Approved. It's always so weird writing the MPAA rating thing before there was an MPAA. It's about a murder. There's death. A kid dies...just randomly. It's got some divorce. One of the characters is obsessed with seducing this married woman, so keep that in mind. It's got a pretty negative view of humanity, if I had to be honest. So while there's nothing on camera that's all that offensive, the bleak portrayal of the human race isn't exactly something I want to share with my children. Regardless, Approved.
DIRECTOR: Michael Curtiz
Spoiler: Of course it was all Veda. Veda was the worst. I'm going to go into this for a long time, but of course she did it. This all started when my wife and I were trying to think of a movie. My wife said something about the lady who murders people and then bakes pies. I had no idea what she was talking about. "You know, the pie murders?" Nope, I had nothing. She finally looked it up and saw that Mildred Pierce was on my Amazon wish list and that it was our anniversary coming up. Anyway, I love this movie, but the pie lady wasn't the murderer. It was just implied that she was the murderer!
I don't know if I want to come out of the gate talking directly about Veda. Part of me wants to talk about how the human race doesn't deserve anything and that everyone is absolutely terrible except for the put-upon American housewife. (I can support the idea that the American housewife is put upon, but gee whiz this movie makes everyone else look terrible.) Curtiz starts the movie with Mildred at a point of despair. She's on the dock, ready to take her own life. It's heavily implied that Mildred murdered her husband and wanted to frame a "friend" (I don't even know how to explain the dynamic between Mildred and Wally). She seems like this terrible human being in a world of decent people. But by the end of the film, borderline everyone seems terrible and Mildred comes across like a bit of a saint.
The thing that drives me nuts is that the whole flashback is started by the notion that the police were going to arrest her ex-husband, Bert. Not wanting an innocent man that she actually kind of liked to go to prison, Mildred claims that Bert is the most noble, sweet, and gentle human being imaginable. She has a really weird sense of what makes a good man because he literally is the worst. I'm never a fan of divorce or separation, but Bert is not a good man. The movie really implies that he's sleeping with is secretary. I would give him the benefit of the doubt, but he immediately goes to her when the separation begins, so point one to Mildred. He's mad that she's making money. And he's also mad that she's saving her own money to buy her daughter a dress.
And this is where I question reality altogether. Bert really gets mad because Mildred buys Veda a dress with her pie money. Now, I can't deny that Veda sucks. I can't deny that one bit. The movie goes out of its way to make you really look down on Veda. But Bert's theory is that Mildred is destroying her daughter by buying her a cheap dress. I'm pretty sure that Veda from just being in a middle-class home has become completely spoiled. I can't blame that dress. If anything, that dress should have woken Mildred up to the fact that Veda is a terrible person who can't appreciate anything. But the actual purpose of that dress is completely fine. Bert, throwing a big stink about that dress and separating from his wife is absolutely absurd. But the worst part about it? It makes Bert right.
See, the sleeping with the secretary is still very much implied at the beginning. But Bert's central thesis in that argument was that buying Veda anything is just going to spoil her and make her out to be a monster. That's exactly what Veda does. No one blames the divorce for making her a monster. No one blames the fact that she was always predisposed to be a horrible human being. Nope. It's all Mildred's fault apparently. It's not like Mildred was going above and beyond with the spoiling either. Veda seemed pretty talented at piano, so she got her lessons. She needed a new dress, so she bought her a cheap dress, which is all she could afford.
Then the movie just doubles down on the horrible views of humanity, especially of the working woman. Veda, when Bert leaves, throws a bit of a hissy fit about not being able to keep up with the Joneses. But she ends the argument by saying, "As long as we're all together." Now, I'm pretty sure the read on that line was the Veda is being manipulative. She comes across as a spoiled, but sweet, girl until she marries this rich guy and fakes a pregnancy. But when Mildred reveals that she has a plan to become a restaraunter, Veda gets excited. It's not very flattering when she exclaims, "You mean, we're going to be rich?" But Veda does care where her money comes from at this point. She's actually excited for her mother. It's only when Monte shows up and the two of them form this kind of disdain for where their money comes from that the story really does get bleak.
I know I don't live in 1945. I know. I get it. The idea of a working woman is so disdainful to everyone in this movie. When Bert leaves his wife, it's because she's the one making money by baking cakes and pies. That doesn't ingratiate me to the whole story. (By the way, if you ever want to argue wage politics in 2021, look how much Mildred can buy as a single-earner waitress.) But Mildred becomes this powerhouse in business and everyone is still grossed out by the fact that she works for a living. It's really this bizarre narrative that unfortunately existed (and probably still exists) in 1945. I don't know what Veda's plan was, really. Veda kept trying to kill the golden goose. Monte at one point refers to Veda as the prodigal daughter and that's an apt comparison. But the element of the prodigal son is in the name itself: repentance. Veda keeps going for these quick scores that are way more despicable than what Mildred does.
I mean, I don't really feel like I have to comment on Wally. Bert goes from being gross to being halfway decent. Monte goes from being a good guy to being a monster. But Wally? Man, Wally borderline sucks from moment one. We see him being good-natured with his flirting (I'm being really forgiving right now). It's only the more we get into the story that we see that Wally has always been super-duper gross.
So it's all a story about how the world is a terrible place. I mean, if I had to really nail it down, it's about the cultural theme about women in the workplace and how they never get the respect that they deserve. But to get that message loud and clear, we have to sit through just the most gross character traits that humanity has to offer. I mean, I love the movie. I genuinely love bleak things so it's not shocking that I'm all rah-rah about this movie. But it is fairly miserable when you think about it. Honestly, Mildred spends the movie trying to frame the wrong man for murder and perjuring herself to the police, and still, she's one of the most sympathetic characters in film.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.