The upcoming five-part miniseries starring Kate Winslet is a good reason to visit the original movie version of Mildred Pierce, with an Oscar-winning performance by Joan Crawford. She plays the title character, who sacrifices everything to give her daughter the benefits of wealth and status only to find that she has raised a shallow, selfish monster.
Based on the book by noir novelist James M. Cain and directed by Michael Curtiz (“Casablanca,” “The Adventures of Robin Hood”), it is the story of a woman who is determined that her daughters will have money and social position. She leaves her out-of-work husband and hides from her daughters her job as a waitress. Veda (Ann Blyth), the older daughter, is a snob who is furious when she finds out the truth. The younger daughter dies of pneumonia. Through sheer determination (and the manipulation of the men around her), Mildred establishes a chain of restaurants and marries an upper-class, though impoverished, playboy to help Veda’s social climbing. When Veda turns out to be just as ruthless as Mildred — on her own behalf rather than to care for someone else, Mildred is called upon for one final sacrifice.
This was Joan Crawford’s first starring role at Warner Brothers following a humiliating termination of her contract at MGM. Curtiz did not want her for the part (he wanted Bette Davis, who turned it down because the character had a teenage daughter). Crawford’s own sense of determination and resentment is part of what made this her best-remembered performance. Carol Burnett’s funny “Mildred Fierce” parody is a loving tribute to this classic film.