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


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This scene shows why Mildred Pierce is a '40's "woman's film" with a difference. Veda's character is not just over-the-top - she's positively poisonous. I don't think there are many film moments more jaw-dropping than when Joan Crawford shouts out "Veda!" in this scene.

When both actresses are arguing on the staircase, we see them in a physically awkward, potentially dangerous position. And this is the most awkward, dangerous conversation they've ever had. The emotional intensity is enhanced by the railings that encase them. It's almost as if they're in a cage ready to do battle.

On a lighter note, is anyone old enough to remember Carol Burnett's hilarious take-off on Mildred Pierce...a skit called Mildred Fierce? She wore shoulder pads big enough for a line-backer and ran a restaurant called "Fatburgers." Brilliant!

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The noir influence is evident in the simmering emotion and conflict between the characters. When they reach boiling there has to be revelations of deep psyche problems. In this scene Veda has clearly been harboring resentment toward Mildred for a long time. She doesn't seem to feel any remorse in having blackmailed a man. Did she observe this behavior in her mother? Mildred has fallen into the classic trap of providing everything for her daughter and not realizing the consequences until too late.

 

I like the way Curtiz cuts camera angles so that we focus on the emotional response in each woman's face. Veda seems nervous for a while, twisting her ring, almost seems to be wringing her hands. Her anger is defensive; she is justifying her actions. Some people have compared the action to dance but I see more of a boxing match in the way they move around each other before the slap.

 

The shifting control between characters, the revelation of deep-seated flaws in each character and the raw emotion contribute to the Noir style.

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I find this scene to be the strongest in the entire film. It reveals perhaps the darkest and deepest issue this film addresses: the wounded human spirit. I noticed on the staircase, Veda "very, very briefly" looks at her mother, after Mildred has told her to get out ("before I kill you"). Veda is momentarily 'hypnotized'. There is a purity and an innocence. But she quickly snaps back defiant, and bolts up the steps. And the staircase itself is symbolic. It winds and twists like the lives of it's characters, and Mildred is again on the bottom. But Mildred is a force, while Veda is clinging to some unseen flotation device, never sure of much of anything. Both women though, are the result of the wounded human spirit. Curtiz perfectly captures it in this scene.

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I feel sorry for Mildred.  No matter what she does, it's never good enough for her daughter.  Already before this point in the film, Mildred has lost one of her daughters, physically.  Her youngest dies early in the film.  At this point in the film, Mildred finally realizes she has lost Veda.  She could not let herself see this before, but now Mildred sees it.  And after this rift happens Mildred tires to find ways to fill her now empty life and home.  It doesn't take long for Veda to come back, but she doesn't crawl back.  And boy when they do try to mend it falls apart all the way between mother and daughter.  Even then, Veda refuses to take responsibility for her own choices and vices.  Her one and only daughter is a gangster, and Monty is a yes man.  He says yes to any woman who can own him.  To buy Monty is not cheap either.   Each film contributes to the noir style.  And they are not mild contributions either.  It takes a lot of work and talent to make a certain style look so flawless and flow so effortlessly.  I can only imagine what it takes from all involved in making a film, to make one that is perfect.

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There are several film noir elements in the scene. One being Veda who is a classic femme fetale who only cares about money, who will lie and muniplate to get what she wants. The lighting also has shades of film noir with the darkness and shadows. The music was also typical of a film noir.

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I have never seen “Mildred Pierce.”  Lovely Ann Blyth as a bratty daughter?  OK, I’ll go with the flow…. Until Joan Crawford says, “…get out before I kill you….” NO WAY a mother EVER says that to her daughter.  Especially premised on the kind of truly not unrealistic catfight mother and daughter are having here.  But “…get out before I kill you….”?  Phony.  You’ve lost me. :(

I've gotta say, I've worked in reality TV in post-production and I've heard much worse than "get out before I kill you" between mother and daughter. :blink:  (Probably heard similar in my personal life as well ;) .) Could the reaction may be more in the melodramatic style of acting that was common at the time than the words themselves? I could easily picture that phrase being said today in a movie or even TV series with the actor making a choice to speak in a calm tone and have it be entirely believable.

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I have never seen “Mildred Pierce.”  Lovely Ann Blyth as a bratty daughter?  OK, I’ll go with the flow…. Until Joan Crawford says, “…get out before I kill you….” NO WAY a mother EVER says that to her daughter.  Especially premised on the kind of truly not unrealistic catfight mother and daughter are having here.  But “…get out before I kill you….”?  Phony.  You’ve lost me. :(

This is a pivotal point where Mildred realizes this is NOT her daughter - this is a monster. As for "what mother ever says that..." You've obviously (and luckily) never been pushed so far you say things you'll regret... Although I'm not an advocate for that cliché that everybody (?) has said that ("I'll kill you") once in the heat of anger...I do agree that it is a plot device. Bear with it. Watch the movie.

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This scene from MILDRED PIERCE is important as an example of the noir influence being worked into human conflict, which is at the heart of the story. Although a murder opens the film and the scenes at the police department are suitably dark, MILDRED PIERCE is not concerned with crime,making it one of the first productions to utilize noir-like lighting, camerawork and scripting in a straight drama -- thus transforming the film into something other than a "women's picture," as similar melodramas were dubbed back in the day. In this scene, Mildred discovers that bratty Veda has gone from a troublesome teenager into a greedy, self-centered misery and a prime example of a female noir presence. "I think I'm seeing you for the first time," Mildred declares, "and it's cheap and horrible!" For anyone who's seen the movie up to this point, it's the defining moment in the difficult relationship of these two women in which they become rivals, with the introduction of Zachary Scott's playboy yet to send any hope of Mildred and Veda burying the hatchet careening off a cliff. The fact Veda covets cash and all of the pleasure it brings -- "You'd do anything for money, even blackmail," Mildred observes -- points to noir's belief that filthy lucre is indeed the root of all evil and is the downside of Mildred's admirable success in the roadside cafe business. This theme is kept squarely in the background, though, and perhaps kept the film and its creators off the Red witch hunters' radar as a Moscow-inspired attack on capitalism.

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I have never seen “Mildred Pierce.” Lovely Ann Blyth as a bratty daughter? OK, I’ll go with the flow…. Until Joan Crawford says, “…get out before I kill you….” NO WAY a mother EVER says that to her daughter. Especially premised on the kind of truly not unrealistic catfight mother and daughter are having here. But “…get out before I kill you….”? Phony. You’ve lost me. :(

You should watch it. It's a good movie.
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Interesting take and I have seen this same thought from many posts this morning.....it seems to me they have an interchanging struggle for power in this scene.  It is Vida who has been in control of things to this point.....then we see a change.....Vida rises from the couch and openly insults mom, mom stops her and takes (what we think) will be her last stance as a weak mom by grabbing Vida's handbag and tearing up the check, Vida slaps her and them mom once again takes charge by ordering Vida out of the house (with a threat of death no less)......we see a moment where the insolence in Vida's eyes switch over to fear and uncertainty.....(HOW DID SHE DO THAT?)  I think the struggle continues on between these two through the end of the movie......incredible....

 

There is no denying the extremely powerful acting forces at work in this film......and yes, I saw a comment on Crawford taking that slap.....WHEW!!!!  I'll be she was a little ticked and had no problem acting the part at that point.....WHO dares to slap the great Joan Crawford?  One of the most powerful scenes I have ever witnessed in all my movie viewing.

Ann Blyth said in an interview that Joan Crawford did Ann's test with her and was very generous with this scene. Joan's career was riding on this movie so she wanted it to succeed. Joan Crawford was also a professional (perhaps too much so).
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Mildred is the lead of this film noir which is unusual. She has worked long and hard in a man`s world to become a successful business woman. Along the way Mildred has made many sacrifices mostly for her older spoiled daughter Veda. Veda is like a femme fatale only thinking of herself, not caring who she hurts, and pawing her way to money by any way she can. The scene opens with Veda reclining on the couch with a check in her hands that was gotten deceitfully. Mildred does not look happy, and they face each other in closeup fully lit. Veda proceeds to tell her mother that she is a nobody conveniently forgetting all the thing that Mildred has done for her. As Veda goes up the staircase with a smirk on her face, Mildred has heard enough. She grabs Veda`s arm, and Mildred taking the purse rips up the check.Veda slaps Mildred throwing her against the railing. Mildred has finally had enough, and she tells Veda to get out.

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

The scene: Seeing Your For The First Time reflects the tension between mother and daughter.  The scene also shows that there is a serious conflict that exist between the mother and daughter.  Furthermore, this scene also reveals the character flaws that exist among the characters.

 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 scene is heightened because of the tone of the dialogue between the two characters and also the face to face interaction.  

In what ways can this scene from Mildred Pierce be considered as an important contribution to the film noir style?

    The film noir style exist in the scene because of the dramatic music that is used to emphasize the rising tension.  Also, both of the female characters are dressed in very dark clothes.  Furthermore, the physical assault by the daughter toward the mother along with the response from the mother.  The scene also draws the viewer into the on-going trouble between the two characters.

 

 

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On a lighter note, is anyone old enough to remember Carol Burnett's hilarious take-off on Mildred Pierce...a skit called Mildred Fierce? She wore shoulder pads big enough for a line-backer and ran a restaurant called "Fatburgers." Brilliant!

(slightly OT)

 

We have a Fatburger chain! Now I know where it came from! :-)

 

Thanks for sharing! Mildred Fierce is on youtube. The Carol Burnett movie skits are hilarious and not sarcastic or mean-spirited. I think they're her (and her team's) own loving tribute to the classics. Great for when you need a little relief from too much cinematic intensity.

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The thing I noticed is that both women are in black. this is going along with the dark look of Film noir. the background and the foreground have equal lighting in the scene.

When Mildred approaches Veda she is sitting on the couch. Mildred is standing over and talking down to her like a mother talking to her child. Veda gets up and moves away and turns her back to her.Veda starts to tell her mother off and she is almost as tall as her mother.Then Veda moves to the stairs in which she is able to talk down to her mother. this is where she thinks she belongs above her mother. Mildred rips up the check and Veda smacks her.

Veda's greed is appalling to Mildred. Veda is heading for a fall. The theme is dark.Veda shows a dark side of human nature.This is film noir territory.

Film noir styling is beginning to cross genres.

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like eve arden told her in so many words - some animals eat their young :P  Veda didnt need more possessions she needed tough love and a good fashioned kick in the pants. Her 1st husband was right when he told her about spoiling Veda, she should have listened

I feel sorry for Mildred.  No matter what she does, it's never good enough for her daughter.  Already before this point in the film, Mildred has lost one of her daughters, physically.  Her youngest dies early in the film.  At this point in the film, Mildred finally realizes she has lost Veda.  She could not let herself see this before, but now Mildred sees it.  And after this rift happens Mildred tires to find ways to fill her now empty life and home.  It doesn't take long for Veda to come back, but she doesn't crawl back.  And boy when they do try to mend it falls apart all the way between mother and daughter.  Even then, Veda refuses to take responsibility for her own choices and vices.  Her one and only daughter is a gangster, and Monty is a yes man.  He says yes to any woman who can own him.  To buy Monty is not cheap either.   Each film contributes to the noir style.  And they are not mild contributions either.  It takes a lot of work and talent to make a certain style look so flawless and flow so effortlessly.  I can only imagine what it takes from all involved in making a film, to make one that is perfect.

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Veda begins in a submissive sort of position, reclining on a sofa, in a pose that in another context could read as slightly seductive, in a manner typical of films noir.  Giggling, and with her mother standing above her, Veda is almost infantilized here, instead, presented as the foolish girl in comparison.  She rises from the couch and comes closer to the same level as her mother as the truth of the situation and the extent to which she has manipulated it is revealed, with her stature in the frame growing along with our realization of the amount of agency she has exerted.  "Oh, grow up," she says to her mother, and it serves as a self-referential comment on the characters of film noir, with Veda positioning herself as the more adult character who sees the world as it is and her mother as the kind of naive, outmoded character for whom there is no place in the darker world of noir.  Both women wear black, which in typical noir coding reflects how each views the other as the villain in this scene, and also serves to signify the degree to which Veda is a reflection of her mother.  As Mildred takes the moral high ground (rightly), she is positioned in the foreground of the frame, looking down at her daughter, who can't even make eye contact initially.  As Veda reveals the extent of her loathing of Mildred, there's a palpable glee in her eyes, and the act is even more vicious than when Mildred later tears up her check or even when she threatens to kill her.  The twisted metal of the staircase railing, as well as the aggressive slanted pattern of the lampshade behind Veda signifies the prison-like atmosphere of the house and town as she perceives it.  Veda asserts herself as the more adult figure one last time in the only way she can, slapping her mother, who drops in the frame before rising back up; in this, the one violent moment in the scene, Veda once again embodies the new traits that define noir characters.

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Darkness, tension, and fear are Noir themes in this clip.


As well as, subjects, of money, and blackmail. Ending with the threat of death that the mother has over Veda.


The shifting triumph from character to the other, for example Veda is happy about having lied about being pregnant to get money, and her mother is furious, and as the scene progresses that shift from the daughter in power, to the mother is strong, and helped by with camera angles giving one character the upper hand over the other.


Contributions to Film Noir are many, shadows, dark clothes, anger, threats, also a strong female presence.


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Neither woman is dominating the screen, each has their segment in the frame and what we will see as the clip plays is the battle for power. Veda is submissive and seems as if child-like and then the claws come out, Mildred is the mother, but then she becomes child-like because she can't fathom that her daughter would fake this pregnancy. Then you realize that there are layers to each of the women and that neither truly knew the other - thus, in noir, there is the darkness of the relationship, the suspicion, the mistrust and the twist - but then Veda gets double-tricked when she is ordered out. Notice how the camera frames the 2 women on the staircase - Veda thought she was ascending to greatness beyond her mother, yet, she can't go in further because her mother has retaliated. The clothing is dark, the hairstyles mirror each other, but look at the way Mildred's face is framed with her dress and collar - the lighting almost makes Mildred seem nice and sweet - but Veda is pretty on the outside and evil on the inside - is Mildred the reverse - we don't know yet. Manipulation is being done on so many levels that you should rewatch the scen repeatedly

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I have seen this movie in its entirety but concentrating on this specific clip reveals points that I did not notice before. Mildred has gone out of her way and pushed herself hard in order to provide a nice life for her daughter. Veda shouldn't have wanted for nothing but she is greedy. The noir effect is the fact that Mildred was pushed to the point of hating her own daughter and the fact that Veda is evil enough to use any and everybody she has to in order to get what she wants. It is a 'dark' plot because most mother/daughter relationships are close in a special way.

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... The fact Veda covets cash and all of the pleasure it brings -- "You'd do anything for money, even blackmail," Mildred observes -- points to noir's belief that filthy lucre is indeed the root of all evil and is the downside of Mildred's admirable success in the roadside cafe business. This theme is kept squarely in the background, though, and perhaps kept the film and its creators off the Red witch hunters' radar as a Moscow-inspired attack on capitalism.

There's an interesting aspect. Don't remember well enough if the movie suggested Mildred's business success played any part in making her offspring a heartless, materialistic monster who despises her mother's hard work. But in the dialogue Veda lashes out how she loathes this town with its "women who wear uniforms, men who wear overalls". I suppose that line might have blackened Veda even more to WWII homefront audiences who'd been proudly wearing uniforms and overalls for a while.

 

Reminds me that a scene was cut from LAURA at the time. It was in the flashback and showed 2 or 3 minutes of Lydecker outfitting, wining and dining Laura and introducing her to high society. It was felt that the display of material plentitude without regard to the rationing and conservation rules that ordinary Americans had to abide by would not have sat well with the audience.

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Up till this point, I think Mildred has kept herself from seeing Veda clearly. Why? Because there's something in Mildred herself that Mildred doesn't want to see -- a murderous rage she would like to unleash on her daughter. It's been there all along, brewing. But Mildred can't allow herself to acknowledge it, so she allows Veda to express her contempt for her mother. When Veda slaps Mildred, Mildred's mask of repression is knocked off for a moment and we see her for the first time -- just as she sees herself for the first time. She is indeed ready to kill Veda. At least a part of her is  ready. This makes Mildred into the kind of partially-tainted protagonist we get with our more garden varieties of noir. 

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I get so excited when I see filmmaking of this quality that I really can NOT analyze it effectively. The only thing I can offer is a big WOW. Joan Crawford and Ann Blyth. WOW. That story line. WOW. Those characters. That setting. That direction. WOW. The make-up, the hair, the costumes, the lighting, wow Wow, WOW!!! This is the apex of Joan's career. She's like a thoroughbred racehorse on a winning streak, truly an awe-inspiring thing of beauty. She inhabited the noir style perfectly. Doubtless Miss Blyth's own exceptional performance was sparked and fired by the influence of such a consummate pro as Joan Crawford. Mr. Curtiz must have been in his glory with performances of this caliber being delivered under his direction.

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The noir influence operates in this scene as the characters are wearing black clothing, and there seems to be little light shining through the house which amplifies the character's shadows and also indicates the conflict that runs through the family especially between mother and daughter- Mildred and Veda. Curtiz heightens the suspense of the scene as the two characters are placed quite far apart from each with levels added such as in some point Veda is sitting, Mildred is standing, and Veda is higher up on the stairs while Mildred is lower, the only time they are close together is when they exchange psychical abuse to each other. The levels of the actresses suggests that there is a constant power struggle between mother and daughter which is specifically explained when Veda tells Mildred that she wants to go away from her. The use of closeups heighten insight the audience gets from the emotion of the characters- audience wonders what Mildred will do out of anger as we all know that that is no way to talk to our mothers.

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I am a bit biased toward Curtiz's version of Mildred Pierce. I had seen this film version and then read the novel, finding that much was changed in the adaptation (and understandably so, as the Hays Code wouldn't permit some of the relationships that happen in the latter portions of the novel), which disappointed me. There is also no murder mystery in the novel, which is the backbone of this film. Then I watched the fantastic and faithful HBO miniseries, directed by Todd Haynes and starring Kate Winslet as Mildred. So, being a fan of the novel and the miniseries, I don't really care too much for the 1945 film. Nevertheless, I think Curtiz's film is quite important when considering film noir and how the genre/style/movement transitioned from hard-boiled detective films to more standard dramas.

 

As many have pointed out, the cinematography is vital to seeing this film in the same vein as film noir. Even in this seemingly simple scene (at least in the beginning), we get stark contrast between the decor and what Mildred and Veda are wearing. These are women in black, and while we do get some fighting words at the scene's close, it's kind of odd to see them dressing so drab knowing that they have money (all thanks to Mildred). But, their dresses are perfect for defining them against their surroundings. Even though they now live in luxury, they still don't quite fit in. We don't get too many shadows here, so the colors of their dresses sort of make the stark contrast, which is necessary for film noir. And, while we don't see it here, the film is told in flashback, which is another essential characteristic of film noir. The focus on a woman who is not the femme fatale (though that appears to be Veda) bends the genre a bit. It's more melodrama with the aesthetic of film noir. Add in that flashback, and it's easy to see why it may fit in.

 

The scene at the beginning shifts between long and medium shots, but the camera mostly stays back until the scene climaxes, where we then get some close-ups of both Crawford and Blyth. The pace of the cuts quickens, too, as mother and daughter begin to fight and threaten each other. The music also swells near the end of the scene, allowing us to feel the tension between the two even more (though, the music may be a bit too much for me). Before we reach the scene's climax, however, the two do a sort of dance. Or maybe it just feels that way because Veda almost seems to slither from the couch, around her mother, to the table, and up the stairs. She gives us this motion that we kind of just have to watch; and Mildred sort of takes her daughter's abuse and criticism, almost like she's the daughter instead of Veda. In the end, though, Veda's the one running off in tears, with a bittersweet triumph for Mildred.

 

I think it would be beneficial to many if they saw the whole film to get a better understanding of its place in film noir, but this scene does show off some pretty gritty and real moments that can be attributed to film noir.

 

And, if you haven't seen the miniseries, go do it. It's not a film noir, but it's pretty darn good.

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