James M. Cain, the author of the book on which Mildred Pierce is based, is one of several great American crime writers of the 1940s, a group that included Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Cornell Woolrich. The novel Mildred Pierce was a bestseller despite the fact that it is more psychological than action-packed. The film adaptation, which came out in 1945, directed by Michael Curtiz, is even less violent than the novel, emphasizing psychology over plot.
Mildred Pierce became the first film that Joan Crawford would make for Warner Brothers after parting ways with MGM, where she had worked for so long as one of their most popular stars. Widely considered to be on her way out of the Hollywood limelight, Crawford amazed many of her detractors by not only contributing to the hit success of Mildred Pierce, but taking home her one and only Oscar for Best Actress. The win would be instrumental in extending Crawford’s stardom for another quarter century.
In addition to Crawford’s win for Best Actress, Mildred Pierce received four other Oscar nominations. It has gone down as one of the most iconic classic films of all time, praised for its high style and melodramatic narrative. While it is now considered a classic, it received mixed reviews upon its release, and has been a polarizing film for many critics. In one of her briefer, more scathing write-ups, infamous film critic for The New Yorker Pauline Kael wrote, "Miss Crawford's heavy breathing was certified as acting when she won an Academy Award for her performance here."