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DC SURFERGIRL

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

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"Mildred Pierce" is probably one the most interesting film in the film noir. It's quite unqiue because not only is it a film noir, but a melodrama as well. I think it's the only film from 1945 in the film noir genre that embody that. The first conversation between Veda and Mildred are at a distance, where Mildred is looking at Veda horizontally. The frame of their bodies definitely signifies whose in control. It is almost the roles are reversal: Mildred is the child and Veda is the parent. You can definitely see from their body language that there is truly no respect between the characters. In the second frame where Mildred is still at a distance, but circles around Veda as she still sitting on the couch. Mildred is carefully circles around her. Once Veda admits she is not pregnant, we definitely see the roles reversed. Mildred is in front of Veda, but not too close. At this point, Mildred finally comes to realization of who Veda truly is. Even with the scene at the staircase, Mildred is confident to get in front of Veda. The roles change again once Veda slaps Mildred and she is taken aback by it. I don't this scene is heavyly film noir influnenced. There is some shots of Mildred where her face is slightly shadow and the music definitely sets the tone to it.

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Mildred Pierce is a melodrama, hardly a typical genre for Film Noir, and yet director Michael Curtiz captures the Noir style perfectly. Noir is about contrast, at its heart. Rich and poor. Corrupt and ethical. Dark and light. It's not an exact dichotomy, and the two aspects are rarely in direct opposition, but rather juxtaposed. It permeates the story, the camera work, the lighting, and the acting.

 

Here, we see the cynical, corrupt, Veda, trying to get away from her mother, who is horrified at what her daughter is doing. As the tensions mount, the two seem to chase each other around the room. Something that only escalates it is not the contrast, but the lack of it. They look similar, they dress similarly, Veda accuses Mildred of being corrupt like her.

 

Curtiz uses Noir-style cinematography to highlight the absence of Noir's key factor: contrast.

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Veda rejects the typical role assigned to a woman during this era and stands as our femme fatale in this film. She is ruthless and depends on herself, but interestingly while securing her financial freedom she blackmails a man! She is in stark contrast to her mother, who has also shed her past, who seems to follow conventions.

 

The director makes good use of intense close up shots to really gauge the characters emotions.

 

The shot on the stairs is superbly shot and it looks almost as f Veda has slapped her mother down to the depths of hell!

 

 

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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. . . .

Confesses is an interesting word choice. I hadn't thought of this before, but I don't think that Veda is actually confessing because she seems amoral, like she doesn't even believe that she did anything wrong. So now I'm wondering why Veda would even admit this out loud to her mother. If she had kept her mouth shut, she wouldn't have precipitated this fight. But then we wouldn't have a plot, a film noir, and a great movie to watch. Something for me to think about while I watch the movie again. It's been so long, it just might feel like I'm seeing it for the first time.

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Mildred Pierce:  Another fave.  Every time I watch it, I notice something I've missed the previous umpty-hundred times.  Yet somehow, I've never considered it as film noir.  I've always considered the film to be primarily a woman's tale.  This is a story of a woman, but the lightness of the early housewife scenes and the restaurant scenes, where Mildred is happy and at work, are overshadowed by the dark tones of the crime that extends over all the flashback scenes.  The scenes in the police department, the beachhouse during and after the crime, the scenes including Veda - They all are strongly film noir, using darkness and light, music, and delivery of lines to show there is evil in this woman's life.

 

In this scene, I think the music has a lot to do with setting the scene as film noir.  Rumbling undertones, with loud flares to accentuate the more emotional moments.  I also hear how Veda delivers her lines - That hard edge, words almost bitten off.  Sounds like many other film noir characters.  Veda and Mildred, even though in a light setting, are both dressed in black, with Veda's hair also done in a harsh style.

 

In the positioning of the characters, Curtiz shows Veda's true character and the denial that Mildred has always been in.  Veda starts out on the sofa as she plays with the check.  I was reminded of a slithering snake, which always connotes evil, as she twists herself up into a snake's warning position.  She drops her bag on the table with a "clang", and immediately we see her body position change again.  She pulls herself up very straight and hard, and her ensuing lines are hard.  This is the snake striking its victim.  As she speaks, the hardness of her character and the desire for cold, hard cash shows through, as her illusion of love for her mother is now dissolved away completely.  Curtiz's use of closeups gives us the impression of looking into Veda's soul, and what we see there is not pretty.

 

Mildred is concerned with the feelings of others.  How will Veda's situation impact Veda, the boy, the other family?  She seems to float in the scene, talking of her wonderings and musings.  The hardness of Veda has grabbed our focus, and eventually Mildred sees what we see.  The serpent is moving in for the strike, and Mildred is the victim.  Curtiz uses closeups on Mildred's face as Veda talks of how horrible her mother is, describing Mildred's disgusting (to Veda) background.  Her attitude in listening to Veda's tirade is one of shock, disbelief, and then we see the slam of realization on her face.  

 

Veda's slap is the final strike, the attempt to kill.  Yet Mildred hangs on, now hardened beyond anything Veda has shown.  Mildred has an icy tone as she orders her daughter out.  Her drive for self-preservation has finally kicked in, and she's finished harboring the serpent.

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Confesses is an interesting word choice. I hadn't thought of this before, but I don't think that Veda is actually confessing because she seems amoral, like she doesn't even believe that she did anything wrong. So now I'm wondering why Veda would even admit this out loud to her mother. If she had kept her mouth shut, she wouldn't have precipitated this fight. But then we wouldn't have a plot, a film noir, and a great movie to watch. Something for me to think about while I watch the movie again. It's been so long, it just might feel like I'm seeing it for the first time.

 

I don't think Veda cares who knows what about her, unless it serves her purposes. She was just conversing about a chore on her to-do list she could cross off, and now that she had the money, it didn't matter whether her mother knew or not. 

 

mild SPOILERS approaching: I think you're right, though, that her arguments with mom are plot devices. Psychopaths don't explain themselves. They can be charming and manipulative to get themselves a car, a big house, or a boyfriend, but they don't feel the need to inform anybody of their motivations. And Veda is pretty closed off when she's not yelling at Mildred. We don't have to buy that she's touched by any family stuff that happens, good or bad, though she plays it that way when it suits her. 

 

It would be a different movie if it were about Veda the psychopath. It would be a Robert Ryan movie!

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The only thing I can say about that scene is that its one my favorites in the movie because its the only time Mildred behaved sensibly.  Then of course she had to go and spoil everything again.  The film has great cinematography, but I didn't like the story at all.  The opening is great, but from the time they all get summoned to the police station it goes downhill.  The only likable characters in this movie are the minor ones and the whole thing plays out more like a soap opera than a noir.  In the end, it was nothing but wasted potential.

 

I really thought I'd like this after seeing the beginning, but sadly I guess I'm in the minority who didn't.

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Daily Dose #8 - Mildred Pierce (1945)

dir:  Michael Curtiz

writers:  Ranald MacDougall (screenplay) ; and many uncredited contract writers like     William Faulkner and Catherine Turney

          James M. Cain (novel)

cast:  Joan Crawford, Jack Carson, Eve Arden, Ann Blyth

 

Log (IMDb):  After her cheating husband leaves her, Mildred Pierce proves she can become independent and successful, but cannot seem to win the approval of her spoiled daughter.

 

 

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

            The black and white, one or the other, yes or no, right or wrong qualities underscore and require a slap in the face.  Physical violence is as much a part of noir as noir.  The tension that precedes the obligatory slap in the face keeps expectations taunt, another noir trait.  The problems in noir story telling escalate: Veda believes her escape from what she hates can be solved by money she scammed.  However, her escape is made more complicated by being evicted - without the money.

 

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 placement of the camera shots help identify unjustified motives revealed in dialogue.  In one over the shoulder, Joan Crawford’s character receives an insult.  In another over the shoulder, An Blyth’s character receives worse than insult.  The two similar shots reveal both characters do not like each other very much, and both shots reveal harbored feelings.

            The influence of noir has been used in contemporary movies that are not black and white film.  Though in color, lighting is dark, many scenes are at night, or when during daylight, are inside places of darkness.  This is very effective in The Horseman (2008) Steven Kastrissios (dir & writer), cast is with Peter Marshall, Caroline Marohasy, and Brad McMurray: a divorced father grieves his daughter’s death.  When he learns how she died, he begins an unrelenting, out of control journey across Australia that reeks revenge and destroys redemption.  If you watch this movie, be prepared for a rough ride through a tough, gritty, and dark story. This is film noir in genre, and in color.

 

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

            Conflict in noir story characters is very often physically violent between two men.  Not so much violence occurs when between a woman and a man.  Man to man conflicts are more physical than when a woman or a male character confronts the other.

            In Mildred Pierce, two women confront each with dialogue that provokes a slap, reveals hidden hatred, and provokes one to threaten the other with death.  That is as physical and provocative as any male to male clash because the words are the “physical” part of the fight.  The problem of true feelings having been hidden for some length of time is festered by provocative dialogue.  The gloves of concealment come off as each character faces a long held mutual dislike.

            The gravity of the story is revealed when the root of their problem is revealed.   The way in which inner feelings percolate through dialogue and escalate to physicality is this scene's contribution to film noir's needs of genre.  Violence in noir is inescapable.

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There are couple of moments in this scene where Veda and Mildred move into a squared off position, directly confronting each other. This non-verbal signal is like choreography in a dance; sharp, directional, powerful and serves to incrementally wind up the tension toward the altercation on the stairs.

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Daily Dose #8 - Mildred Pierce (1945)

dir:  Michael Curtiz

writers:  Ranald MacDougall (screenplay) ; and many uncredited contract writers like     William Faulkner and Catherine Turney

          James M. Cain (novel)

cast:  Joan Crawford, Jack Carson, Eve Arden, Ann Blyth

 

Log (IMDb):  After her cheating husband leaves her, Mildred Pierce proves she can become independent and successful, but cannot seem to win the approval of her spoiled daughter.

 

 

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

            The black and white, one or the other, yes or no, right or wrong qualities underscore and require a slap in the face.  Physical violence is as much a part of noir as noir.  The tension that precedes the obligatory slap in the face keeps expectations taunt, another noir trait.  The problems in noir story telling escalate: Veda believes her escape from what she hates can be solved by money she scammed.  However, her escape is made more complicated by being evicted - without the money.

 

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 placement of the camera shots help identify unjustified motives revealed in dialogue.  In one over the shoulder, Joan Crawford’s character receives an insult.  In another over the shoulder, An Blyth’s character receives worse than insult.  The two similar shots reveal both characters do not like each other very much, and both shots reveal harbored feelings.

            The influence of noir has been used in contemporary movies that are not black and white film.  Though in color, lighting is dark, many scenes are at night, or when during daylight, are inside places of darkness.  This is very effective in The Horseman (2008) Steven Kastrissios (dir & writer), cast is with Peter Marshall, Caroline Marohasy, and Brad McMurray: a divorced father grieves his daughter’s death.  When he learns how she died, he begins an unrelenting, out of control journey across Australia that reeks revenge and destroys redemption.  If you watch this movie, be prepared for a rough ride through a tough, gritty, and dark story. This is film noir in genre, and in color.

 

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

            Conflict in noir story characters is very often physically violent between two men.  Not so much violence occurs when between a woman and a man.  Man to man conflicts are more physical than when a woman or a male character confronts the other.

            In Mildred Pierce, two women confront each with dialogue that provokes a slap, reveals hidden hatred, and provokes one to threaten the other with death.  That is as physical and provocative as any male to male clash because the words are the “physical” part of the fight.  The problem of true feelings having been hidden for some length of time is festered by provocative dialogue.  The gloves of concealment come off as each character faces a long held mutual dislike.

            The gravity of the story is revealed when the root of their problem is revealed.   The way in which inner feelings percolate through dialogue and escalate to physicality is this scene's contribution to film noir's needs of genre.  Violence in noir is inescapable.

 

it certainly was an interesting scene (regarding the confrontation) as Mildred had to step up apres her realization about what Veda was really like... reminded me of the drug store scene in Double Indemnity where Fred's character finally realizes just how bad his love interest really is.

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Mildred Pierce vs Sam Spade. Both live in meager surroundings and work for a living. Sam takes on cases and checks with his lawyer to stay just on the right side of the law. Mildred makes cakes at home for pin money to buy her favorite daughter's love. Mildred's marriage fails so she takes action. She has a relationship with her husband's partner to get help in a real estate deal. This relationship is implied in the movie but evident in the book by James M Cain. Sam has a relationship with his partner's wife. Motive? Because she's there? Mildred also has a relationship with Monty. Attraction at first, then he becomes a means to win her daughter's love. She married a man she does not live in hopes that her daughter will return to her. Sam has a relationship with Brigid. Attraction at first. Later is it monetary or to get information on the blackbird? Veda is like the blackbird--both are the final prizes that Mildred and Sam are grasping for. Mildred loses her prize when Veda is charged with murder and leaves her forever. Sam loses his when the blackbird is a fake. Mildred returns to her first husband and disappears in the morning light. Sam returns to his routine after he turns Brigid in for murder although he tells her that he will wait for her. Knowing Mildred as we do, we know she will also be waiting for Veda.

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Okay, let's pretend we all haven't seen this movie a few times. The most surprising thing about this scene is that Veda slaps Mildred instead of the other way around.

 

Veda is spoiled, vain, amoral, and will do anything for money as she says in this clip. This takes on a noir quality because many American households raise children like this, well, maybe not to this extreme. MP makes everybody squirm because if the viewers are these parents, they don't want like mirrors held up for the audience's viewing pleasure and if the viewers aren't these kind of parents, they can't understand the motivations of a smart gal like Mildred Pierce.

 

Noir isn't comfortable . . .

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 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. 

Many women in non-noir Production Code films were also treated as property to be kept and displayed as prizes.  But merely being a woman who refused to be these things does not make a woman in a film a femme fatale.  For instance, I think we can argue that many of Kathryn Hepburn's roles (she wore pants) showed a woman's character that refused to be merely chattel or a trophy.  But her roles certainly were not noir, nor were here films.

     So it is important to give a clear definition of what it means to not just be a femme (woman or wife in French), but fatale, of fate, of a preordained and negative destiny, the destroyer of her victim.  If Mildred Pierce is really a film noir--and I still contend that it is not; it is a mother-daughter, daughter as a "bad seed" child melodrama filmed in a noir style--then we would have to see Mildred as a victim and her daughter as the femme fatale

     How about considering this: that the daughter is not a femme fatale, but just a bad, rotten kid who makes her parent's life miserable?  Also, Mildred brought her into the world.  What did she do in raising her kid that made her so rotten?  Was she a good parent?  We are shown that she is.  But then, how did the daughter turn out rotten?  Maybe the back story of Mildred Pierce is that the daughter was the victim and the mother was the one who destroyed her.  Of course, the film doesn't show that, but the idea that a parent is a pure saint and the child a demon incarnate is possible, but not probably.  Relationships between child and parent are complex, with both making mistakes, so this aspect of Mildred Pierce makes it hard to suspend disbelief when viewing it.

     By the way, there can also be an homme fatal.  The character type is not usually discussed much--there seems to be a fixation on the la femme vs. l'homme in literary criticism--but the type has been discussed.  I think it is appropriate to discuss the homme fatal, using the same guidelines as for the femme fatale when the protagonist of a film noir (or better yet, the lead victim) is a woman, such as in Born to Kill, Laura, or Rebecca.  Perhaps the story is that an homme fatale changed both these women and caused the conflict in their lives.

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Okay, I'll preface my comments with the fact that I've never been a Crawford fan. Having said that, I can appreciate the scene because Mildred is faced with the fact that Veda is a selfish, spoiled brat who cares only about money and who doesn't care who she walks on to get it, including her own mother. In a complete reversal of what we expect, Veda slaps Mildred rather than the other way around.

 

I don't see Veda as a femme fatale, but just a spoiled, snotty brat who has been given too much and not held responsible for her words or actions. I can compare her to some of the young people I've seen today who expect to be given everything and who feel they are owed a living without having to work for anything.

 

While viewing the clip of the Ann Blyth interview that followed the scene clip, I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed the audience's reaction to the slap. The very audible gasps and the applause from the audience was refreshing because it's something that isn't experienced today during a film.

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

-- 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. 

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

 

Reading the posts below helped me on this, because MP does not seem like noir to me because of the soap opera nature of it.  The material could be handled in a much less film noirish way by a different director and apparently has.  I have watched it enough times but get so frustrated with MP's obsession with Veda--yet I have known people just as willing and likely to keep putting up with their children's anti-social behavior and narcissism, so I can't say it's unrealistic. Perhaps that realism is what makes me so frustrated with her sacrifices for Veda.  I was also always bothered by the fact that the younger daughter dies and MP is like, "Oh, she's dead, let's go bake some pies so I can buy Veda some more stuff."  No grief for the sweet child, unless we are supposed to believe she transferred it all to Veda but the younger girl is never really mentioned again.

 

The question asked here is "who is the femme fatale" and does the "victim" of the femme fatale need to be a man?  In MP, if we accept Veda as the femme fatale, her mother is the victim.  But I think this is really more about MP's fight within herself to achieve not just Veda's love but approval, that Veda represents the society around her that MP does not feel she is accepted by, despite her financial success. 

 

As for the direction, it really is a battle of wills played out just by the physical movement.  Height is a symbol of status, and even though both actress are petite, the camera plays MP as if she is quite a bit taller than Veda.  The person in control is the "taller" one; Veda ends up higher on the stairs and slaps her mother down (and I really wanted MP to sock her). 

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Many women in non-noir Production Code films were also treated as property to be kept and displayed as prizes.  But merely being a woman who refused to be these things does not make a woman in a film a femme fatale.  For instance, I think we can argue that many of Kathryn Hepburn's roles (she wore pants) showed a woman's character that refused to be merely chattel or a trophy.  But her roles certainly were not noir, nor were here films.

     

DCR, 

 

i have only one issue with what you're saying. we have limited time in this course and can't have broad definitions for anything. We could go back and forth forever discussing the merits of Veda being or not being a femme fatale. She certainly doesn't fit the role in your definitions, but she does in mine. We're all going to have biases, but in the end it's probably best to start another thread on this discussion rather than have it here.

 

By the way, I would highly recommend Undercurrent with Kathryn Hepburn if you want to watch her do noir.

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I can see both sides of the question about whether MP is a film noir. On the one hand, we don't have the criminal element of Dark Passage or Laura. On the other hand, we have an element of cynicism, selfishness, and distinctly amoral characterization (Veda). The clip itself limits our understanding of the characters (prior story line, following story line), so we are somewhat forced to focus on the obvious mother-daughter conflict.

 

Veda could be considered a femme fatale, in that she is depicted in this clip as a manipulative, spoiled individual. I would not characterize her (as some posts did) as a "bad seed" in the same vein as the Patty McCormick role in the movie of that title. I would not place blackmail and lying and being a spoiled brat in the same category as a sociopathic murderer (ala Peter Lorre in M). I wouldn't want her in my house, either, but as we've all heard along the way, raising kids doesn't really come with a perfect owner's manual.

 

I also sensed some foundational preconceived bias about Joan Crawford. Maybe some folks see the MP role as a foretelling of the Mommie Dearest role she played in real life (allegedly).

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The noir traits are many in this one clip of Mildred Pierce, stylistically and content-wise: the shadowy house, the dark clothes of the two female characters which provides greater contrast with their fair skin, and the use of suspenseful music which builds in tension. The short scene also presents a manipulative female (Veda) as the femme fatale supporting character, a monologue which reveals the true nature of both characters such as the baser needs of Veda (that being greed and rage), and the psychological conflict between mother and daughter. Lastly, the sudden violence is a gripping end.

 

In regards to framing of these two females, it’s clear tussle for domination between Veda and Mildred. At the start, Veda is on the couch and Mildred is above her, thinking she’s done the noble thing by helping her “pregnant” daughter (her little girl) get financial security. Then as Veda sits up, putting them on equal footing, she reveals her true nature and real feelings about her mother. Then they climb the stairs, putting Veda in the higher position, having gained the surprise and domination of her mother who gets to her level to tear up the check. The sudden slap puts Veda in the extreme domination which is taken down the moment Mildred picks herself up and kicks her out before Veda storms off.

 

The close-ups are only used for big revelations: Mildred’s realization that Veda has committed unremorseful extortion, Veda’s monologue revealing herself, Mildred’s second realization of her daughter’s personality, the slap, Mildred’s surprise and response to her degradation, and finally, Veda’s impetuous and childish reaction (storming off).

 

In the larger context of noir, Mildred Pierce is an impeccable example of how before noir was even a conception, its invigorating traits would slip into other genres. This film is known as a “female melodrama,” but Michael Curtiz (a fellow European immigrant of the Expressionist period, same as Fritz Lang) elevates the material with score, cinematography, style, and content.Though the debate of whether is a "pure noir" is viable.

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I always like this movie , the time has changed but the story is the same ,we see it everyday in our society. It's a perfect film noir melodrama you got the sense -true life-.It's interesting how the cinematographer used the light and angles to shot the scenes in the beach house. The dialogue was strong.

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When it comes to positioning in the frame, I've noticed that, before even watching the film, the relationship between mother and daughter is in a constant power struggle and this is evident through this climatic scene. When the scene begins, the mother is overlooking the daughter, both by the daughter sitting down and by the mother's slight height difference. However, once the conflict shifts to the staircase, the daughter is now overlooking the mother and it culminates with the daughter slapping he mother so hard, she falls down on the staircase, obviously embarrassed and angry. It just goes to show frame position and composition can say things that are otherwise unsaid through dialogue. 

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MILDRED PIERCE: Bluntness is the lubricant that greases the wheels of noir.

As Shakespeare used soliloquy so a character can overhear and reveal him/herself to him/herself (Harold Bloom's "Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human"), noir characters (these two and in general) use dialogue to reveal both to both (and us).

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The clip opens with Veda lying on her back on a sofa reveling in her clever heartlessness.  She has just extorted $10,000 from the rich mother of a boy she claimed was the father of her non-existant unborn child.  She lollls on the couch like a ancient Roman, pleased with her own decadance.

 

Her mother, Mildred, stands ramrod straight throughout the entire scene, evoking the discipline she has had to display in her climb through the business world.  As the scene progresses the women spar, Veda enjoying her joke on the world, Mildred horrified by the monster her daughter is revealing herself to be.  The child lounges this way and that on the sofa, thinking the mother that sacrificed so much to get money for her daughter would be proud of the ill-gotten check.

 

Mildred stands and squarely faces the girl she has raised.  Veda laughs and turns away from her mother, joking about her victims. Mildred disbelievingly focuses laser-like on her daughter, trying, yet not wanting, to understand.  Veda at last confronts her mother face-to-face, ripping apart Mildred's life, a life spent indulging and spoiling her.  Veda attempts a grand exit up the stairs.  Her mother's shout stops her.  

 

Mildred, now a step below Veda on the staircase, rips the check, making a last attempt to call the girl back to an honorable life.  Veda's vicious slap knocks Mildred down a few stairs.  This finally empowers Mildred, ordering her daughter out of the house and, by implication, out of her life.

 

This melodramatic exchange, reminiscent of what would be thought at the time as a "Women's picture," has been cloaked in noir elements.  The heavy, darkened, overstuffed setting, the interesting angled shots, the use of lingering close-ups to reveal the heightened emotions of both Veda's utter ruthlessness and Mildred's dawning relization of her daughter's empty soul, all have antecedents in the earlier detective-based films noir.

 

This signposts the expanding noir influence in American film genres during the mid-1940s.

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-- 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 costuming of the two characters in similar black outfits lets them work as negative space in the composition and lets you, if you have been asked about it, to follow the shifting alignments of the two women. The scene starts with Crawford as one of a number of vertical shapes in the room, parallel to the door and the stairposts. Veda is the exception to the composition of the scene her black shape messily and diagonally breaking the harmony of the household.


As the argument breaks out Curtiz plays with the height of the actresses faces to constantly show and shift who has the upper hand in the scene before Crawford, beaten down but unbowed sends her daughter fleeing from the battlefield.


The close ups are as much about reaction, Crawford's reaction as the words. Allowing Curtiz to use the full depth of Crawford's iconic suffering as she is stung by her daughter.


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


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


I'll try to combine these


 


It's beautiful high constrast cinematography that uses blacks very well. It's a look at the toxicity hidden behind closed doors in the every day materialist existence of the American dream.  It's the clash between the daughters greed and the mothers sentiment with the sentiment being shown as sappy. It takes noir away from the heightened dramatic settings of the detective's office or the murder scene and puts it in the mundane everyday life of ordinary americans who on the face of it are trying their best and doing well. I realise that the film does revolve around a murder as well but it's a film about a noir view of society that isn't really dressed in the trappings of a crime drama. 


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This is classic film noir. This is showing not the traditional family and the feelings they have for each but the black underside of a perverted relationship of a mother and daughter. We can see how the wanting of money can pervert a girl to do anything for the possession of it. As a fun fact, the slap that Vida gives her mother was real. It was impressive to see Joan staying in character.

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This is film noir with it's subversion of the typical family dynamic and it's getting around the Hollywood Code. A teenage girl had sex out of wedlock and convinced a man she was pregnant only to blackmail him into paying her off. That is truly scandalous in the 40s and 50s and it's amazing the Code let it happen. The two woman are portrayed in similar costumes, let the Veda is wearing a large white flower, usually symbolizing innocence and purity; here worn ironically as the girl is neither innocent nor pure. The scene start with Veda lower than Mildred, indicating the mother having power over the daughter. We know that is about to change. The two women stand equally when Veda reveals her true self to her other and then runs to the stairs. During the stair scene the power shifts, Veda over her mother, slapping her when she tears up the check and ruins Veda's plans. Yet they are equal again when Mildred throws Veda out of the house. 

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