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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.37:1 Standard
  • Wolof PCM Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • New conversation about Mildred Pierce with critics Molly Haskell and Robert Polito
  • Excerpt from a 1970 episode of The David Frost Show featuring actor Joan Crawford
  • Joan Crawford: The Ultimate Movie Star, a 2002 feature-length documentary on Crawford’s life and career
  • Q&A with actor Ann Blyth from 2002, conducted by film historian Eddie Muller
  • Segment from a 1969 episode of the Today show featuring novelist James M. Cain
  • Trailer
  • An essay by critic Imogen Sara Smith

Mildred Pierce

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Michael Curtiz
1945 | 111 Minutes | Licensor: Warner Brothers Home Entertainment

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #860
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Release Date: February 21, 2017
Review Date: February 19, 2017

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SYNOPSIS

Melodrama casts noirish shadows in this portrait of maternal sacrifice from the Hollywood master Michael Curtiz. Its iconic performance by Joan Crawford as Mildred, a single mother hell-bent on freeing her children from the stigma of economic hardship, solidified Crawford’s career comeback and gave the actor her only Oscar. But as Mildred pulls herself up by the bootstraps, first as an unflappable waitress and eventually as the well-heeled owner of a successful restaurant chain, the ingratitude of her materialistic firstborn (a diabolical Ann Blyth) becomes a venomous serpent’s tooth, setting in motion an endless cycle of desperate overtures and heartless recriminations. Recasting James M. Cain’s rich psychological novel as a murder mystery, this bitter cocktail of blind parental love and all-American ambition is both unremittingly hard-boiled and sumptuously emotional.


PICTURE

The Criterion Collection presents Michael Curtiz’s Mildred Pierce on Blu-ray in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1 on this dual-layer disc. The 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation comes from a new 4K restoration, scanned mostly from the original 35mm nitrate camera negative, while some sequences were scanned from a 35mm nitrate fine-grain master and a 35mm safety fine-grain master.

Though there are some noticeable variations in quality (more than likely thanks to the use of multiple sources) the overall image looks very striking. Not too surprisingly the restoration work has been exhaustive and I’m hard pressed to recall any significant damage remaining, again just slight variations in the overall stability when the source appears to be outside of the original negative. Occasionally, when the image possibly jumps between sources, I found grain could get a bit harsher and the image could get a little bit softer than the majority of the film. Criterion’s notes mention the entire last reel comes from either the nitrate fine-grain or safety fine-grain, but I didn’t find this portion to stick out too much from the rest. Outside of any of those slight variations the materials look fairly spotless.

But it’s the digital presentation that is the show stopper. The image looks filmic and clean, with smooth motion and excellent rendering in the details. As I mentioned in the last paragraph there are some soft moments but I think it’s either intentional or a side-effect of the source; the film’s grain structure is still rendered cleanly and sharply, and textures, fine patterns, and the finer details all show through nicely. Contrast levels are, generally, balanced rather well, delivering rich blacks with decent shadow delineation, and I was happy to see crushing wasn’t a concern. Criterion also encodes it perfectly, with no issues of noise or artifacts ever coming up.

Again, the Warner/Criterion pairing is paying off. It’s an incredible looking restoration and presentation, and it’s hard not to be thrilled with it.

9/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

The lossless PCM 1.0 mono presentation is pretty solid, though a bit limited by the materials and age. In general the track sounds good, music and dialogue featuring decent fidelity and clarity, though the former is still limited: some higher moments in the music can be a little bit edgy. Though there is some noticeable background noise here and there (a slight hiss) the track has been cleaned up nicely, no pops or drops being present.

6/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Criterion gathers together some decent features for their special edition, starting with a new discussion between film scholars Molly Haskell and Robert Polito. The two discuss the genre blending of the film, mixing a crime noir with a “woman’s picture” (aka melodrama) and compare it to the original source novel in the process (and Todd Haynes’ HBO miniseries), which lacks the central murder story. Expanding on the novel they also cover its author, James M. Cain, and his other works, and then look at how the film twists certain noir conventions. It runs 23-minutes but is fairly brisk and the discussion proves to be of interest, making up a little for the lack of an audio commentary.

Criterion also includes the 87-minute TCM documentary Joan Crawford: The Ultimate Movie Star. Made up of interviews taken with various film scholars and those that have worked with her or knew her over the years—including her daughter, Christina Crawford—the documentary covers her career from early silent work to Trog, focusing on a few other works along the way. I’m surprised at some things it does leave out (it only touches briefly on the feud between her and Bette Davis) and it might focus more on her personal life rather than her work, but it’s a decent documentary and I’m more than happy at its inclusion.

A rather wonderful addition is a 15-minute excerpt from a 1970 interview between David Frost and Joan Crawford. Though she talks about a number of subjects—including relationships and her one big regret—the interview focuses quite a bit on Mildred Pierce, with Crawford recalling how director Michael Curtiz let his initial disdain for her well known. It’s a short excerpt but it’s still a great addition.

Criterion then includes an interview with actor Ann Blyth filmed in front of an audience following a 2006 screening of Mildred Pierce in San Francisco, which is hosted by Eddie Muller. Blyth is quite fun in this one as she recalls first getting the role, working with Crawford (who she first met at her screen test), and talking about her character in the film. She comes off as very open and appears to be having quite a bit of fun with the captivated audience.

Closing off the interviews is a 1969 interview between Hugh Downs and author James M. Cain on Today. It’s only 10-minutes but Cain manages to quickly share his thoughts on a number of subjects, from the role of television on influencing violence in America (he thinks there is no link) and the latest trend in journalistic writing, like Capote’s In Cold Blood. He also talks about his own writing, how he researches, and his surprise at how even the latest generations are still discovering his work. Though he doesn’t talk about any one work (not even Mildred Pierce) it’s a fascinating discussion and I wish it was a bit longer.

The disc then closes with a theatrical trailer for the film. The included insert then nicely rounds out the features with a new scholarly essay by Imogen Sara Smith. Though I’m a bit surprised at the lack of a commentary or any features on Curtiz (ignoring Criterion’s Laserdisc releases this is Curtiz’s first appearance in the collection) they’re a nice set of features, all coming recommended.

8/10

CLOSING

Criterion has done a splendid job on this edition for the film. The supplements are all quite good but the real selling point to this edition is the new restoration for the film, which looks very striking. It comes highly recommended.


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