Jump to content

 
Search In
  • More options...
Find results that contain...
Find results in...
DC SURFERGIRL

Daily Dose of Darkness #8: Seeing You for the First Time (Scene from Mildred Pierce)

Recommended Posts

Mildred Pierce......HOLY SCHNIEKY!!!!  What a scene!!!....is there anyone on Earth that could have pulled this movie off like the great Joan Crawford?  It was truly Ann Blythe's great fortune to have the opportunity to work with her so young in her career.  I have seen the TCM interview with Blythe several times describing this very scene, she very gracefully acknowledges that fortune.

 

Funny I have never thought of this film as a noir....more of a dark drama and yes, as our professor states a women's drama in my opinion, however we can certainly see the devious nature of many of the actors in this film.  I have felt that way about several of the movies I have watched for the first time this week and it seems to me personally, there must be certain elements present in the movie for it to become noir in my mind......would "The Bad Seed" also then be considered a noir?  I'm thinking yes, the little girl in that film was born a sociopath something she really could not help being.....and unfortunately with another weak mom figure.

 

 Ann Blythe is absolutely sociopathic in this film!  I am in awe of this very young woman playing this part so well and so believably.....Mom is a determined mother (determined to give that kid everything she wants due to the death of her other very sweet baby years earlier). She is in full denial of the monster she spent years creating and when she finally gets her eyes opened at the hand of her daughter and husband  (ewwwww, can we say Jerry Springer material?) she STILL acts like mama bear trying to protect her "baby".....baby raptor is more like it.....I can hardly wait to watch it this weekend!!!!

 

My only problem with this film is Crawford's character in the role of a victim although this character trait seems to run regularly throughout her films....too bad, what a powerful presence she is and she is such a little tiny thing!!!!  I wonder if I would have felt differently about this film if her character had been more ruthless.  Crawford was truly an amazing woman....but I digress.....

 

If we are going to take this movie down the path of noir, we must include Crawford's character in the mix.  She is not only in total denial about her daughter's horrendous behavior and fails to do anything to stop it over the years, but she is inherently self destructive having an extremely fragile self conception, partly grown by her daughter's constant insulting remarks to mom.  Do these self destructive personalities have a place in noir?  I believe they do indeed, for many times those very characteristics open the door to troublesome decisions and the descent begins from there...i.e. Dr. Idiot from Nora Prentiss.

 

We have to point out that Ann's character was born with a part of anti-social attitude in her blood, there is no doubt, but did mama bear add to and encourage her horrible and deviant behavior......just a little.   

 

Mildred has good men around her who love her yet she picks the bad boy, a total slime ball.  She never attempted to check out his background or anything just assuming he was loaded, another area completely of total denial, and then has to watch as her daughter (how gross) and her husband get together and turn on her.  There is no doubt in my mind that this man does not care one whit about either of these women.

 

This second husband is the portrait of a slimy noir character, we can't get anymore classic noir than him.  He is slick, deviant, underhanded, greedy, desperate....every characteristic needed for a good film noir guy.  I think Mildred understands who he is when she marries him, but fantastically, she is surprised when he starts acting like the slime he is.  He has absolutely ZERO morals or scruples and it becomes quite clear that he is willing to do whatever it takes to completely indulge himself......I feel like I need a shower right now!!!!  

 

This particular scene however gives us a look into Mildred's first true understanding at how truly deviant her daughter actually is and become seriously confrontational for the first time. It gives the viewer hope that mom can come to some sort of understanding about what she has to do to truly help this little monster. We are in for disappointment as we see Mildred go back to being a milque-toast mom and chasing that little beast down, marrying the jerk and convincing the little beast to move back in....that's when things get really ugly....

 

I can certainly understand why this film could be included in the film noir genre. The message is that we don't have to have a gritty, tough and crusty, urban environment to encounter noir-type personalities. Anyone, anywhere can really do some crazy things, become completely anti-social and hurt, deceive, rob and ruin anyone including mom to get what they want.  I have to wonder when this movie first came out how many suburban moms this movie absolutely scared to death!

 

In my remarks yesterday I discussed the psychology of noir stating that one of the reasons we are so fascinated by it is because we want to see how deep and dark the deviant behavior of a human being can go.....Mildred Pierce is a film that definitely goes into serious and deviant behavior and so I must bow to the opinions of the experts and slip this great classic into my personal list of noir films as well as one of the greatest Crawfords ever done.

 

 

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This is a scene about asymmetry – a mother/daughter relationship that has become monstrous and out of balance – Mildred has done everything for Veda, and since the youngest child died, has gone way overboard, denying Veda nothing, and in so doing has created a monster, who here has faked a pregnancy in order to blackmail the father.  What’s apparent here is how Curtiz uses the visuals to create a sense of both imbalance and order.  The elements of the room and particularly the bannister on the stair emphasize our sense of order and chaos.

 

The geometry is omnipresent in the scene.  The line between Veda and Mildred on the sofa; The skewed bannister connected to Veda, the straight one connected to Mildred.  The straight lines connected to Mildred from the Venetian Blind shadows.

 

We open tight on Veda and pull back to a low angle where we a see Mildred, higher/superior to her daughter, geometrically aligned with all the elements of the room – the door, the archway, the mirror, the window -- until she moves behind Veda and Veda turns and forms a line with Mildred which connects us to the stairwell - an element of ascension -- which will become the apex of the asymmetry – the straight bannister seeming to go right through Mildred, the crooked one connecting to Veda. We’re very aware of Mildred’s lofty height until the stairwell throws us into a vertigo,  where her attempt to restore order/balance by finally ripping the check culminates with the slap from which Mildred finally recovers her higher position, not physically, but stoically standing still until Veda runs up to the top.  The scene’s physical action and staging of objects is about Mildred finding a natural alignment in a world that she has let go out of order; we think in this scene that Mildred has finally come to a moment of stillness in which order has been restored.

  • Like 4

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

If you take a hard-boiled writer, and a director working at the edges of noir, with a plot that features tough moral choices and immoral characters, it is bound to look a little bit noir. 

After the illumination about low and high camera angles in the Maltese Falcon podcast, the part of the scene on the staircase drew special attention for the physical representation of the power shifts.

I do not remember enough of the plot to be confident about why the two are dressed similarly with similar hairstyles.  Is it Mildred's controlling personality, a part of what Veda wants to escape from?  Is it just fashion or a practical desire for high contrast between the outfit and their faces and the backgrounds?  Is it Veda dressing old or Mildred dressing young?  Did they just return from some event where severe attire is called for?  I draw no conclusion there.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The character Veda in this reminds me a bit of Kitty from "Scarlet Street" in that she's more twisted than you could really imagine simply by looking at her...and certainly she hid it just like Kitty. That one scene where Kitty is telling off Chris crept into my mind while watching this. I think it really does show how Noir style snaked its way into many different types of film making. I think there is certainly a sense of the darker side of human nature. The idea that people can do reprehensible things without any remorse is something that is very Noir. 

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

What can I say about a movie I've seen so many times but don't think of as film noir but a melodrama. I grew up with a mother who was a combination Joan Davis Bette Crawford...and the Academy Award goes to, Lol. Joan and Bette were worshiped in our house. My father looked like Humphrey Bogart. I think this started my love of movies at a very early age. Bogart is why I love film noir. Joan and Bette were my twisted role models and femme fatales. I think a lot of genres can fall into film noir style and because it was post war 40s and 50s it became a movement in Hollywood. I'll watch again tomorrow hating Veda and crying when Kay dies but always sympathetic to Mildred's POV. After all she is telling the story.

  • Like 4

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Veda always seems to be standing a little bit taller than Mildred almost as though she is a bit better than Mildred. Which really adds to the character of Veda since she is such a loathsome pompous woman. At the end of the scene the camera goes in for a close up on Mildred you feel the emotions that roll off of Mildred, the shock at the assiduity of her daughter. The tension is so high strung as we are walking toward/up the staircase the by time Veda strikes Mildred we jump a little in our seats just from the impact. Although  we don't like Veda from the start we have barely scratched the surface, for later on in the film we see exactly how loathsome she can be.


This film can be viewed as an important contribution to film noir because it showcases the ability to tell a story in medias res. We sort of know whats going to happen but don't quite get there until later on.


  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The opening sequences are steeped in Noir, the dark beach house, the flash of shots, the shadows, the flickering lights, its powerful, and even I don't like Joan Crawford.

I totally agree with this. The use of shadows, the playing around with who's in control of the scene through the use of standing and sitting, going up the stairs and down, and the use of music to heighten the tension within the conflict. Film Noir is as much a visual experience as a play with plot and dialogue. Film Noir is meant to me seen (imo), heard, and experienced. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I agree with DCRinAZ and others that initially. I did not see Mildred Pierce as film noir. But then I started seeing it on a few lists and tried to give it a second look. On that second look, I think Mildred Pierce does have an element of a tragic, pessimistic and fatalistic lifestyle that DCRinAZ mentioned. It's not evident at first but as the story wears on you can see it even if Mildred doesn't until the end. Everything she works for. ~ everything that she thinks will make her happy. ~ only makes things worse and leads to eventual tragedy. In some ways it's almost anti-capitalist movie ( but that's a political discussion for another day). Still not what I think of as classic noir but very noir like.

 

That being said I really like the way the director position the women in the scene. At five foot five I believe John Crawford was tall for actresses of that day. The director use this hight by having Vida lay down on the couch allowing Mildred to loom over her. Then as the argument progressed their height became more and more even until finally on the staircase Vida is taller than Mildred and eventually Vida slaps Mildred so she is standing over her. Of course in the end Mildred stand and is once again looming over Vida ~ or at least it looks that way from the camera angle. I had never noticed that before and probably wouldn't have still if the instructor hadn't mentioned the positioning of the women in the discussion questions

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Having not seen Mildred Pierce yet, I have a feeling I'm going to be making some assumption here that may not be supported by the rest of the film.

Stylistically I can see the influences of noir; the slanted shadows in the background, the staccato dialogue, Veda may be a femme fatale in the making. But my obsession this week has been noir's fixation on travel, and as our professor states, Noir Country, implying noir as a physical place. In that regard, this fits into what I see as one of noir's biggest themes; escape. Veda talks about wanting to escape her life, which is something almost all noir characters want. But here she describes the town and it doesn't sound awful, or dangerous, it just sounds boring. Which is the same thing to a teenager, I guess.

 

So that makes it a noir of the mind, I guess. From what I can see, the character's actions and perceptions are what provides the film with it's noir touches. She seems almost as if she's been influenced by those films and is play-acting what a certain character type should be.

  • Like 4

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

In my opinion, Mildred Pierce is not a film noir, but a female melodrama in which a crime plays an important role. But the noir influence is obvious in it, its characters, its complex narrative (via flashbacks) and its characteristics (lighting, music, shots). Besides, its inspiration is a James M. Cain novel, and Cain is a writer who had an immense impact in film noir, perhaps more than any other.

 

I don't think that there is a more obnoxious, hated character in film noir than Veda Pierce. She is spoiled and disrespectful, she cares only about money and social elevation and she doesn't hesitate to use any means (blackmail, lies, cheating) in order to get them. Unlike classic noir femmes fatales such as Phyllis Dietrichson and Cora Smith (both characters created by Cain), she is totally pathetic and dependent on other's people kindness and tolerance. She needs her mother but hates her as she considers her a "common person", and she constantly torments her. Although I don't consider the film a masterpiece, but rather a mediocre one, 17-year-old Ann Blyth does an excellent job in portraying Veda; in my opinion, she even overshadows Joan Crawford.

 

As for the scene presented, it's one of very few in a film noir, or a film resembling a noir such as this, when two women are starring. Director Curtiz took complete advantage of it to heighten the tension, using close-ups to highlight their faces and expressions, which make the audience understand their motives even better than their argument does. Music and sound is also an important contributor to the tension, used only to build it and then suddenly interrupted and the two women's voices being the only sound we can hear. Technically speaking, a beauty of a scene by Michael Curtiz.

  • Like 4

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The scene on the stairs is great - the daughter stands above Joan, very symbolic, since Veda considers herself above her mother. Quite some paralells between this film and Joan's relationship with her own daughter.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

cigajoe is right. The noir influence is there with Veda's lust for money. I would go one step further with the second question. We start with Veda on the couch and Mildred towering over her. Yet as things progress Veda becomes equal to Mildred and by the end of the scene she is above Mildred on the stairs. Disgusted with this, Mildred tears up the check anyway even though she realizes she has less power over her daughter than originally thought.

 

Oh and because it's Joan Crawford "No more wire hangers!" 

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Veda talks about wanting to escape her life, which is something almost all noir characters want. But here she describes the town and it doesn't sound awful, or dangerous, it just sounds boring. Which is the same thing to a teenager, I guess.

 

So that makes it a noir of the mind, I guess. From what I can see, the character's actions and perceptions are what provides the film with it's noir touches. She seems almost as if she's been influenced by those films and is play-acting what a certain character type should be.

Ooo. It's a meta-noir.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Wow! What a scene! What a film! Mildred Pierce has a lot of film noir qualities in it. In this scene between Mildred and her daughter Veda, to me it is a good example of film noir. The way Veda sits and talks so coldly while kissing the check from her husband's family while Mildred looks at her in disgust with a cold stare. When they are face to face the way Veda talks through her teeth with her eyebrow raised how her mom is a common frump. Mildred rips up the check and Veda smacks her so hard. The close ups show the hatred from Veda. The music adds to the tension. Their wardrobe also makes me think film noir with the form fitting tailored skirt suits and the hairstyles too.

  • Like 4

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Mildred Pierce is a film that I've sort of "lived with" for a long time because it kept popping into my studies while researching my college thesis topic of product placement in film. The earliest recognized placement is in this movie (Jack Daniels).

 

I've only seen it once, but I don't know that I would have ever thought about it as film noir. Looking at this clip, what stands out to me the most is the highly dramatic score. To a lesser degree, there are some stark shadows that are characteristic of film noir. And, of course, from a narrative stance, Veda is twisted and represents a shift in the typical mother-daughter dynamics of the time, both emotionally (the mind games and language, telling her mother to "grow up") and physically (the slap). Frankly, I didn't see much to the actresses' blocking, so I'm drawing a blank there. The only thing that comes to mind is that Veda is positioned higher than Mildred on the staircase when she exerts her authority over her mother with that devastating slap.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I love the movement in this clip. Veda goes from a lounging, self satisfied pose on the couch, to kneeling on the couch like a child, to walking defiantly away from her mother, to confrontation, to being "trapped" on the stairs, and then when told to get out, she runs up the stairs. Veda has been told to gather her things and get out, so it makes sense that she would be going up to her bedroom but the look on her mother's face makes me think of other young women who will be trapped in a tower with only one way out. 

 

I also loved the similarity in the dresses and hairstyles of the two women. Could it possibly reflect the internal struggle of the mother? 

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The best slap in movie history is just the ending of this classic noir scene.  Seeing her daughter for the first time, in her true light, Mildred is forced to do what she never believed in, correct her daughter.

 

 
Noir, or the grand gris, is at work at this scene with good vs evil in all it's glory.  We love mildred but we also laugh at her knitting as well..........noir at it's best.........the good and bad in battle in us as well in the scenes.
 
The stairway is a great visual to highlight the ascending of morals.............etc............
the closeup of the slap, will forever be the best shot of all on Crawford.
 
I do not believe this is the best scene in the movie, but it contributes to noir in that Mildred Pierce is not a film that adds to noir, but is noir, the very definition of the genre without detectives leading us around
dark lot, but dark at it's core, shown in full lighting of shadows.
 
 

 

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Mildred Pierce is a film that I've sort of "lived with" for a long time because it kept popping into my studies while researching my college thesis topic of product placement in film. The earliest recognized placement is in this movie (Jack Daniels).

 

Oh thank you. I love that kind of movie trivia.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Ooo. It's a meta-noir.

 

Hah, I didn't want to go too far  because I haven't seen the film, but it did suggest the idea to me. I'm looking forward to seeing this whenever my copy shows up.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

[And the bratty, self-centered teenager is born!!!!! Possibly the first ever depiction in film.]

I reiterate the surprise of others in that I did not initially see Mildred Pierce as film noir, in fact, it wasn't film noir. But, that's the objective of this topic, isn't it? We are seeing how film noir had an influence on Hollywood in the mid-40s. I've seen the film several times, but not until this topic did I see the noir-ish undertones. Brilliant! I love seeing things differently. I had originally applauded the film for its featuring a strong female lead character, now I can add its strong female lead character as a noir subject to my applause. The influence is all in the exchange between the women, the way their characters are the noir-ishly complicated protagonists.

Something interesting is happening in the scene here. Mildred starts off above her daughter (her daughter sitting on the couch) representing a typical parent-child role. But, watch how Veda gets up through the scene (on even terms with her mother), eventually standing above her mother on the stairs. We see Veda transforming from child to manipulative vamp in one scene. She's all grown up now, she thinks. The scene speaks to their transformed relationship. Throughout the rest of film Mildred takes the supportive role to her daughter's domination. Very interesting.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I can sense the darkness like the dress worn by both women gives scene a somber look already. Veda with her greed and lust for money and my rooting for Mildred feels of noir even though the scene just shows a concerned mother getting ready to be slapped by her daughter. I'm trying to convince myself of this film being noir and with my limited skills I only see a melodrama in this scene. The background in the introduction of this clip only makes me try to find the elements of noir not judging or having an immediate feeling that is is a noir film. I have to watch the film Friday to really find out why critics consider this a genre film.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

How do you feel the noir influence operates in this scene from Mildred Pierce?

By now, having read a bit on the technological restriction, the A-B list distribution strategy and the B movie budgets available for a plentiful of black and white films, I gather one can expect noir visual style to permeate the fils of the period. That we get in Mildred Pierce.

However, there is a two key elements of noir in Mildred Pierce- first we have a character driven by lust and greed at the center of the story The we have the role of women in noir- they are either bad as baddest can get or very naive and victimized. The conversation shows exactly that. It is the (much debated) case for misogyny which Nick Frank made. Women are either whores or saints (in the case of mothers and sisters). Perhaps it was the culture of the time to regard that the only possibility of empowerment was  to be mothers (or prospective mothers) or whores. 

In so far that noir includes the psychological drivers of characters, it is fair to include the moral dilemmas women face at the time- from that perspective the theme is noir- 

We do not see women content being housewives - noir scratches under the surface to show the discontent - that same as it did regarding the disappointment of men returning from war. 

Compare this view with another film of the time- a great piece - The best years of our lives.

I put this as a contra-argument to people that say noir was simply the way people were shooting movies at the time. 

 

How does Curtiz arrange these two actresses to heighten the tension of the scene? Pay attention to how they move and how they are framed in the scene, especially the use of close-ups. 

The conversation starts with Veda seating and Mildred hovering over her, it ends with Veda on the stairs looking down on Mildred- the shift in power is reflected in the physical position of the characters.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Mildred Pierce is one of those films that has more in common with noir through its themes and looks than in some of the characterizations we have seen in some of the previous films.  While the film does start with a murder, then a lengthy flashback, the run back up to the present contains the most noir in the daughter's turn to the "dark side," so to speak.  There is a wonderful use of shadows and light when Mildred discovers something about her daughter (I won't spoil it here).

 

Many people have written about the thematic and some of the lighting influences of noir already.  Getting to the character staging and camera work -- As the scene progresses, the realization that Mildred has for her daughter turns from being surprised to being disgusted.  

 

Veda begins in a close-up, kissing a check while Mildred apologizes for something doesn't concern Veda -- she has her money.  The first bit is all 2-shot or long shot with both in the frame. As the tension mounts, Veda initially turns her back on Mildred.  When Mildred confronts her, they turn into profile to further symbolize the direct conflict they have with each other.  When Veda explains why she wants money so badly, she steps closer to Mildred, and the camera moves in to a tighter 2-shot.  The conflict increases.

 

The shot switches from a LS to MS when each makes statements that are critical to their character or what they reveal to each other.  Mildred says, "You'll do anything for money, even blackmail" in MS, while Veda in a MS/CU tells her mother that now she can get away from anything that reminds her of her mother, and that her mother will always be a "common frump."  Mildred's CUs are revelations about her daughter; Veda's are accusatory or meant to hurt her mother for what she has accomplished.

 

When Mildred kicks Veda out and tells her to leave before she kills her (whoa, where did that come from?), Mildred is 1/4 turn to us and Veda is 3/4 turn.  We get to see Veda's wordless reaction in a close-up, showing the barely restrained rage.

 

This scene is a great example of how camera work parallels and enhances the tension.  

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The famous slap. I swear my recollection was that Crawford slapped Veda first, I guess that is Mommie Dearest seeping in.

 

I digress, Veda sniffs the letter in victory, Crawford is maddened when she realizes she has been duped by the one thing she has worked her butt off for. Crawford accuses her of blackmail, dishonesty and manipulation.

We are appalled that a child has no innocence and is so cynical.

 

Q1: The characterization is the Noir we see in this scene. Our expectations of a grateful child are smashed with the sound of the slap. Crawford's cheek is beet red. Even in reality, as I have seen in interviews, Blythe surprizes herself, as she truly slaps Crawford. The passion that Crawford withholds is that character underbelly that we know will bubble up later, and this is how Crutiz expends tension, a Noir trademark.

 

Q2: Veda leaps to the top of the stairs and Crawford is right behind, taking her position above Veda. The only recourse is for Veda to slap Crawford, and bring her down a rung.

 

Q3: The contributions we mark to Noir are the subtle flaws that play on the characters. Instead of shadows to dramatize emotions, Crutiz uses the inner workings of the twisted soul.

  • Like 5

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


© 2019 Turner Classic Movies Inc. A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved Terms of Use | Privacy Policy
×
×
  • Create New...