Though Mildred Pierce is renowned for marking Joan Crawford’s return to the apex of Hollywood stardom (after ditching long-time studio MGM), Michael Curtiz’s adaptation of hardboiled author James M. Cain’s novel is, first and foremost, a hearty genre pic fraught with tense social/sexual anxieties. Divorcing her unemployed husband, Mildred (Crawford) sets about supporting her two daughters – younger tomboyish Kay (Jo Ann Marlowe), not long for this world, and spoiled, voraciously greedy Veda (Ann Blyth) – by starting her own restaurant. The disdainful Veda finds her mother’s new blue-collar career unbecoming, but Mildred is so obsessed with trying to please her ungrateful older daughter that she willingly suffers the girl’s horrendous abuse, ultimately sacrificing her own happiness and success in a vain attempt to craft a life centered around her offspring and totally free of men (and, thus, any romantic/carnal satisfaction). It’s a vision of excessive maternal devotion with a decidedly unprogressive slant, as the film presents Mildred’s unhappiness as a byproduct of her desire for an independent career at the expense of fulfilling traditional feminine roles (wife, homemaker). Employing a familiar noir flashback structure in which his female protagonist desperately attempts to make sense of fate’s cruel machinations, Curtiz handles his melodramatic noir material with little flair but welcome efficiency. It’s Crawford, however – in a put-upon victim role lacking, until the finale, her trademark fierceness – who truly ignites Mildred Pierce, the actress portraying her character’s paradoxical impulses with an expressiveness and intensity that’s something to behold.