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


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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.  

Adding to your last thought: Not only does Mildred get up, she 'straightens' up--and as she does so, Veda straightens/stiffens her back. One gets the impression that the two ladies are on equal ground (if only for a few seconds...).

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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. 

Yet another way the main character in noir can be betrayed--in this case, by her own daughter....

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Another great movie I've seen...Yep, I wanted to slap that brat Veda before she took her shot at her mother...Initially, I expected Joan Crawford to really shake some sense into her daughter as they both stood near the desk... what a visual that would have been... also I did notice the darkness of the room and the black suits they both were wearing.

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This is one of my favorites! Just watching the clip made me want to watch the whole thing.

The level of tension between these two actresses is wonderful. They make is seem so easy and flawless. The darkness in the relationship is classic noir. The look on their faces and the tone in their voices set a specific mood to enhance the dialog.

Most of this scene they are so close together that you are just waiting on the slap to come and then it's delivered so quickly and violently that it takes your breath away as well as Joan Crawfords. Then after all that Veda looks hurt when she throws her out. What a daughter! This scene shows  that Veda is a train wreck waiting to happen ,and if you have had the pleasure of the movie, you know that it doesn't end pretty. It's film noir from beginning to end.

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The only thing that I can say, is that I've always thought of Mildred Pierce as noir. Miss Crawford is an amazing actress! She is so convincing as a caring, moral woman! After reading her daughter's book, it only makes her talent more apparent. The only thing bad that I noticed was her signature padded shoulders looked unusually broad.

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

 

I believe that the noir influence operates in this scene from Mildred Pierce in several ways.

 

First, the dialogue between Mildred and her daughter (Veda) immediately shows the audience their character flaws like in the opening scene of Laura (1944) with Lydecker and detective McPherson.

 

From the beginning of the scene, we (the audience) can tell that Veda is cynical and has a twisted sense of humor (and arrogance similar to Lydecker) while Mildred is the more humble homemaker and caring parent (although somewhat misguided like detective McPherson).

 

Secondly, mise-en-scene is also used to set the mood of this film and to illustrate the moral standings of each character in the scene along with their power struggle.

 

For example, when Mildred is standing behind the couch and Veda kneels on it, this illustrates Mildred’s level of parental and moral superiority over Veda. 

 

As they continue to argue and the conversation moves up the stairs, their body movements and place in the scene highlights the intensifying power struggle between them.

 

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. 

 

As I mentioned above, Curtiz arranges these two actresses in the scene to visually illustrate their power struggle and to add tension to the scene.

 

The audience knows that their dialogue will eventually come to blows but it’s the question of when that leaves the audience on the edge of their seats.

 

Curtiz’s use of camera angles and the position of the actresses on the staircase during the argument also highlights the intensity of their dialogue and tension in the scene.

 

I believe that he also uses small gestures like Veda constantly fidgeting with her ring and Mildred’s stern demeanor to highlight the scene’s tension.

 

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

 

I believe that this scene from Mildred Pierce can considered as an important contribution to the film noir style in two ways.

 

First, I believe that this scene is an important contribution to the film noir style because it shows that there are no clearly defined boundaries for this style.

 

I also believe that it highlights the fact that several genres can draw influences from the film noir style.

 

Secondly, I believe that this scene is also an important contribution to the film noir style because it highlights the fact that the depth, motives, and complexities of the character archetypes found in the film noir style (like being cynical and twisted) can be applied to characters in any genre.

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    Film noir is present in full force in this scene from Mildred Pierece.  Like the opening scenes of M and Ministry of Fear we are pulled instantly into the story.  A daughter confesses to her mother that she lied to her boyfriend about being pregnant and has collected blackmail money from him.  We are introduced immediately to a dark , amoral female character embroiled in a treacherous plot.

 

Curtiz arranges the two actresses almost like they are going to have a fist fight. They are framed close to each other and the camera cuts to a close up of Joan Crawford's daughter when she begins to release how she really feels about her. The character of the daughter always seems to be moving around the space of the room with Crawford's character trying to keep up with her. 

 

This scene can be considered an important contribution to the film noir style because the techniques of film noir are being utilized in this film which is a film that is outside of the traditional film noir genres.  This is a dark, foreboding story which takes place between two female characters which seperates the film form the legions of hard-boiled detective film noirs.

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.From this scene, I see the contributions to the genre in the high drama-"world on the brink" -the world of the two individuals in this case, high contrast B&W photography, budding femme fatale in the Veda character..and hints of disaster to follow.

Can't wait to view the entire film!

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Veda is the clear Femme Fatale in Mildred Pierce. She'll lie, cheat and steal, crafting the ultimate scheme to get what she wants. And what she wants is money. It's all about money for Veda, which she thinks will lead her to a grand life. The music is this scene is also classic noir. It helps set the tone before Veda reveals her lie. Upon that revelation, the sparring of Veda and her mother, Mildred, begins.

 

Curtiz moves into the two actresses when they begin to argue, which creates a more personal effect. As the argument gets even more revealing, Curtiz moves the camera almost directly behind each actress as they are speaking, which gives a feeling of the audience being on the receiving end of what Veda and Mildred say to one another. We are right in there in it with them both. Lastly, Curtiz has the camera zoom into Mildred once more after she kicks Veda out of her home, realizing the type of daughter she never knew she had.

 

Mildred Pierce is great with a Femme Fatale in Veda. She boasts of her "accomplishment" in receiving money after committing blackmail, and doesn't seem to care to change her ways. It appears Veda will continue on entangling those in her web if they fall prey.

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I have not seen "Mildred Pierce" but based on the initial scene, it has some of the elements of Noir that we have seen and discussed. Enough to raise it above a melodrama? I dunno -- we'll find out Friday ;)

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Revealingly, the scene opens with Veda showing affection to the only thing she loves: money.  The affection she shows the check stands in stark contrast to the coldness and cruelty she demonstrates towards her mother as the scene continues.

 

The positioning of the two actresses in this scene is very deliberate.  At the start of the scene, they are on opposite ends of the frame or with objects serving as a barrier between them.  As Mildred tries to get Veda to confess the truth to her, she tries to get Veda to face her, but Veda keeps turning away.  While Mildred is talking about how she never denied Veda anything, the camera shows us Veda’s face, not Mildred’s and she assumed the more powerful position in the frame, upstage from Mildred.

 

Finally, the tension created by Veda’s avoidance is broken as she and her mother square off, almost as if they are going to get into a physical altercation; instead, this is when Veda unleashes on her mother.  We get a close up on Veda from a moment before we cut to a close up of her mother, recoiling in horror. 

 

After making her speech, Veda once again moves away from her mother, starting up the stairs.  This places her above Mildred, mirroring her attitude towards her mother, who she just said will never be anything but a “common frump.”  Veda is now physically looking down on Mildred.  Even when Mildred climbs the stairs after her, she remains below her.  This continues until after Veda slaps Mildred and she falls down.  When Mildred rises back up, she and Veda are not level to each other.  For the first time in the scene, we feel that Mildred is seizing control now, as she orders Veda out of the house. 

 

The final close-ups of the two women, however, very faintly suggest that they are not on equal ground.  In Veda’s final close-up, the camera seems to be looking up at her, just a bit.  Likewise, when we see Mildred, the camera is looking down at her, just as her daughter did, as we see the hurt still on Mildred’s face.  These shots suggest that nothing has been resolved by the women’s outbursts and the issue remains between them.

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<snip of link to Eddie Muller's interview with Ann Blyth>



"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."

 

I also saw this video -- great YouTube algorithms includes similar-type videos for your consideration :)

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This scene has "ruthless" written all over it. The blocking presents the mother and daughter as tigers circling each others. The setting of the room, with it's high ceiling and lattice iron work stair rail even evokes a type of jungle setting. The power shift of the scene is evident, too, as the daughter, in power with her scheme at first, is lying down unthreatened. When she is above the mother on the stairs, the power shifts and she loses. I'm not immediately sure what to make of that part, but it bears contemplating. Any ideas?

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What an unbelievably powerful and explosive scene! Starting with Veda’s callous, blackmail ploy with her heartless, derisive ridicule of her annulled marriage to Ted, Veda first insults her mother’s sensibilities with her do anything obsession with money, then insults her mother personally in a brutal ad hominem attack until Mildred finally asserts herself by threatening to kill her daughter.  Wow, that’s laying some cards on the table.

 

Michael Curtiz directs this scene with tremendous authority, placing the camera in exactly the right location to hit all the beats of the scene.  He’s in a close up to capture Veda kissing the check, then wide to establish Veda and Mildred.  Then they literally face off in a two shot.  The close ups in the living room and on the staircase have the effect of putting us literally right next to them as Veda vents her true feelings.  I was very uncomfortable watching Veda’s spoiled and foul behavior at such close range.  But, that’s what makes it so perfect.  This scene is a great example of how escalating conflict reveals character and intensifies drama.

 

There is a discussion thread regarding to what degree Mildred Pierce is an example of film noir.  Is this a dark melodrama that dances on the edge of noir or is solidly noir and if so, why?  I think that’s a fair question.  There are other films that are included in the film noir canon that I wonder about, e.g., Clash By Night (Fritz Lang, 1952) and His Kind Of Woman (John Farrow, Richard Fleischer, 1951).  Not all films are as solidly noir as Double Indemnity.  I’m fine with a degree of uncertainty as perhaps not all stories completely hit all the points on the noir check list.  In addition, films can affect different people in different ways and I think you have to allow for that.  Having said that, I’m looking forward to watching Mildred Pierce again this weekend with an eye on what defines film noir.

 

Thanks - Mark

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I have to first say the shoulder pads are utterly ridiculous compared to today lol. The first thing I corellate to noir style is the ferocious female. Veda would definitely fit the bill as she is apparently hustling a poor boyfriend to think she is pregnant. I wasn't quite sure since I have not seen this film but it seems the mother may have known or contributed to this deviousness. This type of edgy subject matter is definitely up noir's alley. I would have to say that is definitely a contribution to film noir style as I belive ideas can be "stylish". The way the two are shot is a flip flop in power as at first the mother is above the daughter but once Veda gets the upper hand she is literally standing above Joan Crawford.

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The discussion on the forums today as to whether "Mildred Pierce" is noir or not is a fascinating one, and I'm only sorry that I haven't been able to read all the discussion in detail, and I apologize if my comments cover points already made.

 

Like many who have commented (and unlike at least as many more) this is not one of my favorites and I was struggling to come up with any comment on the clip, but these discussions have made me think more about the film. While that doesn't mean it's become one of my favorites, I do think the noir influence is here.

 

First, this seems to be the first real discussion we've had over whether (as touched on in the lecture) noir is a genre, a style or a movement. If you have seen the entire film you will certainly recognize visual and other elements that show the noir "style" is at work here, though those elements may not be so recognizable in this particular clip.

 

Several commentators have pointed out that this film is more like a woman's melodrama than what they would think of as noir. Certainly we have the theme of the mother sacrificing for her child, which wouldn't seem to be part of the tough noir world some expect.

 

But consider that in previous pictures like this, for example "Stella Dallas," the children were basically decent and the mother's sacrifice ultimately worthwhile. Now in a noir tinged reality, Mildred's sacrifice for Veda has made the girl selfish and even coolly capable of blackmail (the kind of a daughter Philip Marlowe would soon be tangling with). There is even murder involved, so there's definitely an element of crime that we would associate with classic noir, but not necessarily a "woman's picture."

 

This represents a darker view of the relation between mother and child than had been seen in previous weepies (and this darker view would continued to be explored, as for example in "All That Heaven Allows.")

 

This overall darker view of the American way of life gave rise to the classic noirs but also colored other narratives of the time.

 

So I may not yet be convinced that "Mildred Pierce" is noir, but I can be dead certain it's not, either.

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The scene has noir all over it. It is dark, right down to the dresses both women wear, the color of their hair and the dark shadows cast by the drawn blinds. The shadows for the blinds on the carpet and the stair railings give thought to jail bars, a foreshadowing for these women. The dialog is sharp and cutting, no daughter in film would talk to her mother like Veda does.

The director has the women face to face while Veda lashes out her venom to her mother. They are so close to each other that you wish Mildred would grab her and make her stop. It is not until Veda slaps her Mother that we (the voyeurs) gasp at the shock of it and a heartbeat or two waiting for Mildred’s action. When it comes it is cold it is deliberate and final. “Get out before I kill you!” Not words one expects from a mother to a daughter.

At a time in this country where children were most often portrayed as obedient and subservient to their parents this film turns the tables around where the mother is subservient and the child has become the dictator. This opens movie the door for the juvenile delinquent movies of the 50’s “Rebel Without a Cause”, “The Wild Ones” and “Blackboard Jungle” to name a few. Of course there were juvenile delinquent movies in the 30’s with the dead-end kids but they were played mostly for laughs and not an integral part of the plot.

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Well everything I typed was deleted when the webpage needed to be refreshed so I'm going to only post point form

 

There is noir style that spills into this story with the tension brought though dialogue and expression not as much action and the femme fatale character is what you may find in a noir movie.

 

The camera starts wider to show the lack of tension and as the verbal battle closes in so does the camera. When Veda tries to escape we're are pulled out but Pierce confronts her and we're right back into closer shots pulling us in towards the tension.

 

I think this is important to noir because it shows how fluid noir is and how it spills into other genres, making it difficult to define like water is to hold.

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I think Mildred Pierce has a relationship to noir similar to that of Casablanca.  It has a lot of the same thematic elements--love affairs gone awry, passionate speeches and emotions, the darker lighting and color choices, the creeping feeling that all is not as it seems.

 

I do think Mildred Pierce is thematically closer to noir than Casablanca is--the blackmail and the violent tension between the mother and daughter vs. the romantic tension and long, silent desperation of Rick and Ilsa--but I'm not convinced based off this clip alone that Mildred Pierce quite fits under the heading of "film noir."  Mildred and Veda seem less hard-boiled and desperate here, and much more naive and lonely.  Characterization alone might prompt me to class it more with "female drama," as the Daily Dose of Darkness puts it, but it's hard to get a good read on characters you only see at an emotional breaking point.

 

There are clearly noir elements here, but do those elements add up to film noir?  I'm just not sure.  I would tend to side with the noir-as-stylistic-choices camp, but maybe it's both a genre and a set of stylistic choices?  As I've been writing this post, I've also been thinking about how the clip shown reminds me of the Bette Davis movie Dark Victory with it's heightened emotion and desperation, but most particularly in the setting and music choices.  I think quasi-noir is maybe the best way to class Mildred Pierce.  There are elements of noir there, but not all of the pieces are in place yet.

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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.

Who is the femme fatale in Mildred Pierce?  Is there one?  For us to answer that, we do have get a grip on what the term “femme fatale,” literally, “woman of fate” or "fatal woman" means and give it some kind of historical context.  

     George Ross Ridge, in his article “The ‘Femme Fatale’ in French Decadence”  (The French Review, Vol. 34, No. 4 (Feb., 1961), pp. 352-360), states:

 

          In "Les Metamorphoses du Vampire," from Les Fleurs du mal, Charles Baudelaire casts

     modern man and woman in a graphic scene which is to obsess writers of the French

     decadence. Man is a weak decadent consumed by modern woman, a vampire or femme fatale.  

     Their love is a passionate death-struggle in which the active female destroys the passive male.

     It is an ironical poem. Man searches for beauty but finds ugliness; he looks for love but

     discovers death. The dream mannequin, his ideal woman, becomes a life-draining vampire.

     This terrifying image of woman recurs throughout decadent literature from around 1850 to the

     end of the century.

          Decadent writing reflects its social ethos. In the baroque tragicomedy of the Second

     Empire and the fin de siecle the femme fatale emerges like a rouged beauty from Offenbach

     and moves through opulent salons and boudoirs, racetracks and private clubs.  Women like

     Lola Montez and Therese Lachman characterize this effete society. In Gaslight and Shadow

     Roger L. Williams delineates their world of intrigue, corruption, strained gaiety, and points

     out that the demi-monde becomes so powerful that the haut monde actually emulates it. This

     is the historical cadre that the French decadent writers have in mind when projecting the

     femme fatale as their literary heroine (p. 352).

 

So we can see that the femme fatale has a provenance in Western letters prior to film; she is not just a particular characterization of women in film, the term coming about before film motion pictures were invented.  As a literary character type, she has a history.  She is also known as the "vamp" or can be "la belle dame sans merci" (see the film Genuine: the Tale of a Vampire (1920), directed by Robert Weine [the same director for The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari] for a treatment of the vamp, who is a version of the femme fatale.

     The femme fatale also has a psychologic basis for appearing in art: an interesting article by Scott Snyder, “Personality Disorder and the Film Noir Femme Fatale” (Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 8(3) (2001) 155-168, available at: http://www.albany.edu/scj/jcjpc/vol8is3/snyder.html#*) speaks not just a historical perspective of the appearance of the femme fatale in post WW2 films, but of the psychological basis for the appearance of a particular characterization of women:

 

          It may be no accident that the overabundance of films exhibiting the femme fatale

     coincided with female acquisition of economic and social clout in real life. In fact, film noir

     movies may be a result of the alteration of forties American culture, symbolizing the female

     threat to the status quo. Hollywood simplistically depicted this shift in terms of the film noir

     femme fatale – a composite of power, lust, and greed. These motion pictures implicitly

     criticized women for considering alternative roles.

          The thesis of this report is that the film noir femme fatale with her attendant

     psychopathology was at once a creation of the forties and a reflection of profound shifts in the

     role of American women in that era. The interplay between personality disorders, the femme

     fatale, and 1940s American culture will be explored. The significance of the character

     pathology of these fatal women in relation to the women of that time will be examined

     through an examination of specific films and key scenes and cinematic techniques from noir

     movies.

 

But what is a femme fatale?  Of course, like the term “film noir”, it is a French term, which literally means “fatal woman” or “woman of fate”.  But what is fate?  Oxforddictionaries.com tells us that “fate” is:

 

     1. the things, especially bad things, that will happen or have happened to

         somebody/something. [...]

     2. the power that is believed to control everything that happens and that cannot be stopped or

         changed.

     (See: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/learner/fate)

 

Merriam-Webster.com says that “fate” is:

 

     1:  the will or principle or determining cause by which things in general are believed to come

          to be as they are or events to happen as they do:  destiny

     2a :  an inevitable and often adverse outcome, condition, or end

       b :  disaster; especially :  death

     3a :  final outcome

       b :  the expected result of normal development [...]

       c :  the circumstances that befall someone or something [...]

     (See:  http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fate)

 

As a matter of fact, “femme fatale” in the dictionary of the French Academy states that “fatal/fatale” is: « du destin, prophétique, fixé par le destin, funeste, mortel »  (of destiny, prophetic, fixed by destiny, funeste [macabre, gloomy, dire, deadly, mortal, see: http://www.wordreference.com/fren/funeste]).  (see: http://atilf.atilf.fr/dendien/scripts/generic/renvoi.exe?37;s=3927258570;a=12617;r=maca7;f=/RENV).

 

So the femme fatale is a woman who serves as a catalyst of what is essentially a tragic, inescapable destiny for the protagonist.  I guess this is why I tend to see film noir not in terms of existential angst, but in terms of Greek tragedy adapted for modern times and for the common folk.  I also think that this is largely the unconscious appeal of film noir: it speaks to the same ancient human need to understand and speak about the universal human crime “de haber nacido”, as Calderón de la Barca puts it, the crime of having been born.  ("El mayor delito del hombre es haber nacido" "The greatest crime of man is to have been born."  La vida es sueño.  Pedro Calderón de la Barca.)

 

Perhaps I am wrong, but when we speak of the femme fatale, perhaps it will help us to keep these ideas in mind.

 

So, in considering these ideas related to Mildred Pierce, who is the femme fatale in that film?  Who is woman who serves as a catalyst for the disastrous fate of the protagonist, whether the protagonist is a male or female?

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I like how the music changes so intensely while panning in for a close up. I think this contributed to the movement of noir because it's not a mystery or crime drama, showing that noir can be more of a style than genre.

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Well, that's a difficult one. From this short scene from Michael Curtiz's Mildred Pierce, one wouldn't say that it is a film noir, but if we watch to the whole film there won't be any doubt that it actually is.

 

Scenes of confrontation between two women can be part of a noir film, of course, but in those cases we're usually dealing with femmes fatales arguing about love conflicts over a man, and not about their moral divergences concerning life conditions and family issues, themes that are more close to the melodrama movie genre. However, both Joan Crawford and Ann Blyth behave here as true characters from a film noir: the mother is a strong, tough woman, hardened by life's circumstances, while her daughter is not only spoiled and cynical, but also the prototype of a femme fatale-to be.

 

Besides, if we compare the characters' interactions in this scene to similar scenes of the 2011 miniseries adaptation of Mildred Pearce, starring Kate Winslet in the main role, we'll understand how determinant stylistic treatment is for film noir. Even if both versions of Mildred Pearce are adaptations of James M. Cain 1941 novel of the same name, which is in itself a hardboiled story, its cinematography adaptation could always follow other path, and it is the cinematic options that can or not put at work in the film the cynical and twisted noir influence.

 

The option for black and white over color, of course, is the first step to set this darker tone, but looking closer at the two actresses interactions, I notice three main tendencies of framing used by Curtiz that heighten the tension of the scene: first, the use of two-shots in the begining of the scene are in fact long shots, showing the women's figures in the room, in the full frame - Joan Crawford is taller than is daughter but, even if their height difference is stressed by the composition (suggesting the authoritary power that the mother tries to impose in the discussion), the fact that Ann Blyth stays in the sofa, lingering, provocative and almost insolent, shows that there's a desequilibrium in their familiar relationship; second, also concerning the two-shots, now at the end of the scene, the hierarchy is finally fully reversed, as Curtiz places the daughter higher in the staircase and, consequently, above her mother, as the discussion reaches its peak of tension; third, in the use of close-ups during the scene, we have almost always over-the-shoulder shots that keep the character who's talking in amorcé on one side of the frame, concentrating on the strong reactions of the one who's listenning, specially when it is Joan Crawford. 
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So, in considering these ideas related to Mildred Pierce, who is the femme fatale in that film?  Who is woman who serves as a catalyst for the disastrous fate of the protagonist, whether the protagonist is a male or female?

 I think that because we are studying a particular film genre we should limit our definition of the femme fatale just as Muller limited our definition of film noir. Otherwise we would spend the entire class trying to define terms, rather than get on with the business of having fun watching movies.

 

For my purposes of posting and conversing with the rest of my 'classmates,' I am referring to a feminine character that bucks the social norms of the time; someone who refuses to be tied down to the social norms. The femme fatale of film noir participates in unconventional relationships and refuses to be a possession, 

 

Many of the women in film noir were treated as property to be kept and displayed as prizes. In the genre, the femme fatale came to represent the woman that refused to be these things. 

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This is one of my favorites! Just watching the clip made me want to watch the whole thing.

The level of tension between these two actresses is wonderful. They make is seem so easy and flawless. The darkness in the relationship is classic noir. The look on their faces and the tone in their voices set a specific mood to enhance the dialog.

Most of this scene they are so close together that you are just waiting on the slap to come and then it's delivered so quickly and violently that it takes your breath away as well as Joan Crawfords. Then after all that Veda looks hurt when she throws her out. What a daughter! This scene shows that Veda is a train wreck waiting to happen ,and if you have had the pleasure of the movie, you know that it doesn't end pretty. It's film noir from beginning to end.

You know,I used to pass on this film all the time thinking ..."Nah...I'm not watching no boring woman's melodrama garbage.Why did Curtiz sign onto this?" But then I finally dialed it up last year,and boy was I wrong.

Had me glued,from begining to end. May not be my cheap dirty detective and tramp gal noir,but it's noir none the less.

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I not only never considered Mildred Pierce as noir, and as a reader of some of Cain's works, I always thought it was a step apart from obvious noirs like Postman and Double Indemnity. But when focusing on scenes like the one in question with an open mind, I can see why it could qualify.

 

  • Two completely obsessive characters - ruthless, really - who will do whatever they have to, to get what they want.
  • Both think they know the other, but each are in for a harsh discovery
  • Both are pretending to be someone they are not, and in this scene, the facades collapse quickly
  • Wonderful use of angles - from the dresses to the staircase to the changing posture and the blocking in the scene

As the scene starts, Mildred is standing (control posture) while Veda is lounging, relaxed - at first seemingly casual, but we soon see its' overconfidence. Each think they are in control - Mildred trying to instill logic, Veda playing the "what's done is done" card - until the confrontation.

 

The confrontation itself escalates in three stages. First, disagreement at a distance. Then when guards are dropped and the gloves come off, it's face to face and close-ups (especially when Veda tries to revert and Mildred spins her back around!). Then finally on the stairs, where position/height mirrors control - Veda first up, then Mildred challenges and is slapped down, then (my favorite) Mildred on a lower step but equal height, eye to eye, as the silent stare-down after "get out!" is played like a duel...who will blink?

 

Finally, while we are absorbing the overall scene, the director is subliminally manipulating our senses.The escalation is not only handled well in voice and facial expression by the actors, but also by the camera closing in and the score punctuating the emotional arc.

 

I haven't seen the movie in ages but now want to watch it again. I have a feeling that is going to happen to me often this summer. :)

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