Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Mildred Pierce (1945)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Mildred Pierce (1945)

In director Michael Curtiz' classic melodramatic post-war film-noir - it was a gritty tale of greed, mother-daughter love, and murder. The noir was mixed with typical soap-operish elements of the woman's melodramatic picture or "weeper," including a strand of a typical but intriguing murder mystery mostly told by a three-part flashback structure. The family melodrama was significantly modified from its original source due to pressures of the Production Code regarding its sordidness - namely, the incestual behavior of the dissolute playboy character named Monte.

The title character was a hard-working, neurotically-devoted, long-suffering and determined mother who had a status-seeking, spoiled, detestable and mean-spirited, unloving daughter. Mildred's ruinous but noble downfall occurred as the result of poor choices of men (including her dull, middle-class broker husband Bert) and her caring for an ungrateful and monstrously selfish daughter.

This film, a tremendous box-office hit and critical success, was an adaptation by Ranald MacDougall and Catherine Turney (and William Faulkner) of James M. Cain's 1941 'hard-boiled' novel of the same name. The gripping and cynical film with six Academy Awards nominations, but Joan Crawford won the film's sole Academy Award Oscar (it was also her sole Academy Award win out of three career nominations) as Best Actress for her title role. The film was Joan Crawford's comeback film after a two-year absence.

The film's taglines described Mildred's character: "The kind of woman most men want... but shouldn't have!" and "Offered more in a glance than most women give in a lifetime!"

  • during the title credits sequence, oceanfront waves washed over and wiped away each of the screens
  • in the startling opening nighttime Beragon beach house murder scene - two-timing cad playboy Monte Beragon (Zachary Scott), Mildred's second husband, was shot to death with six shots heard in a rhythmic tempo in a dark and shadowy beach house - by an unidentified, unknown and unseen assailant, as he uttered the film's first word: "Mildred!"; the gun was tossed by his side as he lay sprawled on the living room floor, and a car took off from the scene
  • in the next scene after a dissolve, the prime suspect, fur-coated Mildred Pierce (Oscar-winning Joan Crawford) walked on a Santa Monica, CA pier where she was saved from suicide by a patrolling cop: ("You take a swim, I'd have to take a swim. Is that fair? Just because you feel like bumpin' yourself off, I gotta get pneumonia? Never thought about that, did ya? OK. Think about it. Go on, beat it now. Go on home before we both take a swim")
  • possibly seen as the film's femme fatale, the very upset Mildred happened to meet her former business associate and real estate entrepreneur Wally Fay (Jack Carson) - the manager of a dingy pier restaurant; after a stiff drink, she lured him back to the crime scene where her husband had been murdered; after Mildred set him up and escaped from the beach house by running along the beach, Wally searched the house and discovered the body; as he broke out of the house, he was spotted by a passing squad car, and he told the inquisitive cop: "There's a stiff in there"

Wally Fay (Jack Carson) At the Beach House with Mildred After the Shooting

Wally's Discovery of Monte's Dead Body

Wally Confronted by Police Outside
  • after returning home by taxi, Mildred found her distressed 19 year-old daughter Veda Pierce (Ann Blyth) with two trench-coated detectives; she was told the official news: "It's your husband. He's been murdered"
  • in the middle of the night in LA's Main Office of the Criminal Division, Mildred was brought for questioning by Inspector Peterson (Moroni Olsen), who assured her that they didn't need her anymore: "Oh you're in the clear, Mrs. Beragon. The case is on ice. You can go now"; off-screen, Mildred's guilty-looking ex-husband Bert Pierce (Bruce Bennett) whom she had divorced four years earlier, had confessed to the crime; the gun that committed the murder belonged to Pierce, and he didn't deny killing Beragon
Mildred Was Brought to the Police Station For Questioning by Inspector Peterson (Moroni Olsen) - Her Ex-Husband Bert Pierce (Bruce Bennett) Took the Blame
  • there were three major flashback scenes to fill in the details of the last four years of Mildred's life; in the first flashback, Mildred recalled some of the unfolding events that led to the breakup of her first marriage with Bert; she was married, at age 17, to Bert Pierce - a real-estate broker; she was a doting middle-class house-wife and super-mom to her children in a clean, suburban home in Glendale; the hardworking, dowdy mother obsessively doted on her two daughters, especially spoiled-rotten and selfish elder 16 year-old daughter Veda
  • Mildred was seen to have an obsessive mother-daughter love as a long-suffering, sacrificial mother figure for her ungrateful and venomous 16 year-old femme fatale daughter Veda; she had contributed to her daughter's unappreciative and slutty behavior for a long time; Veda had been indulgently showered with gifts, nice clothes, and piano lessons, provided by Mildred's sacrificial work baking pies and cakes, although Veda was embarrassed by her mother's work and attempts to become independent
Mildred's Sacrificial and Obsessive Mother-Daughter Love for Veda
  • Mildred's unhappy marriage dissolved (first with a separation and then a divorce) on account of suspicions of Bert's unfaithfulness, and their differences over the unbalanced, smothering, obsessive, insistent maternal love of Mildred for her spoiled daughter; she was instantly courted by a more prosperous Wally (Bert's ex-business partner), but she regularly fended off and repulsed his crude advances
  • to earn money for her family now that Bert had exited, Mildred took a job waiting tables in a downtown restaurant, hired by her future wisecracking friend Ida (Eve Arden), in addition to baking pies; she became a proficient worker, and also established a moonlighting side business of pie-baking for the restaurant; her work basically supported and kept Veda well-supplied with lessons
  • the embarrassed Veda, who felt that Mildred wasn't up to supporting a more luxurious lifestyle for her, found Mildred's hidden restaurant uniform in her closet kept a secret from her; she judgmentally delivered harsh words to Mildred about her lowly restaurant job: "My mother, a waitress!"; Mildred defended herself to her ungrateful, status-conscious daughter: ("I took the only job I could get so you and your sister could eat and have a place to sleep and some clothes on your backs")
  • during their confrontation, Veda snapped back about their "common" upbringing: ("Aren't the pies bad enough? Did you have to degrade us?...l'm really not surprised. You've never spoken of your people, where you came from, so perhaps it's natural. Maybe that's why Father...") - Mildred slapped her daughter, but then apologized: ("l never would have taken the job if l hadn't wanted to keep us all together. Besides, l wanted to learn the business the best way possible...the restaurant business"); the aspirational Mildred explained her business venture idea to open up a small restaurant
  • through determination and will-power, Mildred opened up her own small restaurant with the help of Ida: ("I didn't know what to do next. Suddenly, it hit me. Why not open a restaurant?....I've found the location I want. It's an old house that hasn't been lived in for years from the look of it. It's right on a busy intersection, which means it's good for drive-in trade. I clocked an average of five hundred cars an hour...And there isn't another restaurant within five miles")
  • she also acquired financial assistance from realtor/rebuffed beau and business partner Wally, who contacted the slick, good-looking, socially-prominent Monte Beragon to negotiate with him to purchase/lease the restaurant property that was owned by the Beragon estate; she also made arrangements to formally divorce her husband Bert so there wouldn't be legal complications, although he was reluctant to agree to a divorce; during renovations at the property to construct "Mildred's" restaurant, the opportunistic, scuzzy lounge lizard and playboyish Monte flirted with his investment partner - and they began to develop a romantic relationship
Mildred's Developing Romance with Socially-Connected Monte
During First Flashback
  • their romance began with a swim at Monte's beach house, where he openly admitted he was lazy and overindulgent: ("I do too much of everything. Too spoiled...I'm such a self-controlled and dignified young fellow...I loaf, in a decorative and highly charming manner...With me, loafing is a science") - but then, he spoke of their love in front of the fireplace before kisses and love-making: (Monte: "You take my breath away." Mildred: "Do I? l like you, Monte. You make me feel, oh, l don't know, warm." Monte: "Wanted? Beautiful?" Mildred: "Yes." Monte: "When I'm close to you like this, there's a sound in the air like the beating of wings. Do you know what it is?...My heart beating like a schoolboy's" Mildred: "ls it? l thought it was mine")
  • during Mildred's time away with Monte, sweet-natured younger daughter Kay suffered a severe case of pneumonia and expired - inevitably the result of Mildred's excesses and neglect; Mildred began to clutch on to Veda even more so with increased affection, devotion, and gifts
  • Mildred was able to develop her restaurant into a very successful and profitable chain; while Mildred was working hard on her new ventures, Veda was making her own advantageous play toward Monte; meanwhile, Bert assented to the divorce while also expressing jealous rage toward Mildred's association with Monte

More Questions in the Police Station About Mildred's Strange Behavior

Mildred's Admission: "I did it, I killed him"
Between the First and Second Flashbacks - In the Police Station
  • as the first flashback ended and returned to the police station, Mildred basically admitted to being at the beach house and seeing Monte dead on the floor, and that she had suspiciously lured Wally back to the house to pin the murder on him; and then she bold-facedly blurted out: "I did it, I killed him"; Peterson didn't really believe Mildred, and thought she was only taking the blame
  • during the film's second flashback, Mildred described how her restaurants were a great success, but that spend-thrift Monte spent much of her hard-earned money for extravagant purchases, and Veda's bad habits (smoking) and growing expenses (including a brand-new car) were also becoming a major financial burden
Veda's Expensive Tastes - A New Car
  • Mildred was forced to give Monte an ultimatum warning to stay away from her pretentious daughter Veda for good: ("Stay away from Veda...And it isn't funny. She's only seventeen years old and spoiled rotten"); Mildred's concern was that she would lose her self-indulgent daughter to him: "Look, Monte, I've worked long and hard trying to give Veda the things I never had. I've done without a lot of things, including happiness sometimes, because I wanted her to have everything. And now I'm losing her. She's drifting away from me. She hardly speaks to me anymore except to ask for money, or poke fun at me in French because I work for a living...I blame it on the way she's been living. I blame it on you...You look down on me because I work for a living, don't you? You always have. All right, I work. I cook food and sell it and make a profit on it - which I might point out you're not too proud to share with me"
  • then, the profligate Monte insulted Mildred for the 'smell of grease' surrounding her: "Yes, I take money from you, Mildred. But not enough to make me like kitchens or cooks. They smell of grease"; she decided to personally dump the ungrateful Monte - and fire him with an added rebuttal: "I don't notice you shrinking away from a $50 dollar bill because it happens to smell of grease....There's no point in going on like this. You're interfering with my life and my business. And worst of all, you're interfering with my plans for Veda and I won't stand for it"; Monte summarized their breakup: ("l always knew that someday we'd come to this particular moment in the scheme of things. You want Veda and your business and a nice, quiet life. And the price of all that is me. You can go back to making your pies now, Mildred. We're through"); to clear the books, Mildred wrote a substantial check to cover Monte's expenses (marked 'paid in full')
  • the petulant, selfishly-ungrateful, money-hungry and predatory Veda, estranged from Mildred and whose greed also helped to contribute to the restaurant's financial ruin, schemed to marry a young, innocent boy whom she didn't love - Ted Forrester (John Compton), the son of a wealthy family in Southern California; she faked a pregnancy to extort money from her boyfriend's wealthy family; she admitted to a fraudulent marriage (and baby) to receive a blackmailing pay-off check of $10,000 to end the 'marriage'; Veda callously admitted to Mildred that the whole thing about the baby was a fraudulent sham
  • with the $10,000 check in her possession, Mildred could see through her daughter's greed: "Money - that's what you live for, isn't it? You'd do anything for money, wouldn't you?"; Veda revealed her true motivation - to get away from her mother: ("With this money, I can get away from you")
  • during a second major confrontation between the two on a staircase, Veda delivered a brutal, humiliating and insulting tirade against her mother regarding her low-rent, lower-class birth: ("....From you and your chickens and your pies and your kitchens and everything that smells of grease. I can get away from this shack with its cheap furniture, and this town and its dollar days, and its women that wear uniforms and its men that wear overalls.... You think just because you've made a little money you can get a new hairdo and some expensive clothes and turn yourself into a lady. But you can't, because you'll never be anything but a common frump, whose father lived over a grocery store and whose mother took in washing. With this money, I can get away from every rotten, stinking thing that makes me think of this place or you!")
  • after Mildred ripped up Veda's $10,000 pay-off 'blackmail' check, Veda slapped Mildred across the face and knocked her down onto the stairs; Mildred rose and stood face to face in front of Veda and commanded: ("Get out, Veda. Get your things out of this house right now before I throw them into the street and you with them. Get out before I kill you"); Mildred went away for a while, and began to drink regularly to calm her nerves
Second Flashback: Staircase Argument Between Mildred and Veda - Mildred: "Get out, Veda...Get out before I kill you"
  • over time, Mildred began to have second thoughts about tossing Veda out and was willing to be a 'mother-sacrifice' again; however, words of warning were issued by her wise-cracking friend Ida about Mildred's beloved but spoiled, condescending and monstrous daughter Veda: ("Personally, Veda's convinced me that alligators have the right idea. They eat their young")
  • in an attempt to rekindle their relationship, Bert (now well-employed and no longer under the spell of another woman) and Mildred met for dinner at Wally's cheap and tawdry pier restaurant; they watched as the outrageous Veda (who had been hired a month earlier) performed on stage as a singer/dancer in front of them; in a backstage dressing room, the cold-hearted, haughty and rebellious Veda rejected Mildred's request to return home to a sub-standard life and find happiness, but hinted that she might reconsider if Mildred could provide the luxurious life she demanded - the life that she had with Monte Beragon
  • the now-affluent Mildred negotiated with cash-poor Monte to purchase his "antiquated," run-down Beragon mansion, and she also proposed a marriage of convenience; Beragon accepted if she would offer him a one-third share of Mildred's successful business; Mildred married Monte Beragon - a heartless and loveless marriage - for his social status and family name, and to provide the kind of social background that Veda craved; shortly later, Veda returned home to the renovated Beragon mansion

Veda Returned Home - Greeted by Monte Beragon

Mildred's Anger That Monte Was Selling Out His One-Third of Mildred's Business

Mildred Retrieved Her Gun Before Driving to the Beach House
  • as Veda celebrated her 19th birthday, she was romancing her own step-father (a semi-incestuous relationship) behind the restaurateur's long-suffering back; meanwhile, Mildred was in her office, learning that she was facing bankruptcy when Monte demanded to sell out his one-third interest in Mildred's business; she took a gun and placed it in her pocket before driving to the beach house at around midnight (presuming that Monte would be there); was she planning to kill Monte for his business or personal betrayal? - the second flashback ended
  • just before the film's third and final flashback, Inspector Peterson again declared to Mildred that he knew she was innocent when she claimed she had murdered Monte; Mildred looked on as Veda was brought in; she had been picked up at the airport on a plane bound for Arizona; she incriminated herself and confessed to the killing
Veda Brought Into Police Station - She Was Caught Fleeing, and Incriminated Herself
  • the concluding third flashback revealed the answer to the murder mystery; in a complete replay of the night of the murder, Mildred was seen coming into the beach house ("I didn't know Veda was there when I came in. I expected Monte to be alone"); as she walked forward out of the shadows, she came upon Monte kissing Veda over the bar in the darkness; the promiscuous Veda was in the midst of a semi-incestuous affair with her step-father Monte; Monte sheepishly spoke: "We weren't expecting you, Mildred, uh, obviously." Veda then bluntly bragged and confessed that she had been having a long-term, surreptitious affair with her own mother's husband, and would replace Mildred: "It's just as well you know. I'm glad you know...Since I came home, and even before. He never loved you. It's always been me. I've got what I wanted. Monte's going to divorce you and marry me...And there's nothing you can do about it"
Third Flashback: At the Beach House, Mildred Discovered Veda's Secret Affair with Her Own Husband Monte
  • although Mildred pulled a gun from her coat pocket, she dropped it to the floor when Monte grabbed her arm and cautioned her: ("Mildred, use your head"); then after Mildred fled outside to her car, Monte rebuffed, rejected and scorned Veda; Veda became enraged when Monte denied her request to get married (he denied loving her and claimed he must have been drunk), and when he called her a promiscuous "rotten little tramp": ("Just where did you get the idea I'm going to marry you?... I'm not joking. If you think I'm going to marry you, you're very much mistaken.... Look. You don't really think I could be in love with a rotten little tramp like you, do you?")
  • to retaliate, Veda pulled Mildred's gun on Monte and shot him to death; Veda was shown aiming and firing the gun at Monte - he collapsed onto the floor as he repeated his dying word: "Mildred." Outside in her car, Mildred heard six shots - and when she came back inside, she found her crazed, impassioned daughter standing over the dead body of Monte
  • to Mildred, Veda claimed she wasn't really responsible: "He's dead. He said horrible things. He didn't want me around anymore. He told me to get out. And then he laughed at me. He wouldn't stop laughing. I told him I'd kill him. He said I didn't have guts enough. I didn't mean to do it. I didn't mean to, I tell you. But the gun kept going off, over and over again. Then he was lying there, looking at me, just looking at me. You've got to help me. Give me money to get away - and time. I've got to get away before they find him"
  • Mildred finally told Veda: "I can't get you out of this," although Veda was desperately and vehemently pleading with her mother to not report Monte's murder to police, to be sympathetic, and to help her: ("Think what will happen if they find me. Think what will happen...Give me another chance. It's your fault as much as mine. You've got to help me. Help me, Mother! Just this once. I'll change, I promise I will. I'll be different. Just give me another chance. It's your fault I'm the way I am. Help me"). Mildred phoned the Santa Monica police department to report the murder, but then hung up
  • the third short flashback ended, and the film returned to the present, where Mildred was admitting to Peterson: "I thought maybe, in a way, it was my fault. So I tried to help her. I wanted to take the blame for it"; as Veda was about to be booked and led away by an officer, Peterson spoke: "Not this time, Mrs. Beragon. This time, your daughter pays for her own mistake. OK, book her!"
  • in the final scene, as Veda and Mildred hugged and spoke one last time, Mildred apologized to Veda: "Darling, I'm sorry. I did the best I could"; Veda's last words to her mother were: "Don't worry about me, Mother. I'll get by", as Inspector Peterson mused to Mildred, the film's final line: ("You know, Mrs. Beragon, there are times when I regret being a policeman")
Film's Conclusion: Mildred's Reconciliation with Estranged Ex-Husband Bert Pierce (Bruce Bennett)
  • in the hallway as Mildred exited to get some "fresh air", estranged ex-husband Bert Pierce was waiting for her and greeted her, and they walked into the approaching dawn. Now that Veda had been purged and could no longer poison their relationship, they were restored to each other for a reconciliation

Opening Beach House Murder Scene of Mildred's Cad Playboy Husband Monte Beragon by an Unidentified Assailant

After the Murder of Monte Beragon at the Beach House, Mildred Pierce Was Saved From Suicide on a Santa Monica Pier

Mildred in Her Home - With 19 Year-Old Daughter Veda - Notified by Detectives of Monte's Murder

First Flashback: Homemaker Mildred with First Husband Bert Pierce (Bruce Bennett)

The Pierce's Two Daughters Veda and Kay (Jo Ann Marlowe)

Kay and Spoiled 16 Year Old Veda (Ann Blythe)

Wally's Persistent Romantic Interest in Mildred After She Separated From Bert

Mildred's Supportive Friend Ida (Eve Arden) at Restaurant

Daughter Veda's Insult to Her Mother About Her Lowly Occupation: "My mother, a waitress!"

Mildred's Plan to Purchase Property From Slick Playboy Monte Beragon

With Veda at the Time of Kay's Death

Mildred's Highly-Successful Restaurant "Mildred's"

Second Flashback: Mildred's Ultimatum to The Profligate Monte: "Stay away from Veda"

Mildred's and Monte's Breakup: (Monte: "We're through")

Veda's Scheming to Fake a Pregnancy and 'Marry' A Rich Boy and Then Blackmail His Family For $10,000

Mildred to Veda: "Money - that's what you live for, isn't it? You'd do anything for money, wouldn't you?"

Veda to Mildred: "With this money, I can get away from you"

Veda Working as A Singer/Dancer in Wally's Tawdry Pier Restaurant

Veda Hinting She Would Return Home to Mildred If She Could Provide a More Luxurious Life

Mildred's Business Proposition to Marry Monte Beragon

At the Beach House After Mildred Departed, Monte Retorted to Veda: "You don't really think I could be in love with a rotten little tramp like you"

The Retaliatory and Rejected Lover-Killer - Veda Firing All Six Bullets

Monte - Dead on Floor From a Gunshot Wound

After the Murder of Monte by Veda - She Told Her Returning Mother: "I Told Him I'd Kill Him"

After Monte's Murder, Veda Pleaded With Her Mother to Not Turn Her In As She Phoned the Police

Final Scene in the Present: Veda Was Charged With The Crime: "OK, book her!"

Final Words Between Mildred and Veda


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