Entertainment and Dystopia: Film Noir, Melodrama and Mildred Pierce

Zoe Bolton, Lancaster University


mildredFilm noir has been a troubling term for critics since it was first applied to a body of ‘B’ films produced during the classical Hollywood studio system of the 1940s. Problems of definition have been widely discussed in an attempt to establish whether film noir is genre that ‘exists through time’1 or a movement that is ‘only possible within an isolated time period, in a particular place, in response to a national crisis of some kind’.2 While discussions of this nature have raised interesting issues about the filmnoir canon they have largely overlooked the function of film noir as an entertainment form. This essay will attempt to address this by suggesting a critical approach to film noir based on an antithesis of Richard Dyer’s seminal work ‘Entertainment and Utopia’. The effectiveness of this approach will then be examined by paying particular attention to Mildred Pierce (dir. Curtiz, 1945).

In ‘Entertainment and Utopia’, Dyer uses the example of musicals to argue that entertainment functions as escapism by offering ‘the image of “something better” […] that our day-to-day lives don’t provide’.  He goes onto suggest, that the utopian sensibilities inherent in mainstream entertainment – abundance, energy, intensity, transparency and community - compensate for ‘specific inadequacies in society.’ In relation to noir, what is particularly striking is the extent to which the films challenge the dominant, utopian conventions of entertainment as outlined by Dyer. Using these as a starting point, I want to argue that noir has its own dystopian sensibilities and that these are defining characteristics of filmnoir.

The first sensibility that Dyer highlights, is ‘energy’, which he defines as the ‘capacity to act vigorously; human power, activity, potential’ (p. 20). It is not the case that there is an absence of energy in film noir but rather that the type of energy the films express is different to that outlined by Dyer. The most significant difference is that there is a lack of ‘human power’ in film noir because the characters’ actions are determined either by external forces or by a greater force within themselves that they struggle to control.  As Frank Krutnik writes:

There is a sense that the protagonists [...] are not totally in control of their actions but are subject to darker, inner impulses - at times they seem driven into a direct transgression of the law by some fatal flaw within themselves.3

In relation to this, desperation seems a more appropriate sensibility than energy because the vigorous action in film noir comes from the characters’ desperate attempts to stay in control. This effectively means that any mobilisation of energy is futile - it is an impossible task for any noir character to attempt to control their chaotic world.  This is particularly apparent in the struggles for narrative supremacy and dominance in composition where the characters are constantly undermined by other voices and lose screen presence to objects. There is an example of the former in Double Indemnity (dir. Wilder, 1944) where Neff loses control of his own narrative because of the actions of the femme fatale, even though the audience hear the story from his perspective in the form of a voiceover.

The second sensibility established by Dyer is ‘abundance’, which is the ‘conquest of scarcity; having enough to spare without sense of poverty of others; enjoyment of sensuous material reality.’ (Dyer, p. 20)  It is not the case that there is noticeable material scarcity in film noir in fact, it is quite the opposite - there is an excessive representation of material reality, established both by the expensively furnished houses, (The Big Sleep (dir. Curtiz, 1946), Double Indemnity and Mildred Pierce) and by the dominance of objects in composition.

However, in Dyer’s definition abundance has moral connotations, suggesting that all the characters enjoy material wealth equally. The difference in film noir is that the conquest of scarcity is usually realised at another character’s expense, often in the form of obtaining money or goods by murder or deception (The Maltese Falcon (dir. Huston, 1941) and Double Indemnity).  Therefore materialism would be a more accurate noir sensibility. This is supported by the fact that in film noir material greed, in the guise of the possession of money/things, overrides any moral consideration (Mildred Pierce). This is reflected by the plot structure, which inevitably involves the characters striving to obtain something materialistic, regardless of the moral cost.

Dyer describes ‘intensity’ as the ‘experiencing of emotion, directly, fully, unambiguously, “authentically”, without holding back’ ( p. 21). He also goes on to say that intensity is ‘the capacity of entertainment to present either complex or unpleasant feelings in a way that makes them seem uncomplicated, direct and vivid, not “qualified” or “ambiguous” as day-to-day life makes them’ (p. 23). In relation to film noir's dystopian vision, cynicism seems to be a more appropriate term than intensity, especially when one considers that emotion in film noir is never sincere, but is calculated to obtain a specific response.

Unlike other entertainment forms, such as the musical, unpleasant feelings are not simplified but become complex and elaborate in films noirs. This is apparent in the narratives of certain films that deal with a complicated web of ulterior motives (Out of the Past (dir. Tourneur, 1947) and The Maltese Falcon). Visually this is symbolised by the subversive, connotative, expressive quality of film noir through which ‘unspeakable’ subjects are suggested by the visualisation.  Conversely, the audience must always view film noir with cynicism because what is explicitly suggested may give way to a more important implicit meaning.  The most obvious example of this is The Big Sleep which uses visually strong Chinese references to connote that the characters are high on opium, not merely ‘drunk’, as the digetic sound track suggests.

The fourth sensibility in ‘Entertainment and Utopia’ - ‘transparency’- is described as ‘a quality of relationships between represented characters e.g. true love [...] sincerity’ (p. 21). In contrast, images of true love and sincerity are rare in film noir where relationships are individually oriented and often a means to achieving a certain end (as is the case in Out of the Past, Double Indemnity and Murder, My Sweet (dir. Dmytryk, 1944)). Thus, manipulation seems to be a more appropriate term for film noir because its characters consciously act out the role of lover or friend in order to achieve their own, usually exploitative, aims. This type of behaviour is particularly applicable to the femme fatale who uses her sexuality to control the protagonist for her own purposes. However, manipulation is not the exclusive domain of the femme fatale as it is frequently used by the other characters in noir. Perhaps the most notorious example of this is in The Maltese Falcon where all of the characters are constantly using and manipulating each other in an attempt to obtain the elusive gold falcon.

The final sensibility that Dyer highlights is ‘community’, which he defines as: ‘Togetherness, sense of belonging, network of phatic relationships (i.e. those in which communication is for its own sake rather than its message)’ (p. 21). In terms of film noir, alienation is more appropriate because due to their aims the characters are always alienated, both from each other and from society.  It is noticeable that noir deals for the most part with characters who live on the edge of society and whose business is conducted at night whilst “good” citizens are at home in bed.  This alienation is supported by noir iconography, which often shows lone figures in empty streets and elaborately decorated houses that lack the feeling of a comfortable home.  In fact, as critics such as Sylvia Harvey have pointed out, there is no depiction of community even at the most basic level due to the noticeable absence of any coherent family unit.4

The dystopian sensibilities of film noir have been identified as desperation, materialism, cynicism, manipulation and alienation. These categories closely relate to the social inadequacies – scarcity, exhaustion, dreariness, manipulation and fragmentation – that Dyer claims dominant entertainment forms overcome (p. 24). As film noir reinforces rather than transforms these inadequacies it becomes necessary to question what its particular entertainment function is – why did cinema audiences go and see films noirs? Again, it is useful to turn to Dyer here:

The categories of the sensibility point to gaps or inadequacies in capitalism, but only those gaps or inadequacies that capitalism proposes to deal with. At our worse sense of it, entertainment provides alternatives to capitalism, which will be provided by capitalism. (p. 25).

The redemptive qualities of mainstream entertainment are then limited by the catch 22 that Dyer highlights. Films noirs however, are under no such delusion. They enable a critique of capitalism founded on the social reality that dominant entertainment forms try to deny – there is no alternative to capitalism. This seems to be a particularly American anxiety – film noir first appeared in the cinema at the end of The Depression when material scarcity was a feature of a society in the throes of responding to World War II, when women were being forced back into their domestic roles in an attempt to restore the destabilised nuclear family and when the growth of organised crime was threatening community safety.5 In other words, film noir appeared when the ideology of the American Dream was being threatened. As Frank Krutnik writes:

Contemporary American society becomes something to escape form rather than to find ones place within - there is a strong sense in which it can be seen as failing in its obligations towards the individual.6

Film noir responds to this then by representing, through its textual structures and style, what happens when the American Dream becomes a nightmare and thus refuses to comply with the forced optimism churned out on mass by the rest of the 1940s entertainment industry. I want to assert that film noir's entertainment appeal lies in this ‘image of something worse’. It denies escapism, forcing audiences to find pleasure in the fact that their own lives are not as bad as those represented on the screen.  In other words, the pleasure of film noir lies in its dystopian vision.

Having discussed the particular entertainment function of film noir and identified its dystopian sensibilities, this essay will now focus on an analysis of Mildred Pierce. This film has been chosen because it raises interesting issues about film noir and its relationship to other entertainment forms – in this instance melodrama. I want to examine the dystopian sensibilities in Mildred Pierce to explore how they are developed in a film that is critically considered to be part of the noir cannon but which challenges some of its generally accepted conventions.

In an article entitled ‘Duplicity in Mildred Pierce’, Pam Cook argues that through an ‘explicit manipulation of genre conventions a hierarchy of discourses is established’ whereby the female discourse is suppressed ‘in favour of the male, and on another level, by the organisation of the narrative around complicated “snares” and “equivocations”.’ Cook goes on to suggest that a ‘basic split is created in the film between melodrama and film noir between “Woman’s Picture” and “Man’s Film”.’7 While this approach raises some interesting issues about the way Mildred Pierce plays with noir conventions, I would argue that the split is not as simplistic as Cook suggests because this dichotomy is overridden by the dystopian sensibilities expressed by the film as a whole.

Mildred Pierce opens with a shot of a romantic, windswept, seaside setting, which is rapidly undercut by a violent murder and a shot of the dying man whispering the name ‘Mildred’. This is the first of the narrative ‘snares’ that Cook identifies because although the audience has not been introduced to Mildred at this stage, cinematically they know that the name must be significant to the plot that is about to unfold. It is at this point that overpowering melodramatic music takes over from the horror of the murder scene and the setting changes to a high-angle shot of a night-time pier. The camera pans round and a woman/Mildred (Joan Crawford) comes into the side of the shot. As the camera moves it pauses on a low angle shot of her legs through the bars on the pier and then pans up to her face, which in its teary emotion is reminiscent of melodrama, but in the lighting – half of the face is in shadow – is more akin to noir. This draws on the iconography associated with the femme fatale – Crawford’s excessive fur coat and hat also contribute to this - and acts as a visual ‘snare’ connoting to the audience that this is the woman responsible for the murder that has just taken place and that her tears are ones of concern for herself rather than an expression of guilt.

The ‘snares’ established by the opening sequence are then reinforced when Mildred – who has by now been identified – lures Wally (Jack Carson) to the beach house. Again, it is the visual iconography of noir that continues to manipulate the audience into assuming Mildred’s guilt. The house is bathed in large shadows, which overwhelm the internal decoration, and the presence of a bar in the main room conveys that this is not a family home but a place for illicit pleasure. The shot of the body on the floor confirms that this is the scene of the crime witnessed at the beginning of the film and contributes to the audience’s assumption that Mildred is guilty. This is reiterated throughout her conversation with Wally, where – like the femme fatale – she is overwhelmingly the dominant compositional focus and her acceptance of Wally’s advances seems to confirm that she is using her sexuality to manipulate him for her own purposes.

This is further reinforced when Mildred leaves the house to frame Wally for the murder that both he – upon the discovery of the body – and the audience are by now certain she committed. Wally is both literally and metaphorically trapped in the house and his desperate attempt to escape and the futility of his situation is symbolised again by the visual iconography of noir. The shadows of bars on the ceiling connote his imprisonment, the objects in the composition begin to completely overwhelm him – he looks small and insignificant next to the oversized windows and doors which deny him an escape route as he desperately runs round the house trying to find a way out. The nightmarish scene in the house, in which the dystopian sensibility of desperation is visually expressed, is finally ended when Wally smashes a window to escape.

This close analysis of the opening sequence of the film reveals the way that the narrative and visual style work together to imply Mildred’s guilt. So strong is the suggestion that she is a femme fatale that it is a foregone conclusion that she must be guilty of the murder. Thus the audience are tricked by the very conventions of noir that they have come to be familiar with. This plays with the dystopian sensibility of cynicism because although the noir audience knows it should be cynical about the film’s conventions – nothing and no one is what they seem – they do not expect film noir to add a further level of duplicity to one of its most powerful archetypes and narrative agents. Their incorrect assumption at this part of the film is that Wally is the hapless male protagonist who has been trapped by the dangerous sexual woman and who is at the mercy of her manipulation.

The film continues to play with the notion that Mildred is a femme fatale, again through the use of noir iconography. When the police call at the house she shares with her (now murdered) husband and daughter it is the type of house traditionally represented in noir – a large, unwelcoming mansion which connotes that excess and material wealth are more important than a family home, and where family values become subordinate to materialism and are thus destabilised. This is emphasised further when it is revealed at the police station that Mildred is a divorcee. She is then positioned as a character alienated from the social order because she is responsible for the destruction of two families – once through divorce and the second time through murder. The implication of this is that, like the other ruthless fatales of noir, pursuit of her own material wealth overrides other moral considerations.

In this first section of the film, the noir agenda is particularly prominent in the visual style, narrative and characterisation and through this the dystopian sensibilities of desperation, materialism, cynicism, manipulation and alienation are established. It is interesting to now explore how these continue to be articulated in the section of the film narrated by Mildred in which she, not Wally, is established as the protagonist. As well as being one of the few noir films with a female protagonist, Mildred Pierce is also one of only a small number that has a voiceover by a woman.

In an essay that cites the presence of melodrama in film noir to argue that it is not an exclusively ‘masculine fantasy’, Elizabeth Cowie suggests that the voiceover narration in Mildred Pierce is ‘associated with melodramas’ because it markedly lacks a hard-boiled style’.8 Cook also argues that it is at the point where Mildred’s discourse begins that melodrama takes over from noir:

Mildred’s discourse is the discourse of melodrama, her story is the stuff of which the ‘Woman’s Picture’ was made in the pre-war and war years when women were seen to have an active part to play in society and the problems of passion, desire and emotional excess articulated by melodrama could be tolerated. (p. 71).

The shift that both Cowie and Cook identify is most obviously expressed in the combination of the voiceover with the noticeable change in the visual style and subject matter of the film. The chiaroscuro lighting and off-angle shots of noir are replaced by their more naturalistic counterparts, the unhomely mansion gives way to a cosy family home and Mildred herself is transformed from the fur-coated fatale to a maternal apron-wearing figure industriously baking in the kitchen. However, this idealised scene is rapidly undercut by the failings of the domestic dream it is trying to represent – Mildred has become the main breadwinner because her husband (Bruce Bennett) is out of work, one of her daughters is spoiled and materialistic and there is the suggestion that her husband is having an affair. The culmination of these domestic dissatisfactions is that Mildred forces her husband to leave. Her crime in this respect is to put earning money and her daughter before the needs of her husband and is precisely the type of conflict that melodrama proposes to deal with.

However, as I asserted earlier, the division between melodrama and the noir elements of the film is not as straightforward as Cook – and Cowie - suggests. Firstly, Mildred’s narrative is compromised by the fact that the film has established her as a duplicitous, manipulative murderer, which leads the audience to treat her melodramatic testimony with cynicism, questioning whether her narrative is genuine or whether it is an example of her manipulating the ‘woman’s’ discourse to play on her femininity in order to deceive the police officer listening to her story. This is even more successfully exploited when Mildred confesses to the murder, which works as yet another ‘snare’ because the audience assumes she is doing so, not out of a fit of guilt, but to call the police officer’s bluff and make him think that she is innocent.

Secondly, the melodramatic world that Mildred creates through her narrative is invaded by some of the visual conventions of noir, implying that in true noir style even she doesn’t have control of her own story. For example, as Mildred watches her husband leave her face again becomes half lit in the traditional noir style, connoting that despite the domestic representation she is offering, the devious and calculating sexuality she displays in the first section of the film could be determining her actions. After her husband departs, the night-time setting of the house is invaded by the shadows traditionally found in film noir and is transformed from a homely place into a threatening environment. This is further emphasised by the presence of the gun in the bureau drawer, which adds to the suggestion that what we are seeing here is more sinister than the usual fare of melodrama. Finally, and perhaps most significantly, when Mildred has become a successful restaurateur, her romantic interlude with Monte Beragon (Zachary Scott) – the man the audience thinks she murdered – is presented in a clichéd, melodramatic way, which is subsequently undercut by a reflection of them kissing in the mirror, suggesting that all is not as it seems.

However, there is more to noir than visual style and it is noticeable that in addition to the more obvious references to noir identified above, the dystopian sensibilities of noir dominate the melodramatic section of the film, hence it is the seeds of “noirish”, not melodramatic, discontent that are sown.

Materialism is one of the key narrative agents in Mildred Pierce and is dealt with in two ways in this part of the film. Firstly, there is the more melodramatic handling of the subject in relation to Mildred, who leaves her place in the home and obtains a divorce from her first husband so that she can set up a business. Mildred’s discourse asserts that she is doing this to provide her children with everything that they need, but because of the duplicitous nature of her character there is the suggestion that material wealth is not just what her children want, but also what she wants and that it is more important to her than nurture and love. As is so often the case in melodrama, Mildred is punished for this transgression by the death of her youngest daughter who falls ill with pneumonia whilst she is having a romantic liaison with Monte.

However in Mildred Pierce, this is taken further than it ever would be in melodrama - where the punishment of a daughter’s death would have been enough. In noir this is not the case and because of Mildred’s actions her daughter, Veda (Ann Blyth), turns from the spoiled, ungrateful child of melodrama into the greedy symbol of excess so often found in the fatal women of noir. Veda’s pursuit of material wealth overrides any moral consideration for others as she tries by any means possible to satisfy her own extravagant financial needs. For example, she blackmails her first husband into paying her $10,000 by claiming she is pregnant (although this is a tame example of the actual lengths that she is prepared to go to, which are revealed in the final noir section of the film).

Leading on from materialism, the extent of manipulation at work in the melodramatic section of the film is again more akin to that found in noir. Nearly all of the main characters – with the exception of Ida – manipulate each other to try and fulfil their own desires. This is predominantly expressed in the complexity of the narrative, which is far more elaborate than those traditionally found in melodrama: Mildred uses her sexuality to persuade Wally to help her buy her first restaurant; Wally manipulates Mildred into filing for divorce in the hope that she will marry him; Monte manipulates Mildred into handing over her share of the business in return for marriage and Veda into believing that he will leave Mildred and marry her; and finally, Veda manipulates Mildred into giving her everything she wants by withholding her affection. The moral dubiousness of all of these motives and the complete absence of emotional sincerity displayed by all characters at least once – but usually more - in the film goes beyond those that would be found in traditional melodramatic narratives.

It is through this absence of emotional sincerity that the cynicism of the film is most noticeably articulated. Due to this, even when there is the suggestion that feelings might be genuine – Mildred’s love for Veda, Monte’s love for Mildred – this is always undermined by the film. For example, the audience has to doubt the authenticity of Mildred’s feelings for Veda throughout the melodramatic sequence because she is controlling the discourse and has already been established at the beginning of the film as an untrustworthy character. Similarly, Monte’s financial and sexual betrayal of Mildred is more powerful than his assertion that he really loves her, leading the audience to treat this with the cynicism it deserves. It is also arguable that in this section of Mildred Pierce the dystopian sensibility of cynicism is even more pronounced because the film is masquerading as something that it isn’t – on the surface it looks like melodrama, but underneath the tensions that it is articulating are those found in noir. Thus, it creates a multi-layered deception where even the visual “truth” must be treated with cynicism.

Alienation is also a feature of the melodramatic sequence in the film. As Mildred becomes more and more determined to meet Veda’s excessive demands she is increasingly alienated from the other characters in the film because of her obsessive desire to please Veda and return her to the “family home”. She finally succeeds in doing so but only after she has isolated herself from Veda’s father and also from the business that she worked so hard to establish. However, by this point it is too late. Mildred’s desire for community at the level of family has already been denied by her initial transgression and her subsequent refusal to recognise that material wealth is the source of Veda’s problems and not a solution. This is symbolised in the film by the replacement of the ‘family home’, where Veda grew up, with the opulent but unhomely mansion that is a feature of noir.

Finally, desperation is also evident in this section of Mildred Pierce, not only in Mildred’s increasingly desperate attempts to satisfy Veda, but also because she is struggling to control something that has become an impossible force – something that she created by her excessive mothering. Again, melodrama spills over into noir here because Mildred’s inability to rectify the situation means that there can be no reassuring resolution. This is connoted by Veda, who is compelled to act the way that she does in the film because of the way that Mildred has raised her – in the final part of the film Veda makes this explicit when she says to Mildred: ‘It’s your fault I’m the way I am’. The realisation that things are completely out of control comes at the point in the film where the image of Veda enjoying her lavish birthday party and blowing out the candles is juxtaposed with Mildred being told that she has lost her business. This acts as the catalyst for what the audience assumes is Mildred’s final act of desperation - taking the gun from her desk at work and travelling to the beach house to murder Monte.

It is at this point that the height of Mildred’s desperation is symbolised. Just as she is about to exert her control over the narrative in her final act of motherly sacrifice, her discourse is taken away from her. She loses her narrative voice as the scene returns to the police station and the detective revels that he knows Veda is the real murderer. The narrative ‘snare’ which trapped the audience at the beginning of the film is thus undermined along with Mildred’s attempt to keep control of the narrative. Cook sees this as the point at which Mildred Pierce becomes a ‘Man’s Film’ because the ‘woman’s discourse’ of melodrama has been taken away and replaced with noir. (Cook, p. 71) However, this dichotomy denies the extent to which the dystopian sensibilities expressed by film noir are clearly articulated in the melodramatic section of the film – they are there all the time just not expressed visually in the way that one expects of noir. Furthermore, the fate that Mildred suffers is no worse than any of the male protagonists of noir, who frequently lose narrative control, and this is symbolised by the fact that she returns to her voiceover to complete the final instalment of her story.

In this section, the noir sensibilities that were bubbling beneath the surface during the melodramatic section of the film have spilled over into an excessive display of noirmise en scene. Mildred’s entrance to the beach house is announced by the dark exaggerated shadow of her outline – made more impressive by the broad shoulders on the coat - and when she steps out of the darkness her face is fully lit in a dramatic moment of realisation that Monte and Veda are having an affair. She drops her gun and flees the scene despite Monte’s protestations that he has no intention of marrying Veda. There is then a series of rapid cuts between Mildred crying in the car and Veda shooting Monte. As well as finally establishing Veda’s status as the real fatale figure of the film, it also suggests that Mildred is complicit in the crime that her daughter commits. In true noir style, both of the strong female characters in the film are punished for their transgression: Veda faces certain imprisonment and Mildred has to suffer a worse fate - the melodramatic “happy ending”.

In the final shot of the film, Mildred is reunited with her first husband against the backdrop of a romantic, picturesque archway in what must be seen as an ironic - and typically noir - resolution.  The film has established Mildred as a strong, independent, capable woman, which makes it an almost implausible suggestion that she would want a reconciliation with her first (useless and unfaithful) husband. This draws attention to the fact that this ending is not quite the happy resolution that it is pertaining to be but is rather Mildred’s punishment for her transgression. As Lee and Katharine Horsley have pointed out it is the ‘resistance to reassuring closure’ that separates noir from a ‘purer melodramatic plot’.9

Taking this further, the ending of Mildred Pierce is an example of noir playing with the conventions of melodrama to comment on its failure to acknowledge that the social threat posed to the nuclear family – the focus of melodrama’s subject matter - cannot simply be resolved by romantic love.10 Thus the film is drawing attention to the ideological ‘gap’ identified by Dyer that mainstream entertainment forms try to overcome. Mildred Pierce is then a film which uses melodrama to reassert the particular dystopian vision of film noir by refusing to offer a utopian solution for the social anxieties – destabilisation of the nuclear family, women being forced back to domesticity - which it handles. In its excessive representation of the consequences of a woman stepping outside her domestic role it offers the ‘image of something worse’, reassuring the audience that their lives are not as bad as those on the screen.

This essay has suggested a critical framework for examining film noir in relation to its function as an entertainment dystopia. Through references to key films in the noir canon and a close analysis of Mildred Pierce it has been demonstrated that this approach provides an effective framework for identifying the sensibilities of noir in its traditional form and also when it draws on melodrama. Although there has not been space to further explore it here, I want to assert that the sensibilities of the dystopia that I have identified would be applicable to any film with a noir agenda -including those that were made after the classical period of film noir – and that this approach goes some way toward dealing with the critical problem of how to define noir.

Copyright © 2005 by Zoe Bolton



1 Janey Place, ‘Women in Film Noir’, in Women in Film Noir, ed. by E. Ann Kaplan, (London: BFI, 1978), pp. 35-67, p. 39.

2 Jon Tuska, Dark Cinema: American Film Noir in a Cultural Perspective, (New York, Greenwood, 1984), p. 176. 

3 Richard Dyer, Only Entertainment, (London: Routledge, 1992), p. 18-24. Subsequent references to this text are given parenthetically.

4 Frank Krutnik, In a Lonely Street: Film Noir, Genre and Masculinity, (London: Routledge, 1991), p. 47.

5 For a more detailed discussion of this see Sylvia Harvey, ‘Woman’s Place: The Absent Family of Film Noir’, in Women in Film Noir, pp. 22-34.

6 For a more detailed discussion of this see Tuska, DarkCinema: American Film Noir in a Cultural Perspective.

7 Krutnik, p. 55.  

8 Pam Cook, ‘Duplicity in Mildred Pierce’, in Women in Film Noir pp. 68-82 (p. 69-71). Subsequent references to this text are given parenthetically.

9 Elizabeth Cowie, ‘Film Noir and Women’, in Shades of Noir, ed. by Joan Copjec, (New York: Verso, 1993), pp. 121-161 (p. 138).

10 Katharine and Lee Horsley, ‘Mere Fatales: Maternal Guilt in the Noir Crime Novel’ http://www.crimeculture.com/Contents/Meres%20Fatales.htm [accessed 14 December 2004]

11 Mildred Pierce pre-dates the family melodramas of the 1950s, which critics have argued are more progressive than their endings suggest. For a detailed discussion of this see Christine Gledhill (ed.), Home is Where the Heart Is: Studies in Melodrama and the Women’s Film, (London: BFI, 1987).



Cook, Pam, ‘Duplicity in Mildred Pierce’, in Women in Film Noir, ed. by E. Ann Kaplan, (London: BFI, 1978), pp. 68-82.

Cowie, Elizabeth, ‘Film noir and Women’, in Shades of Noir, ed. by Joan Copjec, (New York: Verso, 1993), pp. 121-161.

Dyer, Richard, ‘Entertainment and Utopia’, in Only Entertainment, ed. by Richard Dyer (London: Routledge, 1992), pp. 17-34.

Harvey, Sylvia, ‘Woman’s Place: The Absent Family of Film Noir’, in Women in Film Noir, ed. by E. Ann Kaplan, (London: BFI, 1978), pp. 22-34. 

Gledhill, Christine (ed.), Home is Where the Heart Is: Studies in Melodrama and the Women’s Film, (London: BFI, 1987).

Horsley, Katharine and Lee Horsley, ‘Mere Fatales: Maternal Guilt in the Noir Crime Novel’ http://www.crimeculture.com/Contents/Meres%20Fatales.htm [accessed 14 December 2004].

Krutnik, Frank, In a Lonely Street: Film Noir, Genre and Masculinity, (London: Routledge, 1991).

Place, Janey, ‘Women in Film Noir’, in Women in Film Noir, ed. by E. Ann Kaplan, (London: BFI, 1978), pp. 35-67.

Tuska, Jon, Dark Cinema: American Film Noir in a Cultural Perspective, (New York, Greenwood, 1984).



Curtiz, Tony (dir.), Mildred Pierce, Warner Brothers, 1945.

Curtiz, Tony (dir.), The Big Sleep, Warner Brothers, 1946.

Dmytryk, Edward (dir.), Murder, My Sweet, Warner Brothers, 1944.

Huston, John (dir.), The Maltese Falcon, MGM, 1941.

Tourneur, Jacques (dir.), Out of the Past, Warner Brothers, 1947.

Wilder, Billy (dir.), Double Indemnity, Image Entertainment, 1944.