Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Two Mildreds

Seeing the ads for the mini-series of Mildred Pierce gave me pause. I considered watching it, but decided not to at first. I saw Joan Crawford in her Oscar winning performance of the devoted mother who used her only talents to become wealthy and didn't want to see hash made out of a good performance.

I am the curious sort, not just in the usual eccentric way (I am a writer after all), but in the cat got killed because of curiosity way. I decided to spend part of my weekend (the usual 2-day kind since I work for hospitals that never close) and devoted 5 hours to watching Kate Winslet as Mildred Pierce.

Kate Winslet is one of my favorite actors because she is outspoken and irreverent and says exactly what she means. She was a revelation. Where Joan Crawford was vulnerable and sometimes brittle, Winslet was nuanced and sometimes ferocious. Both loved Veda, but the quality of love was very different even if the results were not.

Veda was a cunning and evil child even when she was a child, which was probably until she could focus her eyes and crawl, none of which was on the screen. Veda in the movie and mini-series was 11 years old to begin and at least 20 by the end. The actresses portraying Veda, Ann Blyth in the 1945 version and Morgan Turner as the child and Evan Rachel Wood as the luminous and beautiful older Veda in the 2011 mini-series. All three portrayed the cunning, venom-soaked fangs that PR writers termed spoiled in ad copy. I see Veda not as spoiled, because Mildred lavished just as much love and attention and material things on Kay/Moire (Ray) and spoiled her, but Kay/Moire was never as cunning or manipulative or downright evil as Veda.

The lines were often the same in both views of Mildred, but Winslet's Mildred had a lot more time (5 hours) to work in subtle details and nuance where Crawford only had 111 minutes. Big difference. The ending was also a big difference in the series and not what I expected, even though Veda's exit was the same in tone in both: calm, cool, collected, and still smiling while venom dripped from her bloody fangs.

Briefly, Mildred Pierce is about a woman from humble beginnings who marries an upper middle class man on the way up who loses his shirt. Mildred, determined to give her girls what she never had, works in a diner and eventually uses that experience and her own skills at cooking and baking to open her own restaurant, which soon turns into a chain of restaurants. She marries Monty Beragon, a wealthy, down on his luck ne'er do well without a cent, to give Veda what she has always wanted - social position. Veda just cannot countenance Mildred's rise in finances because Mildred made the money in a kitchen and smell of grease.

In comparing and contrasting the performances, Winslet does a wonderful job of portraying Mildred. Winslet has far more to work with in 5 hours than did Crawford in her 111 minutes, but I would give 5 stars to both performances and encourage you to watch both. I certainly do not regret the 5 hours I spent with Winslet's Mildred and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Crawford's Mildred again last night.

What really comes through is the affection and love between Mildred and her first husband, Bert Pierce, a fondness that provides a strong thread that runs through movie and mini-series and shows a softer side of Mildred throughout while glamorous Monte Beragon shows Mildred's awakening passion and fleeting infatuation. Wally as portrayed by Jack Carson is crude and his charm sharp-edged while James Le Gros's Wally is a bit more lovable and just as underhanded and double-dealing with a paunch.

Zachary Scott as the 1945 Monte Beragon is slick as a moray eel and twice as deadly in a smoothly oiled manner. Guy Pearce's Monte is a smooth and calculating sensualist who shows glimmers of real affection for Winslet's Mildred, but in the end is just as tousled and betrays as easily as Scott's Monte, although Pearce's Monte is less tailored and a bit boyish in a tousled way.

Mare Winningham's Ida is down to earth and no-nonsense and Eve Arden's Ida is cut from the same cloth as all of Arden's sharp-tongued and intelligent supporting characters portrayed with self-deprecating humor. In the 2011 version of Mildred Pierce Melissa Leo as Lucy Gessler guides and supports Mildred as she moves into grass widowhood and on into business. I would be willing to bet the 1945 version combined Lucy and Ida to create Eve Arden's character of Ida to keep the cast smaller. There are elements of the 2011 Lucy and Ida in Arden's performance, although they lost Lucy's booze running husband, a character mentioned but never seen in the 2011 version.

Now all I have to do is get James Cain's book, Mildred Pierce, and see what he intended when he wrote the story. That should be interesting as Cain also wrote The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity as well as several other murder/mystery/thrillers.

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