What exactly is Mildred Pierce? Is it a drama? A film noir? A proto-feminist declaration? You could argue that the Hollywood watermark is all of the above. Directed by Micaael Curtiz and starring the indomitable Joan Crawford, Mildred Pierce is freshly out on Blu-ray and DVD this week from the Criterion Collection.
The film opens in typical noir style: dramatic lighting and murder. Crawford’s Mildred is on the precipice of a dock in California, about to throw herself off when she’s interrupted by a strolling police officer. We then go back to the beginning to see how she got there. Mildred’s got a cheating, out-of-work husband whom she clearly does not need. Self sufficient, she’s already baking and selling pies and cakes out of her kitchen to support her children’s piano and ballet lessons.
Tragedy strikes when her youngest daughter, Kay (Jo Ann Marlowe) dies from pneumonia. This event makes Mildred dote on her remaining daughter Veda (the terrific Ann Blyth) far more than she should. Veda’s narcissism and extremely rich tastes will eventually cause her own downfall, and as Mildred Pierce is Hays Code film, any amoral conduct must be sufficiently punished.
Mildred graduates from home cooking to opening a restaurant — and then an entire chain of them — with the help…