leading role, Crawford brings a striking command of the screen to her role as she struggles to keep connected with her daughter and lead a successful business to continue supporting her and her family. It’s an engaging story, one that feels like it swirls the pot of cliché and extreme over-representation, but Mildred Pierce, I feel, is one of the few that hits the nail on the head. It’s smart, and for the period of its release a rather unconventional look at the social expectations of males and females.
That message at the core of Mildred Pierce is strong, and expanded upon in such a way that it keeps itself both interesting as a general drama, but engaged in social commentary of something that, in hindsight, is a wholly unjust and upsetting way of life. Pierce is thrown through the wringer from beginning to end, but Curtiz and Crawford manage to capture the can-do attitude she has in the face of adversity. Dusting herself down and picking up the pieces time after time, whilst old wounds refuse to heal. It’s portrayed with such brilliance, a wholly intelligent drama with elements of the crime genre mixed in for good measure.
Subverting typical styles and social conventions, Mildred Pierce is a finely tuned, well-crafted piece of film. It relies often on the strong artistic merits of its direction and the commendable quality of its leading performers. A film that will strike up conversation about the treatment of individuality, all mixed in with some solid crime junctions and a story that unravels itself with surprisingly good pacing. All in all, a strong piece, a definitive piece of 40s filmmaking, and an articulate achievement in condensing such a large cultural shift into a tight two hours.