Mildred Pierce (4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Review)

REVIEW OVERVIEW

The Film
The Video (Overall)
HDR Effect
The Audio
The Supplements
Overall

SUMMARY

A woman works her way up from being a waitress to owning a chain of restaurants while trying to keep her daughter in luxuries and manage a relationship with her playboy second husband.

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

The 1945 classic Mildred Pierce, based on the novel by James M. Cain, was directed by journeyman director Michael Curtiz (Casablanca) and starred Joan Crawford in the titular role for which she won an Oscar. The Ranald MacDougall and William Faulkner screenplay tamps down the sexual content of Cain’s novel while Curtiz ramps up the film noir elements, balancing a melodramatic women’s romance picture with the noir filming techniques and slimy crime drama elements of the story.

It involves itself with a woman (Crawford) who we first meet in the opening moments of the film driving away after we see a man getting pumped full of bullets in a shadowy mansion and calling her name, “Mildred,” with his last breath. We later will learn that murdered man is Monte Beragon (Zachary Scott), the rapscallion heir who becomes the second husband to Mildred Pierce, a powerhouse businessperson and owner of the restaurant chain Mildred’s.

Mildred had worked her way up from a dysfunctional marriage to cheating husband Bert (Bruce Bennett) who eventually left her with their two daughters, full expecting she would not be able to survive on her own without him. But Mildred does survive, taking a job as a waitress in order to keep providing luxuries like piano lessons and fine clothes for her spoiled daughter Veda (Ann Blyth). Mildred eventually parlays her waitressing experiencing into buying her own restaurant with the help of unscrupulous real estate agent Wally Fay (Jack Carson). This purchase brings Monte into her life as he is the owner of the property she wants to purchase. Despite an on-again-off-again relationship complicated by Monte’s obvious over-extravagance with finances, Mildred eventually marries him for status to win over Veda’s approval, thus beginning a downward spiral that could ruin her.

Crawford, who was not Curtiz’s first choice for the role, gives a powerhouse performance in the film and one truly worthy of the Academy Award she won. But Ann Blyth should not be discounted either for her terribly bratty and narcissistic portrayal of the spoiled and materialistic daughter Veda. The elements all come together lusciously in the noirish, chiaroscuro cinematography from Ernest Haller, the sweeping score by Max Steiner, all under the superb direction of Curtiz.

  • Joan Crawford and Ann Blyth in Mildred Pierce (1945)
  • Joan Crawford and Eve Arden in Mildred Pierce (1945)
  • Joan Crawford and Ann Blyth in Mildred Pierce (1945)
  • Joan Crawford and Zachary Scott in Mildred Pierce (1945)
  • Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce (1945)
  • Mildred Pierce (1945) (Criterion Collection)

The Video

The digital transfer for Mildred Pierce was created in 4K resolution on a Lasergraphics Director from the 35mm original nitrate camera negative. Some sequences, including the entire last reel of the film, were scanned from a 35mm nitrate fine-grain master held by the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and a 35mm safety fine-grain master.

The film is supplied on 4K Ultra HD in a 1.37:1 HEVC 2160p (4K UHD) HDR10 encodement. There is not much added by the HDR grading for this release. The HDR10 metadata does not even go beyond SDR specifications. The MaxLL is 152 nits and the MaxFALL is 29 nits, so added brightness or expanded dynamic range is not there. Wide color gamut does not come into play either given this is a black and white film.

The film looks gorgeous, even given the multiple sources used for some sequences. The film grain is natural and crisp where the scan is from the original negative. The lower quality sources are blended in well and also look organic. Overall, the black levels and dynamics are incredibly extended.  Although the HDR is not a factor, there is a step up in quality on the 4K disc over the 2016 restoration as seen on the included Blu-ray, which looks softer, coarser, and less starkly contrasted by comparison.

The Audio

The original monaural audio mix is included in LPCM 1.0. It was remastered from a 35mm soundtrack print created in 2002 by YCM Laboratories in Burbank from the variable-area original soundtrack negative. The sound is as good as one could hope given the vintage and sources, with clear dialogue, a clean score, and little hiss or pops.

The Supplements

The on-disc supplements are all on the included 2016 Blu-ray release. There is nothing new, but for collectors who do not own the previous release, this is a fantastic collection of discussions and interviews.

  • Molly Haskell and Robert Polito (1080p; 00:22:59) – This conversation between Molly Haskell and Robert Polito was recorded for the Criterion Collection in 2016. In it, the critics discuss both the novel Mildred Pierce and the film version by Michael Curtiz.
  • Joan Crawford: The Ultimate Movie Star (1080i; 01:27:06) – This 2002 documentary from Turner Classic Movies, directed by Peter Fitzgerald, covers the life and career of actor Joan Crawford. Narrated by Anjelica Huston, it features Crawford’s friends, relatives, and colleagues.
  • David Frost and Joan Crawford (1080i; 00:15:02) – On January 8, 1970, actor Joan Crawford appeared on The David Frost Show. In this excerpt, she discusses Mildred Pierce and director Michael Curtiz.
  • Ann Blyth (1080i; 00:23:56) – In July 2006, actor Ann Blyth appeared at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco for a screening of Mildred Pierce, organized and recorded by Marc Huestis. Blyth’s onstage Q&A with film noir expert Eddie Muller is presented here.
  • James M. Cain (1080p; 00:10:07) – On November 26, 1969, Hugh Downs interviewed Mildred Pierce author James M. Cain on the Today show. That conversation, in which the two discuss contemporary American youth culture and Cain’s writing, is presented here.
  • Trailer (1080p)
  • Essay “A Woman’s Work” by Imogen Sara Smith, originally written for the Criterion Collection in 2016.

The Final Assessment

This is a classic from the Golden Age of Hollywood starring one of the icons of the screen, Joan Crawford. The new 4K restoration leaves the film looking more stunning than ever in this release from the Criterion Collection.


Mildred Pierce is out on 4K Ultra HD Combo March 7, 2023, from the Criterion Collection.


  • Rating Certificate: Approved
  • Studios & Distributors: Warner Bros. | The Criterion Collection
  • Director: Michael Curtiz
  • Written By: Ranald MacDougall (screen play) | James M. Cain (novel) | William Faulkner (contract writer)
  • Run Time: 111 Mins.
  • Street Date: 7 March 2023
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
  • Video Format: HEVC 2160p (4K UHD)
  • HDR Format: HDR10
  • HDR10 Metadata:
    • MaxLL: 152 nits
    • MaxFALL: 29 nits
  • Primary Audio: English LPCM 1.0
  • Subtitles: English SDH
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A woman works her way up from being a waitress to owning a chain of restaurants while trying to keep her daughter in luxuries and manage a relationship with her playboy second husband.Mildred Pierce (4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Review)
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