Joan Crawford won an Academy Award for her bravura portrayal of the titular heroine in Mildred Pierce. The original James M. Cain novel concerned a tawdry waitress who slept her way to financial security so as to provide a rosy future for her beloved daughter, only to be rewarded by having her true love stolen away by that selfsame daughter. Ranald McDougall's screenplay tones down the novel's sexual content, enhancing its cinematic value by adding a sordid murder. The film opens with oily lounge lizard Monte Beragon (Zachary Scott) being pumped full of bullets. Croaking out the name "Mildred," he collapses and dies. Both the police and the audience are led to believe that the murderer is chain-restaurant entrepreneur Mildred Pierce (Crawford), who not only confesses to the crime, but takes the time to relate her life story. As the flashback begins, we see Mildred unhappily married to philandering Bert Pierce (Bruce Bennett). She divorces him, keeping custody of her two beloved daughters, Veda (Ann Blyth) and Kay (Jo Anne Marlowe). To keep oldest daughter Veda in comparative luxury, Mildred takes a series of jobs, culminating with a waitressing position. With the help of her wisecracking coworker Ida (Eve Arden), Mildred turns the restaurant into a genuine moneyspinner. She seduces slimy real estate agent Wally Fay (Jack Carson) in order to afford her own establishment, which grows into a chain of "Mildred Pierce's" throughout Southern California. When youngest daughter Kay dies, Mildred smothers Veda in affection and creature comforts. She goes so far as to enter into a loveless marriage with wealthy Monty Beragon in order to improve her social standing. In return, the caddish Beragon enters into several shady business deals which bankrupt Mildred. He caps this misbehavior by carrying on an affair with stepdaughter Veda.