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


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Such a powerful clip. It's amazing because Crawford isn't the biggest b---- in this scene. The power struggle between the two is mirrored in their distances and juxtaposition with each other. When Veda is seated, and laying her head back, she looks like the cat that swallowed the canary.. an evil cheshire cat... I always want Mildred to slug her back!

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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. 

I certainly agree with you on this. Veda is complete and utter trash; she behaves almost inconceivably horrible to everyone. When I was reading the novel and watching the miniseries, I really wanted to knock some sense into Veda. No one should treat their mother as poorly as Veda does, so it makes sense that Mildred really would be willing to kill her.

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I think what's most interesting about this is that we get to see the development of the femme fatale. In film noir we see many of these dangerous damsels, but we rarely see how they become that way. With Veda, we can see the motivations for her becoming a cynical & merciless woman. Much like the Greek playwrights focused on character flaws unlike their predecessors, Michael Curtiz gives the viewer a better understanding of the inspiration for a character, in this case, Veda.

 

Curtiz adroitly uses posturing in this scene. Notice how as we begin, Veda is loose and playful. Her dialogue mirrors her movements and carriage. She shows a bit of nervousness by wringing her hands just before she finds the strength to confront her mother. And when she does, her hands go immediately to her sides, she stands straight and tall, and her voice goes from that of a frisky girl to that of a determined woman. Curtiz also positions Veda looking away from her mother in the early part of the scene, enhancing the "girl" aspect. However, when she becomes more resolute she faces her mother head on. It is here that Curtiz begins to alternately shoot tight focus shots on the actors faces as they speak to increase the tension of the scene. Throughout this scene, Curtiz uses Crawford's height to show her as a stronger woman. It is no coincidence that after speaking her mind, Veda runs up the stairwell, finds herself in a superior position to Mildred, and ultimately slaps her to an even lower position. Lastly, we see Mildred stand straight and tall as she gains her resolve to throw Veda out of the house. In essence, posture is used as way to establish character.

 

The scene contributed to the genre in the way characters were portrayed. Character development was not simply about acting, but about physical placement, movement, lighting, and camera angles. All these things were important in film noir.

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Such a powerful clip. It's amazing because Crawford isn't the biggest b---- in this scene. The power struggle between the two is mirrored in their distances and juxtaposition with each other. When Veda is seated, and laying her head back, she looks like the cat that swallowed the canary.. an evil cheshire cat... I always want Mildred to slug her back!

You and me both!....That little,no good,dirty rotten scoundrel of a daughter. Even today,that's a powerful scene that holds up with the best of them.
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Noir influence is seen in how the tension builds.  First we see the daughter laid back and relaxed; she is happy with her greedy self.  Mother walks in and the realization (then confrontation) slowly builds.  Mildred tries to get closer to her daughter but Veda keeps moving away.  As the argument escalates the camera closes in.  Curtiz uses close-ups so we can see the "cheap and horrible" hatred in Veda's eyes.  The camera then shows Mildred in close-up to see her horrified reaction.  The movements and speech quicken as the tension rises.  Daughter moves up (the stairs) and away from her mother.  Mother rushes to her and quickly grabs the purse.  The intensity and loudness of the speech patterns increases.

I got chills when the daughter strikes the mother. 

The daughter effectively murders her mother by stabbing her heart with the reality that, not only does she not appreciate her mother and all her mother has done, but the daughter has become a "cheap and horrible" blackmailer.

This is important to the contribution to noir style because it encompasses the psychological aspects that differentiate an ordinary girl in crisis from a loathsome young woman filled with greed.  It shows that women have risen in the world to be just as powerful (mother) and greedy (daughter) as any man.

For a mother to tell her daughter to "Get out before I kill you," is the epitome of bad parenting (but great for film noir.)  

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This excellent clip, in and of itself and, not knowing what came before or after, presents a searing dramatic scene that may show the noir influence, but not necessarily, by extension, can one conclude that this film in its entirety is a film noir. At least, a valid argument might possibly be made for that notion.

I realize that I am not the first in this thread to give voice to this idea. I am just not sure.

 

I think I can agree that the influence of the style of film noir comes across in this mesmerizing scene.

 

On the other hand, for supporters of a film noir (i.e. that the entire film be classified as film noir) thesis for “Mildred Pierce”, here are some points to be made.

 

There are two references in the dialog, one to blackmail, and, at the end, when Mildred says to Veda, “Get out before I kill you!” One may argue that these two references press at least a partial label of film noir onto the reel of celluloid.

 

There are other possible elements for the supporters of a thesis that “Mildred Pierce” is indeed an example of the film noir style (genre, movement??).

 

A) The scene is in black and white.

 

B) (for some reason I can't delete the smiley face -- I wanted a letter "B" there instead.) Both women are dressed in black. Yet, is wearing of black just indigenous to film noir?

 

C) Max Steiner’s music score in this scene seems to have a disturbing film noir flavor (an off- balance clarinet suffering from nausea?) as though something is not quite right.

 

D)“The ruthlessness of the passions involved, the figure of the second husband, a wanton gigolo, and above all, that of the cynical and twisted daughter, clearly show the [noir] influences at work." (Borde and Chaumeton, p. 46) I agree with Borde and Chaumeton, at least with “…that of the cynical and twisted daughter…” that this is a noir influence-- although that is all that I witnessed in the scene. Obviously, I must assume that they are telling the truth about the other elements (full disclosure: I did see the movie about three times through the years) and if they are true, then yes, "Mildred Pierce" was influenced by the noir style. Perhaps even the entire film could be called a film noir.

 

E) Mildred’s daughter ,Veda, I have to agree exhibits "cynical and twisted" behavior well before her years.

 

F) In the camera work, after Veda rises from the couch and Mildred’s awareness senses some change in her daughter, they come face to face and that brings the tension to a simmer. There is a series of close-ups of each character and medium shots of both of the women as they square off.

 

A close up of Mildred intensifies the action as she says to her daughter.

 

Mildred: Money. That's what you live for, isn't it?

You'd do anything for money, wouldn’t you?

Even blackmail.

 

Then a medium shot of both women as the dialog becomes more heated.

 

Veda: l'll say they’re going to be different.

Why do you think l went to all this trouble?

Why do you think l want money so badly?

 

Mildred: All right, why?

 

Veda: Are you sure you want to know?

 

Mildred: Yes.

 

Veda: Then I'll tell you. With this money,

I can get away from you.

 

Mildred: Veda!

 

Veda: From you and your chickens, pies and

kitchens. Everything that smells of grease. I can get away from this shack with its cheap furniture. And this town and its dollar days, and its women that wear uniforms, and its men that wear overalls.

 

Mildred: Veda I think I’m seeing you for the first time

in my life. And you're cheap and horrible.   

 

Veda: You think just because you made a little money,

You can get a new hairdo and some expensive clothes and turn yourself into a lady. But you can't. You'll never be anything but a common frump...(“the unkindest cut of all” –DB -- the camera switches to a close-up of Mildred who is clearly hurt and insulted) whose father lived over a grocery store, and whose mother took in washing. With this money I can get away from every rotten stinking thing that makes me think of this stinking place or you!

 

The scene boils over as Mildred rushes toward Veda who has by now gone to the staircase. Mildred grabs Veda’s purse and rips up the check. Veda slaps her own mother so hard that Mildred loses her balance. Now that is pure shocking violence and that speaks of the noir style. It's especially shocking to see a daughter slap her mother in a 1945 movie!

And…

 

Mildred: Get out, Veda.

Get your things out of this house now

before I throw them into the street and you with them.

Get out before I kill you!

 

Pretty tough stuff.

 

G) Maybe the gestalt idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts can be applied so all of these points taken together as having a snowball effect as the characters go downhill.

 

H) There are other elements in this film, one especially that I can't mention because of its spoiler nature.

 

"Mildred Pierce" is a film noir? Maybe. "Mildred Pierce" is influenced by the film noir style? I think so.

 

As Professor Edwards writes in his eighth "Daily Dose of Darkness": “A film like Mildred Pierce is important to consider as we attempt to define film noir, because there will be no clear boundaries among different genres when the noir influence arrives on the scene. By 1945, film noir is raising the stakes across all of Hollywood's classic movie genres.”

 

Thank you.

 

In case you missed it (on You Tube this came immediately after the film clip on my browser),  an interview with Ann Blyth by Eddie Muller in July, 2006. Scenes are shown from “Mildred Pierce”, and Ann Blyth comments about working on the movie. Excellent.

Here is the link.

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I can believe that many find this film not classic noir, due to the fact i love this film so

allow me to some patience.

 

Forget it is written by the best film noir writer James M Cain.

Forget it is best screenplay adaption ever.

Forget it is tour de force for the time

 

Remember film noir is not only detectives but crime at it's heart.

 

Many say they don't see the femme fatale, so no film noir.

It's the man in the story as the femme fatale or the male matale or male fatale.

Fatales must have sexual attraction to them, without that no conflicts of interest.

Monty is the love interest for both women, for both women trouble, and i give 

you the best example of the male fatale in film.

 

thanks for time.

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Curtiz adroitly uses posturing in this scene.

The scene contributed to the genre in the way characters were portrayed. Character development was not simply about acting, but about physical placement, movement, lighting, and camera angles. All these things were important in film noir.

Great observations!  Your emphasis on the style of the picture making it film noir is quite on the mark.  It's an interesting example because they changed it considerably from the book to make it a film noir.

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Veda  is an ungrateful, pretentious, narcissistic brat!  It's no wonder some animals eat their young!

 

Moving the action from a long shot to a medium one that focuses in on the staircase was brilliant  The use of the staircase and close-ups allows for the dominance of the characters to swing back and forth between Mildred to Veda as they exchange harsh realities and truth. The close-ups allow to see the contempt in Veda's eyes and Mildred's realization that her daughter is as rotten as she thinks she is but could never outwardly express. Mildred always made excuses for Veda's pretentiousness while those around Mildred saw Veda as she really was. Oh a mother's love!!!

 

It's a very dramatic scene.  The characters have other motives but I felt that they were spelled out pretty clearly. Nothing seems to be held back from the audience in the script or in the implications of the characters' action yet we start with a murder and a woman who wants to take her own life.  There is the dark, seedy waterfront.  It starts out dark, with the flickering light of a fireplace. The sound of the policeman's baton is grating on the ear and just enough to pull Mildred back from the brink. It also is a sound that pulls us into the story.

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Great observations!  Your emphasis on the style of the picture making it film noir is quite on the mark.  It's an interesting example because they changed it considerably from the book to make it a film noir.

As much as I enjoy Cain's work, i have never read this novel. Perhaps I will now after watching it tomorrow.

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Curtiz sets up the scene with both woman wearing black. The daughter is lounging on a chair in a languid position satisfied with her falsification act. Mildred walks around her in a position of assured authority and calm. When Veda discloses her lie, Mildred pulls her over to confront her. They face each other eye to eye and Veda spills the truth. "Are you sure you want to hear this"?  The camera gives us a close up of Veda's hateful barrage of insults toward her mother. Her lips are tight and her eyes are blank and cold. The camera shifts to Mildred who reacts with shock and devastation. The daughter climbs the stairs to a higher landing and towers over her mother. Mildred distressed by Veda's words and actions grabs the check and tears it to pieces. To everyone's surprise, Veda slaps her mother and knocks her down!!. I was so shocked at this action .Curtiz then directs Joan Crawford to stand up in an indelible gesture of power and certainty  and says "get out before I kill you".The viewers empathizes with her because they know she sees Veda for the first time!!

   Mildred Pierce is an important contribution to film noir because it focuses on the psychological issues of a family. There's the young daughter about to become a full fledged femme fatale. Like Eddie Muller says in his article, Veda is a character who acts out of a desperate desire for wealth.She may know it's wrong but does act on it anyway.The film has other despicable characters such as the greedy husband/gigolo and to top it all off...an incestuous crime of passion.

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There are two ways we can see the influence of film noir in this clip: in the characters and in the shot composition.

 

The characters themselves both speak quickly, hitting their lines hard, with a rhythm that reminds the viewer more of hardboiled detectives like Sam Spade than a mother and daughter alone together.  Both are also constantly on the move, literally upstaging each other in their power struggle.

 

Curtiz's shot composition adds to the dynamic tension of the scene, as it does in many noir films.  Initially, before the two women fight, the blocky door and bland wall frame them.  When their discussion starts to build up heat, however, he uses the stark iron-wrought staircase and the shadows from the window blinds to point to the two of them at a disturbing angle until the climax of the fight, when the daughter's escape is perfectly drawn by the iron balustrade. 

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

A: The interior scenes have wonderful light and shadows, including the window blinds casting a great shadow (A foreshadow of the jail bars in Veda's future?) behind Mildred (Crawford). Both actresses are dressed in black, which helps make the mood seem somber and serious.

 

Q: 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.

A: The scene starts with Veda (Blyth) on the couch in a subordinate position while Mildred stands over her. Then the actresses move behind the couch both standing. Veda plays with the check while Mildred realizes Veda lied about being pregnant. Mildred grabs Veda by the shoulders to confront her. While Veda is spewing forth her rage at her mother, the scene is shot over Mildred's shoulder. cutting to Mildred in closeup to get her reaction. When Veda runs toward the stairs with Mildred following her, she is positioned higher than her mother and her closeup is shot from below, from Crawford's vantage point on the stairs. Crawford's closeup, after she orders Veda out of the house, is shot from above, to emphasize her isolation and alienation from her daughter.

 

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

A: The scene is violent in both its dialogue and action. The characters hold nothing back in their confrontation. The cutting and editing, including the reaction shot closeups, the superior and subordinate camera angles, add to the tension in the scene and are emblematic of the noir style.

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There is noir all over this scene, from the clipped & tough dialogue to the tight shots and cutting back and forth to the subject matter (blackmail and all that.) The background music stuck me, suspenseful and sinister, until it ends on a melodramatic note at the end of the scene. And based on a novel by James M. Cain ( which I haven't read.) Like I said, noir all over it.

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Veda's attitude in this scene shows noir influences. No innocent teenager here. Veda knows exactly what she wants and even plays her mother for a fool. Another noir element is Mildred's response to her daughter's slap; she threatens to kill her if she doesn't leave. Such a dramatic statement is more fitting in a noir film than anywhere else.

 

There are a lot of close-ups in this scene. This allows us to see intense emotion in the actress's eyes. It also brings a threatening element into the scene. I was waiting for the slap, only I expected the mother to slap her daughter when Veda derides her as a frump with working class parents.

 

The interaction between two women extends noir into new territory. We do not have a detective bandying words with a femme fatale or a villain, but a mother and daughter having it out.

 

 

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The thing that strikes me about this clip is how the changing positions of the characters seem to indicate a changing relationship between them.  As the scene opens, Veda is laying on the sofa acting like a smug child while Mildred is standing and expressing concern for her daughter who she believes is pregnant.  Veda slowly gets up while at the same time dropping hints that concerns about her condition may be premature.  They are both standing face to face when Mildred asks Veda point blank if she's pregnant and Veda replies "I got the money".  Although they are facing each other, Mildred is taller and still maintains a dominant position.  As Mildred challenges her daughter, Veda responds with a venomous outburst that ends with her taking to the stairs.  At this point Veda is now the one looking down on her mother, while at the same time having taken the upper hand in their relationship.  Mildred again tries to challenge her by tearing up the check, but Veda remains in control as symbolized by her remaining on a higher step.  Finally, in the ultimate role reversal, daughter slaps mother knocking her down.  As Mildred gets up she now appears to be exactly on eye level with Veda and virtually disowns her.  We can only guess what the future holds for these two women.  

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From a noir perspective, the tension of this scene is elevated by the characters moving closer together, framed together from different angles as they directly confront each other.  The close-ups over the shoulder of the other character bring them even tighter within the frame.  This is like a boxing match where they have come to the center of the ring to have it out.  The music is like a wave that sweeps them into the torrent they are creating.  From a blocking perspective, the daughter is trying to escape her mother, to move to a higher class, just as she ascends the stairs to both distance herself from her mother and rise above her.  But her mother follows her, tears up the daugter's 'ticket out', which causes the daughter to knock the mother back down with the slap, back to the lower class the daughter thinks where her mother belongs.  The mother arises again though to assert her final word - to throw the daughter out, with the threat of death behind it.  Such threats are the punctuation of noir.

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In Michael Curtiz's Mildred Pierce, the daughter (Ann Blyth) is her mother's (Joan Crawford) femme fatale.  This is a very insidious tension causing noir influence heightened by the equal lighting and constant direct eye contact between the daughter and mother during their calm discussion ending in violence, anger and threats.  Other noir influences are also of a technical nature which include skewed compositions and diagonal lines such as the opening frame close-up of the daughter draped on the couch (making love to her check), and, the frame where the daughter slaps the mother - the in control daughter towers over her mother who is knocked downward from the force of the slap and stares upward in shock.  These technical natured noir influences drive the story forward by keeping one's full attention through their uniqueness and power.  If she was my daughter, I would have dis-owned her by now. 

 

(**SPOILER ALERT**)

 

This scene is an important contribution to Film Noir because it is a Melodrama using Film Noir attributes such as the femme fatale - the cynical daughter (Ann Blyth) who seduces (and even murders) her way to get what she wants.

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Mother, You’re a Scream!  Mildred Pierce

 

-- How do you feel the noir influence operates in this scene from Mildred Pierce? The music heightens the drama of the scene, and helps create a dark mood indicative of noir. It at first seems to be all over the place, fluttery, apprehensive, because the scene is: we’re not really sure what’s going to happen yet, but by the difference in energies, Veda physically relaxed open-bodied on the sofa juxtaposed with Mildred standing motionless, arms rigidly close to her, we know this is going to be something strong.  Mildred is sympathetic to Veda’s position until she discovers the deception. Lots of woodwind instruments cascading like waterfalls all around them. There are a couple of modulations, heightening the tension as we come closer to Veda’s admission.  After Mildred realizes Veda’s not pregnant, there’s a sustained chord, like a breath being held, then a brief silence as Mildred takes in the information and processes it.  Mildred asks her “How could you?” in musical silence.  When Veda explains, the music comes in and is more forceful than before and begins to crescendo.  More modulations as cellos and/or bowed basses come in, Horns are added. There’s an upward glissando as Veda takes her place on the steps.  I think all this represents Mildred’s emotions: dark, fluttering, sickening.  Veda smacks Mildred at the height of the crescendo. There’s another musical silence as Mildred tells Veda to get out and an even more forceful upward glissando as Veda runs up the stairs. The camera cuts back to Mildred glaring up at Veda, and the blaring horns forcefully bolster that glare.  Without this music, the scene might’ve fallen into ordinary melodrama.  With the music emphasizing each dramatic “beat” of the scene (the moment when an important thing happens that makes the scene move forward), plus the dark costumes that help isolate both Mother and Daughter’s milk white skin, and lighting that accents the eyes to allow unbridled emotions to peer through, let’s us know that someone’s going down here, and the way the music doesn’t actually resolve, but cross dissolve to another scene, we know that this isn’t over.

 

 

-- 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.  Initially, the camera is at a low angle, close on Veda.  It moves up with her and she remains in the foreground.  She has the focus of the scene initially.  We need to observe her closely. As things become more heated when Veda says “I got the money…” she moves upstage, making her now appear smaller, giving Mildred control of the scene for now.  Mildred takes a stand when she says “things are going to be different.” As Veda says “I’ll say they’re going to be different,” she moves downstage to square off with Mildred.  The camera follows and is now flat in front of the two women.  They now seem equal.  After Veda tells Mildred how she feels about her and says “with this money I can get away, etc., “ she literally runs away, up the stairs. Mildred stops her with her voice.  Veda is above her.  She has the upper hand, for now. When Mildred rips up the check and Veda slaps her and knocks her down, she does not fall all the way down.  She supports herself on the railing and raises herself up.  Veda will not break her completely, at least not yet. Mildred’s face registers shock and disbelief.  We cannot see Veda’s face but her body has taken an almost rigid stance as if to say “What are you gonna’ do about it?”  The camera moves up as Mildred does and now both women appear to be the same height.  They are equals again.  When Mildred says “Get out before I kill you!” it goes to Veda close-up.  She has a flicker of emotion.  Fear?  And then runs away as if a child is running to her room.  This lacks the conviction she displayed physically the first time she ran up the steps.

 

-- In what ways can this scene from Mildred Pierce be considered as an important contribution to the film noir style?  The essence of noir is that a person goes to a level they never thought they would in a million years and does something/experiences something so negatively opposite.  Veda can’t believe that she finally has taken the gloves off and told her mother what she really has thought of her all these years and personifies her words with a slap so forceful that it knocks her mother down.  Mildred never thought that Veda could push her to a place where she would throw her out of the house and want nothing else to do with her.  Veda was her raison d’être.  This is a moment she never in her life thought she would ever experience.  That’s the noir of it.

 

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Well DC Rin AZ you could be right as to "whose to say Mildred Pierce may look like noir but not necessarily noir" but as I tweeted earlier I'm starting to notice certain characteristics that are common in noir films (Greed, Jealousy, Murder, Bullying..etc). These seems to be a common theme in some of the noir films I've seen so far. I think that it's a combination of things that you could use to characterize a noir film. Like the ones you and I have stated but keep in mind what Professor Edwards said (I'll para phrase it) it's going to be hard to characterize noir films because you can judge them by their style, movement and genre. Noir films to me uses all 3 (and our points too) to create such masterpieces. It's our own interpretation of what is or is not noir. All we as viewers can do is take what we've read and watch and draw our conclusions. I think we can sometimes over analyze films...let's enjoy them and if there is something to be learned by them, then great...but have fun with films!

Common characteristics do not make different things the same things.  We have arms, hands, feet and binocular vision.  So do chimpanzees.  And greed, jealousy, murder, bullying are not unique to Film Noir, if so, a number of Akira Kurosawa's films would be film noir (hey, now that's an idea: Japanese noir!), to give an example.  I think we have to interpret professor Edwards observation about film noir as genre, style, and movement (linked to a particular historical period) as being an intersect of all these classifications.  When a film shows elements of noir genre, noir style and is in the noir period. you can more easily identify it as noir.. 

     In any case, scary Joan Crawford never convinces me in her roles as victim who overcomes her victimization.  Man, that was an act.  (I was on Baby Jane's side!)  I still contend that Mildred Pierce is a tear-jerking melodrama aimed at women filmed with elements of noir style, because the look was in vogue for many filmmakers in the 1940s and 1950s.  But just because it looks noir, and touches on themes found in noir, does not make it noir.  So if it looks like a duck and swims like a duck, it could be a goose.

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"Mildred Pierce" is an excellent film I have seen a few times, yet never thought of as noir. The words of Borde and Chaumeton regarding directors grappling with noir and creating films we might not consider noir hit me right away and I saw "Mildred Pierce" in a whole new light - or darkness. The film definitely has noir influences, especially in this scene. It's daytime, but the house is closed up with blinds pulled so it might as well be night outside. The blinds cast shadows on the wall behind Mildred, acting as a symbol of sorts for how her love for her daughter has trapped her, as does that large iron staircase in the background that is later used so expertly by Curtiz as a prop. Also, can we consider the young Veda as a different type of femme fatale? She is selfish to the point of ruining the lives of others including her long-suffering mother and the poor (rich) teen she suckers into marriage.

 

The two characters do a mother and daughter dance throughout the scene: Standing up and sitting down, walking around the room and then moving in close to make their point as their discussion grows more heated. As secrets and resentments are revealed, the camera also moves in for close-ups that help emphasize the strong words. The end of the scene on the staircase is wonderful as Veda stands tall thinking she has the upper hand, even slapping her mother down. But after realizing her daughter is cynical and twisted, Mildred rises. The camera moves in for a powerful close-up as Mildred finally takes control and tells Veda to "get out before I kill you." It's a great, ultimately empowering scene for Mildred.

 

For those in the class who haven't seen it yet, add "Mildred Pierce" to your viewing list. It's not a stereotypical detective noir thriller and that's what makes it special.

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Be

 

This excellent clip, in and of itself and, not knowing what came before or after, presents a searing dramatic scene that may show the noir influence, but not necessarily, by extension, can one conclude that this film in its entirety is a film noir. At least, a valid argument might possibly be made for that notion.

I realize that I am not the first in this thread to give voice to this idea. I am just not sure.

 

I think I can agree that the influence of the style of film noir comes across in this mesmerizing scene.

 

On the other hand, for supporters of a film noir (i.e. that the entire film be classified as film noir) thesis for “Mildred Pierce”, here are some points to be made.

 

There are two references in the dialog, one to blackmail, and, at the end, when Mildred says to Veda, “Get out before I kill you!” One may argue that these two references press at least a partial label of film noir onto the reel of celluloid.

 

There are other possible elements for the supporters of a thesis that “Mildred Pierce” is indeed an example of the film noir style (genre, movement??).

 

A) The scene is in black and white.

 

B) (for some reason I can't delete the smiley face -- I wanted a letter "B" there instead.) Both women are dressed in black. Yet, is wearing of black just indigenous to film noir?

 

C) Max Steiner’s music score in this scene seems to have a disturbing film noir flavor (an off- balance clarinet suffering from nausea?) as though something is not quite right.

 

D)“The ruthlessness of the passions involved, the figure of the second husband, a wanton gigolo, and above all, that of the cynical and twisted daughter, clearly show the [noir] influences at work." (Borde and Chaumeton, p. 46) I agree with Borde and Chaumeton, at least with “…that of the cynical and twisted daughter…” that this is a noir influence-- although that is all that I witnessed in the scene. Obviously, I must assume that they are telling the truth about the other elements (full disclosure: I did see the movie about three times through the years) and if they are true, then yes, "Mildred Pierce" was influenced by the noir style. Perhaps even the entire film could be called a film noir.

 

E) Mildred’s daughter ,Veda, I have to agree exhibits "cynical and twisted" behavior well before her years.

 

F) In the camera work, after Veda rises from the couch and Mildred’s awareness senses some change in her daughter, they come face to face and that brings the tension to a simmer. There is a series of close-ups of each character and medium shots of both of the women as they square off.

 

A close up of Mildred intensifies the action as she says to her daughter.

 

Mildred: Money. That's what you live for, isn't it?

You'd do anything for money, wouldn’t you?

Even blackmail.

 

Then a medium shot of both women as the dialog becomes more heated.

 

Veda: l'll say they’re going to be different.

Why do you think l went to all this trouble?

Why do you think l want money so badly?

 

Mildred: All right, why?

 

Veda: Are you sure you want to know?

 

Mildred: Yes.

 

Veda: Then I'll tell you. With this money,

I can get away from you.

 

Mildred: Veda!

 

Veda: From you and your chickens, pies and

kitchens. Everything that smells of grease. I can get away from this shack with its cheap furniture. And this town and its dollar days, and its women that wear uniforms, and its men that wear overalls.

 

Mildred: Veda I think I’m seeing you for the first time

in my life. And you're cheap and horrible.   

 

Veda: You think just because you made a little money,

You can get a new hairdo and some expensive clothes and turn yourself into a lady. But you can't. You'll never be anything but a common frump...(“the unkindest cut of all” –DB -- the camera switches to a close-up of Mildred who is clearly hurt and insulted) whose father lived over a grocery store, and whose mother took in washing. With this money I can get away from every rotten stinking thing that makes me think of this stinking place or you!

 

The scene boils over as Mildred rushes toward Veda who has by now gone to the staircase. Mildred grabs Veda’s purse and rips up the check. Veda slaps her own mother so hard that Mildred loses her balance. Now that is pure shocking violence and that speaks of the noir style. It's especially shocking to see a daughter slap her mother in a 1945 movie!

And…

 

Mildred: Get out, Veda.

Get your things out of this house now

before I throw them into the street and you with them.

Get out before I kill you!

 

Pretty tough stuff.

 

G) Maybe the gestalt idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts can be applied so all of these points taken together as having a snowball effect as the characters go downhill.

 

H) There are other elements in this film, one especially that I can't mention because of its spoiler nature.

 

"Mildred Pierce" is a film noir? Maybe. "Mildred Pierce" is influenced by the film noir style? I think so.

 

As Professor Edwards writes in his eighth "Daily Dose of Darkness": “A film like Mildred Pierce is important to consider as we attempt to define film noir, because there will be no clear boundaries among different genres when the noir influence arrives on the scene. By 1945, film noir is raising the stakes across all of Hollywood's classic movie genres.”

 

Thank you.

 

In case you missed it (on You Tube this came immediately after the film clip on my browser),  an interview with Ann Blyth by Eddie Muller in July, 2006. Scenes are shown from “Mildred Pierce”, and Ann Blyth comments about working on the movie. Excellent.

Here is the link.

Thank you!  This is an excellent analysis!  I still think it's a melodrama flavored with noir style.  But your comments about the boundaries of noir are right on the button.  This film helps us explore and understand what is film noir and what is not.

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From a noir perspective, the tension of this scene is elevated by the characters moving closer together, framed together from different angles as they directly confront each other.  The close-ups over the shoulder of the other character bring them even tighter within the frame.  This is like a boxing match where they have come to the center of the ring to have it out.  The music is like a wave that sweeps them into the torrent they are creating.  From a blocking perspective, the daughter is trying to escape her mother, to move to a higher class, just as she ascends the stairs to both distance herself from her mother and rise above her.  But her mother follows her, tears up the daugter's 'ticket out', which causes the daughter to knock the mother back down with the slap, back to the lower class the daughter thinks where her mother belongs.  The mother arises again though to assert her final word - to throw the daughter out, with the threat of death behind it.  Such threats are the punctuation of noir.

I like how you compare the scene to a boxing match - that is a very vivid and visual comparison.

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"Mildred Pierce" is a clear case of how the "noir style" transcended to other genres, themes and directors. Cain´s  novel was a melodrama, but to be made into a film, was transformed into a brilliant film noir, (which, if I remember correctly, begins with a crime and then, in a flashback, is narrating the story). Curtiz, with great professionalism, knew how to capture the prevailing in other films, and performed by other directors more noir essence specifically noir, and translate it into the screen. In the scene that we see great tension and drama, the dialogue between mother and daughter, set by a music surround, and suggestive, is full of cruelty, malice, sadism and violence. Both movements and close-ups of their faces emphasize these traits. Ultimately, Mildred Pierce becomes one of the many good films that can be classified as noir.

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In some movies from that era the dialogue can be stilted, melodramatic, divorced from reality. The interaction between the characters can be wooden and space-limited. Some of those movies are really nothing more than a tightly controlled Broadway play shot on a movie set. In the scene from "Mildred Pierce," though, the dialogue is pointed, ominous, confrontational. The harsh things the mother and daughter say to each other -- and even their facial expressions and jousting movements -- make it clear that there is more tension to come, more warring. 

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