The criterion collection is a relatively new selection of films in the UK. In February 2017 they released the classic
Mildred Pierce starring Joan Crawford. The package is terrific, with an iconic scene as the cover art, and a terrific transfer of the original film that is beautiful to watch. I personally love Mildred Pierce. To me it is Joan Crawford\'s finest hour, or two hours if you want to get technical.
What stands out in this release is its special features. Previous criterion releases have features centred on the directors and their auteur approach. This is the first to focus on its leading lady, with a feature documentary telling the story of Joan Crawford and her rise through the ranks of Hollywood. It is clear that Mildred Pierce is the pinnacle of Joan\'s career, winning her the Best Actress Oscar in 1946. That year also saw some stiff competition from Ingrid Bergman for The Bells of St. Mary\'s and Gene Tierney in the phenomenal Leave Her To Heaven. But Joan went home with the coveted award. Well, it was actually delivered to her home as she was ill that evening.
The film itself is in a league of its own within the noir genre. Based on the James M. Cain novel of the same name the film takes the initial story of abandoned housewife with spoiled child and turns it into a mystery filled noir picture: essentially a femme noir. Directed by Michael Curtiz (
Casablanca) the film explores the complex relationship between mother and daughter, here a sadomasochistic relationship with Veda pushing her mother\'s love to the limit. But like any unhealthy relationship Mildred just can\'t let go. She\'s a good mother, perhaps too indulgent but everything she does is for Veda. But it\'s never enough.
The film then veers away from the book. In 1940s Hollywood, morality was very important. This was the time of the Hayes code where there were certain rules that all films had to adhere to. One of those was that a bad person is punished for their wrong doing. So, the screenplay completely differed from the book in that Veda eventually gets her comeuppance, and Mildred is punished too, left without her daughter and without the business she worked so hard for. But she\'s free from her daughter\'s influence.
Watching it today it is still a fantastic film which revived the career of Joan Crawford who had become sidelined by MGM for younger talent. When Crawford switched to Warner Brothers she didn\'t work for a couple of years, waiting for the right part rather than taking what she could get. The wait paid off, but she had to prove herself worthy of the role. Curtiz had no desire to cast Crawford in the film, believing her to be inferior to the likes of Ingrid Bergman or Bette Davis. So Joan did something unusual for a star of her caliber: she took a screen test. And Curtiz was forced to apologize for his wrong judgement. The role was hers.
And it still is. Joan Crawford is Mildred Pierce. The role was almost tailor made for Crawford and her abilities to affect the audience. Joan\'s career went through some interesting phases - she had been working in Hollywood since the mid-1920s - and her persona had altered with each decade. The 20s saw her as a flapper, the party girl; the 30s saw her as the working girl, relatable to a post-depression era audience; the 40s saw that come full circle with the strong willed woman fighting for her place in the world. Each persona in a way described how Joan\'s own journey developed over the years in Hollywood. And here in
Mildred Pierce she peaks as the titular character. She is Mildred and vice versa. So much so that it is near impossible to picture anyone else in the role. Even the terrific Kate Winslet couldn\'t compete with Crawford in HBO\'s adaptation in 2011. If you\'ve seen the original it is hard not to compare Kate with Joan in that particular role, it has become so iconic over the years.
And that makes this Blu ray set great. It celebrates not only a great film but the star that made the role so iconic. The documentary is approximately an hour and a half long, featuring interviews with various admirers and people who worked with her in her long career, shedding light on her humble origins and her hard graft to become Hollywood Royalty. There is also a feature interviewing Veda herself. Anne Blyth\'s interview is also interesting, discussing her career and what the role of Veda did for her as well as her working alongside Joan Crawford. This is then finished off with an essay discussing the themes of the film and the sacrificial labour of women, from Mildred working in the kitchen to the cleaning ladies on their knees at the end of the film.
The HD only adds to an already great film that gets better with each viewing. Joan Crawford is at her best in this noir role, on par with the likes of Humphrey Bogart in
The Maltese Falcon. A great noir actress with performances in Possessed, Sudden Fear and The Damned Don\'t Cry she doesn\'t get the credit she deserves for the strength and vulnerability she brings to these roles, and here it is elevated with great supporting players such as Anne Blyth as Veda, a phenomenal performance of a vindictive femme fatale; and Eve Arden and Jack Carson as Mildred\'s support system.
The blu ray release takes the movie to another level, with fascinating documentaries discussing the film itself and Joan Crawford\'s career. This is certainly a must have item for any film buff or Joan Crawford fan for this is the ultimate tribute to Hollywood\'s ultimate movie star.
Labels: 1945, blu ray, criterion collection, hollywood, joan crawford, mildred pierce, review