For a full dose of pure, unfiltered Joan Crawford, look no further than this slab of scorching film noir. Crawford is in her element as the heroine of James M. Cain's pulp-fiction classic, a ditched wife and mother who is forced to become a waitress. On the strength of Crawford's steely willpower (and maybe those intimidating wide-wing shoulder pads), she constructs an empire of eateries, only to be disappointed by her rotten daughter (Ann Blyth) and a ferret-faced new husband (Zachary Scott). Director Michael Curtiz (Casablanca) whips up a storm of atmosphere, and the script is a series of tartly written exchanges. The best lines go to perennial wisecracker Eve Arden, as Crawford's acid-tongued pal--she earned her only Oscar nomination for the role. Commenting on the ungrateful daughter, Arden says, "Alligators have the right idea. They eat their young." Crawford herself took home the best actress Oscar, and the film was a triumphant personal comeback: her longtime studio MGM had released her from her contract before Mildred Pierce came along. Is this great acting? (Pauline Kael called it "heavy breathing.") Whatever Joan Crawford is doing in this movie, it's movie presence at its most formidable. --Robert Horton
Veda Pierce Forrester:
With this money I can get away from you. 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.