Oscar: Best Actress–Crawford, Joan in Mildred Pierce

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Joan Crawford won the 1945 Best Actress Oscar for “Mildred Pierce” at her first nomination.

Michael Curtiz’s noir melodrama “Mildred Pierce,” based on James Cain’s novella, tells the story of the rise to wealth of an independent “career” woman (Joan Crawford in her Oscar-wining turn), who parts from her husband and opens a chain of successful restaurants in Los Angeles.
 
Mildred’s motivation for success and upward mobility is provided by her daughter Vida (Ann Blyth), a spoiled, vicious, self-indulgent girl. Mildred is obsessed beyond all reason with her love for her wicked daughter (almost incestuously), determined to give her all the rewards that she lacked. 
 
Mildred’s love for her daughter is so mindlessly pervasive that she enters into a loveless marriage with a millionaire playboy (Zachary Scott), just in order to be able to indulge her more in finery. At the end, the daughter is punished for her sexual infatuation with her mother’s lover and Mildred is punished for her career ambitions; she is restored to the family by being reunited with her former husband, after their girl goes into prison for shooting her stepfather. 
 
Nonetheless, children can be ungrateful, and eve monstrous to their parents. In Mildred Pierce, Veda despises her mother for belonging to the working class, for being a waitress. And even when Mildred becomes successful as a business woman, Veda reminds her mom of her lower origins.
 
Mildred’s ambitions are not self but other oriented, as he tell her husband Bert, “I’ll do anything for those kids, do you understand, anything.” Love for children is more important than self-fulfillment or love of mate
 
Ambitious career women have also been consistently punished for stepping out of their place, entering into men’s domain thus competing with them for desirable jobs and rewards. The best example of this type is Joan Crawford’s Oscar role, as the suffering mother in Mildred Pierce. An ambitious woman, she builds up a chain of restaurants in order to provide her ungrateful daughter (Ann Blyth) all the rewards she was deprived of. Throughout the movie she is punished. Her younger daughter dies of pneumonia while she is spending her first weekend off from work with her lover. She then throws herself into a second, loveless marriage with a playboy, whom she ends up supporting. But her eldest daughter despises her for her lower-class origins and job as a waitress, and flirts with her stepfather, whom she later kills out of jealousy. At the film’s end, having lost everything, including her business, she goes back to her first husband–and to a second life as a housewife, placed back where she belongs.
 
Mildred Pierce is by no means an exception. The portrayal of career women In Hollywood films has been quite consistent up to the late 1970s. Screen career women have been typically single, which suggests that it is impossible for them to combine successful careers with satisfactory personal lives–which screen men have managed to achieve with relative ease. Even women choosing the perennial female occupation, acting, have been single, as in All About Eve: Margo Channing, while she was professionally successful, and Eve throughout the film. Career women have been ridiculed and condemned as grotesque, “unfeeling monsters.”
 
Oscar Alert
 
Oscar Nominations: 6

Picture, produced by Jerry Wald
Actress: Joan Crawford
Supporting Actress: Eve Arden
Supporting Actress: Ann Blyth
Screenplay: Ranald MacDougall
Cinematography (b/w): Ernest Haller
 
Oscar Awards: 1
 
Actress
 
Oscar Context
 
Billy Wilder’s “The Lost Weekend” won Best Picture and other Oscars over Hitchcock’s suspense-thriller “Spellbound” and Leo McCarey’s comedy “The Bells of St. Mary’s,” both starring Ingrid Bergman. The other two nominees were the MGM musical “Anchors Aweigh” and Warner’s noir melodrama “Mildred Pierce,” for which Joan Crawford won the Best Actress for a comeback performance. This was Crawford’s first of three Oscar nominations; the other two being for “Possessed” in 1947 and “Sudden Fear” in 1952. 
 
The most nominated film was “The Bells of St. Mary’s” (8), though it won only one award, for Stephen Dunn’s Sound Recording, perhaps because it was a sequel to “Going My Way,” which swept most of the 1944 Oscars. The Supporting Actress winner was Anne Revere for “National Velvet,” and Harry Stradling won the Cinematography Oscar for “The Picture of Dorian Gray.”