Using the vernacular of the times, Joan Crawford was a “tough broad,” and she usually played one. In both Mildred Pierce (1945) and in Sudden Fear (1952) she had the opportunity to reveal her ability to portray characters of a little more emotional depth. She won an Academy Award for the title role in Mildred Pierce and received another nomination for her principal role in Sudden Fear.
Mildred Pierce was revived with a new production on Cable to high acclaim and is just one of many movies made from books by James M. Cain (The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity among them). The original b&w classic was directed by Michael Curtiz, who also did Casablanca. William Faulkner reportedly contributed to the screenplay. With Academy Award winning cinematographer Ernest Haller, who picks up great backdrops in Los Angeles (Pasadena and Santa Monica), behind the lens, there’s plenty of talent putting this classic altogether.
Mildred’s daughter, played by Ann Blyth, wants the good life. She is ashamed of her mother’s lowly beginnings and prompts Crawford’s character to seek wealth and status by nearly any means to please her daughter’s ambition. Blyth is outstanding as the heartless, manipulative girl with the innocent façade. She and Eve Arden were both deservedly nominated for Best Supporting Actress Academy Awards. Jack Carson plays a sleazy business partner and Zachary Scott is the slippery gigolo who gets it in the end and very much in the beginning.
My favorite of the two is Sudden Fear. We spend most of this movie in San Francisco with Jack Palance trying to live off an extremely wealthy widow. Joan Crawford plays the widow who is also an immensely popular playwright. Palance is an actor who was 86’d from Crawford’s new play and is determined to get revenge — killing with kindness. Crawford is taken in by the romantic overtures, but by accident discovers that Palance and his criminally inspired girlfriend (noir’s standard bad girl, Gloria Grahame) want to do her in. Hence, Sudden Fear. But Crawford’s character is no pushover, and life and death become a bit more complicated for everyone. Like Mildred Pierce, Sudden Fear was nominated for a number of Awards including Academy nominations for Palance, costume design and cinematography — great work by Charles Lang, Jr.
My recommendation for drinks this drizzly cinematic evening is keeping is simple. A fine whiskey, not the cheap stuff, goes well with the hard-drinking roles played by Crawford and her worldly friends.