The 1940's were an interesting time for Hollywood cinema. Due to an influx of German filmmakers fleeing from Nazi Germany and the influence of German Expressionism, American cinema began to take on a very specific appearance. While not called it at the time, the period between 1940 and 1960 was the time when Film Noir reigned supreme; films about hardboiled private detectives and femme fatale, crime and corruption, a cinema that tapped into the problems with American society. Many classic films belong to the Film Noir category, and one of those films is 1945's Mildred Pierce, which finally comes to Blu-Ray thanks to Criterion.
This is the story of Mildred Pierce, a housewife newly separated from her husband, who must support her children. She goes into the restaurant business and finds great success. However, the men in her life, ex-husband Bert, new bueax Beragon and business partner, Wally, as well as her daughter Veda, provide plenty of obstacles to her happiness and success, including a murder.
I am not really sure what I can add to the discussion on Mildred Pierce. It has received multiple awards and acclaim for its masterful blend of melodrama and noir. Joan Crawford is absolutely spellbinding as the titular character, balancing the strength of a business woman and the vulnerability of a mother. Similarly, Ann Blyth steels every scene she is in as the devious and sociopathic Veda.
You must already know that the film is absolutely fantastic. So you are reading this review to see if the Blu-Ray is worth buying, has the disc been well made and are there plenty of extras to enhance your experience of the film?
Regarding the disc, because it is being distributed by Criterion you can expect a good quality product. There are the standard menu constructions that mean it is easy to access any part of the disc, with informative descriptions of the options that you can choose. Finally, for those that need subtitles, they are also well presented and stand out from the film itself making them easy to read.
Film Noir was made for Blu-Ray. The 4K digital restoration makes Ernest Haller's striking Chiaroscuro cinematography truly shine. The shadows are darker and more mysterious, and the light is brighter and more revealing. There are no digital video faults in the disc, and with the uncompressed monaural soundtrack you can hear every suspenseful musical sting clearly, enhancing your experience of the film.
So Criterion provides a good looking and great sounding disc that is easy to navigate.
The Disc is literally chock-a-block with extras and supplements that delve into the story of the film and more specifically the life of Joan Crawford that do a great deal to enrich your experience of the movie.
Conversation with Critics Molly Haskell and Robert Polito
For the more academically minded this conversation is a discussion of the history of Mildred Pierce and its place in the development of Cinema. The two very knowledgeable people talk theme, history and genre, covering a wide variety of bases. Because of this, new avenues of discovery are opened to the viewer; Mildred Pierce becomes more than an entertaining film, but one of great importance for the Noir genre and for Joan Crawford as a star. It doesn't hurt that the two critics have an easy colloquial conversation rather than a stiff critical discussion.
Joan Crawford: The Ultimate Movie Star (2002)
Narrated by Angelica Houston, this feature length documentary goes into great detail discussing the Joan Crawford’s rise to fame. It covers her break into the silent era, her flapper days, and her various different personas. Having really only known about her from the Faye Dunaway performance in Mommie Dearest, I was remarkably surprised by the complex person Crawford was. It has many interviews with friends, co-stars, colleagues and her adopted daughter.
This coupled with another extra, an excerpt from a 1970 episode of The David Frost Show we get a complete picture of one of Classic Hollywood’s biggest stars.
Q&A with Actor Ann Blyth
Not to be left out this Q&A with actor Ann Blyth (who played Veda) at the Castro Theatre in San Fransisco is an in-depth look at her own place in the studio system and her own experiences on the set of Mildred Pierce. While not as comprehensive as the Joan Crawford documentary, this extra, as well as the next one stop the disc from feeling totally focused on Joan.
Segment from a 1969 episode of the Today show featuring Mildred Pierce Novelist James M.Cain
The final extra included by the Criterion Collection is a brief conversation with Mildred Pierce's writer, James M. Cain. This short segment introduces audiences to the man behind the woman, and we can see what kind of a person he was as well as explore his world view through this very entertaining piece.
Mildred Pierce is a classic movie and is welcome on my shelf; I absolutely adore the film. Criterion has done a tremendous job bringing this masterpiece to high definition, and the number of special features allows for greater exploration into the film and its leading lady. A must buy for any cinephile.
What can I say, the film is a classic for a reason and the extras add a wealth of extra enjoyment to an already excellent film