Saturday, May 22, 2010

Mildred Pierce

Wally: What’s this? (as Mildred wraps an apron around his waist)
Mildred: Wally, we’re swamped. You’ve got to help us.
Wally: Who, me? I’m an executive.
Mildred: Well, you’re now vice president in charge of the potatoes.

Opening with the depiction of a murder, this “whodunit” with a surprise ending not only ended Crawford’s career slump but earned her a Best Actress Oscar. Driven to provide the very best for her daughter Veda (Blyth), Mildred (Crawford) has spent her entire married life in the kitchen, not only putting fine meals on the table but also baking cakes and pies to order for parties and other celebrations. When she catches her husband in an affair and asks him to leave, she must find additional employment and ends up as a waitress at a diner. There she learns the restaurant business, the hard way, and despite Veda’s expensive tastes manages to save enough to invest in her own establishment: Mildred’s Fine Foods, a restaurant with an elegant dining area, a handsome bar, and a drive-in service. She has such success that she is able to open five restaurants in three years. Unfortunately, all the men in her life, as Ida (Arden), remarks, “have the instincts of a heel,” and their selfishness leads to tragedy.

Although it centers on the restaurant business, Mildred Pierce doesn’t actually show much in the way of food. The viewer has fleeting glimpses of chicken dinners and sandwiches at the diner, and of the very large, ornate birthday cake and the dozens of peach, berry, pumpkin, cherry, and apple pies that Mildred bakes. What is perhaps more interesting is the contemporary restaurant slang that would be unfamiliar to most of today’s viewers: for example, “Adam and Eve on a raft, make it hard!” is an order for two hard-boiled eggs on toast. One might speculate that the actors, screenwriters, directors, and others involved in the movie brought their own experience to bear during the restaurant scenes, given that so many film people have spent so much time as wait staff at so many eating establishments before finding their true métier.

Fun Fact:
As has many an actor before and since, Joan Crawford supported herself as a salesperson and waitress before making it in film, and her own experiences added verité to her award-winning performance as rags-to-riches restaurateur Mildred Pierce.

Released 1945
Directed by Michael Curtiz
Screenplay by Ranald MacDougall, based on the novel of the same name by James M. Cain

Starring Joan Crawford as Mildred Pierce Beragon, Jack Carson as Wally Fay, Zachary Scott as Monte Beragon, Eve Arden as Ida Corwin, Ann Blyth as Veda Pierce Forrester, Bruce Bennett as Albert “Bert” Pierce, and Butterfly McQueen as Lottie

Awards: 1946 Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Crawford); 1945 National Board of Review Award for Best Actress (Crawford)

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