The film revolves entirely on Joan Crawford’s acting, which carries the film and sets its pace, despite a narrative that strains to be believable. Example: the unemployed husband who, at the film’s beginning, deserts Mildred for another woman is the one who arrives, at the film’s end, to help her through the emotional disaster of her daughter having murdered Mildred’s second husband of social convenience, both the murderers and the murdered having brought the now entrepreneurial Mildred to financial ruin; moreover, the now attentive first husband had falsely confessed to the murder to save Mildred from prosecution and further thoughts of suicide. Avarice, dissimulation, materialism, and delusion constitute the various attributes of the characters, who, not unexpectedly, succumb to their moral vices, in the suitably American fashion contrived by the studio mores of the day.
The director, Michael Curtiz, had two years earlier directed Casablanca. Crawford got the lead role after Bette Davis declined. Davis’s 1940 film, The Letter, opens similarly with the husband shot to death. Novelist James M. Cain, whose book formed the basis of the screenplay, also wrote The Postman Never Rings Twice and Double Indemnity.