AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Mildred Pierce
Alternate Title: House on the Sand
Director: Michael Curtiz (Dir)
Release Date:   20 Oct 1945
Premiere Information:   New York opening: 28 Sep 1945
Production Date:   7 Dec 1944--28 Feb 1945
Duration (in mins):   109 or 113
Duration (in feet):   9,960
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Cast:   Joan Crawford (Mildred Pierce)  
    Jack Carson (Wally Fay)  
    Zachary Scott (Monte Beragon)  
    Eve Arden (Ida Corwin)  
    Ann Blyth (Veda Pierce)  
    Bruce Bennett (Bert Pierce)  
    Lee Patrick (Mrs. Maggie Biederhof)  
    Moroni Olsen (Inspector Peterson)  
    Veda Ann Borg (Miriam Ellis)  
    Jo Ann Marlowe (Kay Pierce)  
    George Tobias (Mr. Chris)  
    Barbara Brown (Mrs. Forrester)  
    Butterfly McQueen (Lottie)  
    Charles Trowbridge (Mr. Williams)  
    John Compton (Ted Forrester)  
    Garry Owen (Policeman on pier)  
    Larry Rio (Reporter)  
    George Anderson (Peterson's assistant)  
    Johnny Walsh (Delivery man)  
    Robert Arthur (High school boy)  
    Jimmy Lono (Houseboy)  
    Mary Servoss (Nurse)  
    Manart Kippen (Dr. Gale)  
    David Cota (Pancho)  
    Don Grant (Bartender)  
    Chester Clute (Mr. Jones)  
    Bob Evans (Sailor)  
    Wallis Clark (Wally's lawyer)  
    Perk Lazelle (Attorney's clerk)  
    Joan Winfield (Piano teacher)  
    John Christian (Singing teacher)  
    Leah Baird (Police matron)  
    Paul Panzer (Waiter)  
    William Alcorn (Soldier)  
    John Sheridan (Clerk)  
    Clancy Cooper (Policeman)  
    Tom Dillon (Policeman)  
    Charles Jordan (Policeman)  
    James Flavin (Detective)  
    John O'Connor (Detective)  
    Joyce Compton (Waitress)  
    Lynne Baggett (Waitress)  
    Marion Lessing (Waitress)  
    Doria Caron (Waitress)  
    Marjorie Kane (Waitress)  
    Elyse Brown (Waitress)  
    Angela Greene (Party guest)  
    Betty Alexander (Party guest)  
    Ramsay Ames (Party guest)  
    Helen Pender (Party guest)  
    Dick Kipling (Personnel man)  
    Wheaton Chambers (Personnel man)  
    William Ruhl (Personnel man)  
    Jeanne Wardley (Wife)  
    George Meader    
    Harold Miller    
    Mary Ellen Meyran    
    Jean Lorraine    
    Bob Locke Lorraine    

Summary: After her second husband, Monte Beragon, is murdered in her beachfront house, Mildred Pierce lures longtime acquaintance Wally Fay to the house and then runs away, leaving him with the body. A short time later, Mildred returns to her Pasadena house to find the police and her daughter Veda waiting for her. At the police station, Mildred describes the events that led to Monte's murder: Four years earlier, Mildred's first husband Bert is making a good living in real estate with Wally, who is his partner. After Bert loses his job, however, he quarrels frequently with Mildred over her indulgent treatment of their daughters Veda and Kay. An especially bitter quarrel drives Bert to leave Mildred for his mistress, Mrs. Maggie Biederhof. Kay is upset by her father's departure, but the older Veda is only concerned with how the family will manage financially. When Wally makes a pass at Mildred, Veda suggests that Mildred marry him so that they can get a new house and a maid, but Mildred rejects the notion. Because she has been a housewife from age seventeen, Mildred is only able to find a job as a waitress, but she works hard and bakes pies for extra income. When the snobbish Veda ridicules her mother for working as a waitress, even though this work has paid for her expensive singing lessons, Mildred decides to open her own restaurant. With Wally's help, she buys a house in Glendale from the Beragon estate and remodels it. One day, when Bert takes the girls to Lake Arrowhead, Monte Beragon, the building's former owner, invites Mildred for a swim at his beach house. Later, Mildred returns home and finds Bert waiting with the news that Kay is seriously ill with pneumonia. After Kay dies, Mildred becomes even more determined to provide Veda with the best of everything. Mildred's restaurant is very successful, and soon she owns a chain of restaurants. In the meantime, after her divorce from Bert, Mildred becomes increasingly involved with Monte, giving him money to support his wealthy, idle way of life, but later breaks off the relationship because she believes that he is a bad influence on Veda. Veda makes a secret marriage with wealthy Ted Forrester, and when his parents insist on an annulment, she falsely claims to be pregnant. Wally negotiates a large financial settlement from the Forresters, but when Mildred learns that Veda lied about her pregnancy, she tears up the check and sends her daughter away. Mildred relents, however, after Veda takes a job as a singer in Wally's nightclub. In order to give Veda the socially prominent life she desires, Mildred then arranges to marry Monte in exchange for a third of her successful business. Monte squanders Mildred's money, causing her to lose her business to Wally. After telling the police her story, Mildred confesses to murdering Monte. The police then question Veda, who admits she shot Monte, with whom she was having an affair, after he refused to marry her. Veda blames Mildred for making her the way she is, but Mildred finally washes her hands of her daughter and rejoins the loyal Bert outside the police station. 

Production Company: Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.  
Brand Name: A Warner Bros.--First National Picture
Distribution Company: Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.  
Director: Michael Curtiz (Dir)
  Herschel Daugherty (Dial dir)
  Frank Heath (Asst dir)
  Dick Moder (2d asst dir)
Producer: Jack L. Warner (Exec prod)
  Jerry Wald (Prod)
Writer: Ranald MacDougall (Scr)
  Catherine Turney (Contr wrt)
  Albert Maltz (Contr wrt)
  Margaret Gruen (Contr wrt)
  Margaret Buell Wilder (Contr wrt)
  Thames Williamson (Contr wrt)
  William Faulkner (Contr wrt)
  Louise Randall Pierson (Contr wrt)
Photography: Ernest Haller (Dir of photog)
  William Schurr (2d cam)
  Frank Evans (Cam op)
  Frank Burkett (Asst cam op)
  Milton Gold (Stills)
  James Goldenhaur (Gaffer)
Art Direction: Anton Grot (Art dir)
  Bertram Tuttle (Supv art dir)
Film Editor: David Weisbart (Film ed)
Set Decoration: George James Hopkins (Set dec)
  Herbert Plews (Props)
  Levi C. Williams (Asst props)
Costumes: Milo Anderson (Ward)
  Clayton Brackett (Ward)
  Jeanette Storck (Ward)
Music: Hugh Friedhofer (Orch arr)
  Leo F. Forbstein (Mus dir)
  Max Steiner (Mus)
Sound: Oliver S. Garretson (Sd)
  Gerald W. Alexander (Re-rec and eff mixer)
  Robert G. Wayne (Re-rec and eff mixer)
  Charles David Forrest (Mus mixer)
Special Effects: James Leicester (Mont)
  Willard Van Enger (Spec eff)
  Harry Barndollar (Spec eff)
  Russell Collings (Spec optical eff)
  Paul Detlefsen (Matte paintings)
  Mario Larrinaga (Matte paintings)
Make Up: Perc Westmore (Makeup artist)
  Bill Cooley (Makeup)
  Eddie Allen (Makeup)
  Geraldine Cole (Hair)
Production Misc: Lou Baum (Unit mgr)
  Rene Steffen (Best boy)
  S. E. Young (Grip)
  John Mitchell (Pub)
Country: United States

Songs: "The Oceana Roll," words by Roger Lewis, music by Lucien Denni.
Composer: Lucien Denni
  Roger Lewis
Source Text: Based on the novel Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain (New York, 1941).
Authors: James M. Cain

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc. 20/12/1945 dd/mm/yyyy LP73

PCA NO: 10660
Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: RCA Sound System

Genre: Melodrama
Subjects (Major): Class distinction
  Mothers and daughters
Subjects (Minor): Divorce
  Glendale (CA)
  Pasadena (CA)
  Real estate agents

Note: The film's working title was House on the Sand . Files on the film included in the Warner Bros. Collection at the USC Cinema-Television Library add the following information about the production: When studio executive Jack L. Warner proposed filming the James M. Cain novel, Joseph I. Breen of the MPPA wrote in a letter dated 2 Feb 1944, "...the story contains so many sordid and repellent elements that we feel the finished picture would not only be highly questionable from the standpoint of the Code, but would, likewise, meet with a great deal of difficulty in its release...." Breen went on to suggest that the story be dismissed from further consideration. The major changes made by the writers to conform to the Code involved the elimination of overt references to extra-marital sex and the blackening of Veda's character. "Monte's" murder was added by the screenwriters for dramatic purposes.
       Producer Jerry Wald wanted Ralph Bellamy for the role of "Bert;" Donald Woods was also considered for the part and George Coulouris tested for it. Bonita Granville, Virginia Weidler and Martha Vickers tested for the part of "Veda." Modern sources add that Jack Carson was also considered for the part of "Monte." Some scenes were filmed on location in Glendale and Malibu, CA. The U.S. Navy granted permission to film in Malibu despite wartime restrictions, but asked to be allowed to view all footage shot there. In 1983, the Malibu house used in the film collapsed into the sea after a week of storms. Other than a brief appearance in Warner Bros.' Hollywood Canteen (see above), this film was the first that Joan Crawford made for Warner Bros. According to information included in the file on the film in the Warner Bros. Collection, Cain sent a first edition of the novel to Crawford on 7 Mar 1946, which was inscribed, "To Joan Crawford, who brought Mildred to life just as I had always hoped she would be and who has my lifelong gratitude." In the 2 Nov 1946 issue of SEP , Crawford named "Mildred Pierce" as the role she liked best.
       Crawford's performance in this film earned her her only Academy Award. The film helped redefine Crawford's image, and modern critics have noted that she was subsequently thought of as an actress as well as a star. The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture; Eve Arden and Ann Blyth were both nominated for Oscars for Best Supporting Actress; Ernest Haller was nominated for his cinematography and Randall MacDougall received an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay. According to modern sources, writer Catherine Turney was credited on some release prints, but chose to have her name removed. Among the many versions of the screenplay, William Faulkner's rewrite differed significantly from the others, according to modern sources. He wrote an elaborate voice-over narration and concentrated on Mildred's restaurant business, describing sleazy, underhanded business dealings. Veda is even more calculating and cold than she appears in the final film. Modern sources add that because of script problems some of the film was improvised by the actors together with director Michael Curtiz. Zachary Scott reprised his role in a Lux Radio Theatre broadcast on 6 Jun 1949, co-starring Rosalind Russell, and in a second Lux Radio Theatre broadcast on 14 Jun 1954, co-starring Claire Trevor. He also reprised the role in a Lux Video Theatre program on 20 Sep 1956, co-starring Virginia Bruce, and in a second Lux radio broadcast on 14 Jun 1954, co-starring Claire Trevor. Scott also reprised the role in a Lux Video Theatre program on 20 Sep 1956, co-starring Virginia Bruce. In 2011, HBO broadcast a five-hour mini-series adaptation of Mildred Pierce , directed by Todd Haynes and starring Kate Winslet. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   6 Oct 1945.   
Daily Variety   28 Sep 45   p. 3.
Film Daily   1 Oct 45   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   10 Nov 44   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   8 Dec 44   p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter   28 Sep 45   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   1 Oct 45   p. 18.
Los Angeles Times   2 Mar 1944.   
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   6 Jan 45   p. 2259.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   6 Oct 45   p. 2670.
New York Times   29 Sep 45   p. 12.
The Saturday Evening Post   2 Nov 1946.   
Variety   3 Oct 45   p. 20.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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