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Mildred Pierce: Film more dramatic than cable remake

Turner Classic Movies (TCM) on Mother’s Day presented movies all day that represented the roles of mothers in different familial situations. Some of the films were Gypsy (1962) starring actresses Rosalind Russell and Natalie Wood, Marty (1953) starring actor Earnest Borgnine and actress Betsy Blair, and Imitation of Life (1959) starring actresses Lana Turner and Juanita Moore.

But a favorite of a mother-daughter relationship shown was “Mildred Pierce,” the noir film which was a megahit and won Joan Crawford an Academy Award for Best Actress as the main character. It continues to be a movie that never tires to be shown.

The 1945 classic was made into a HBO five-part series in March 2011 that received good reviews. Kate Winslet played the main character. The actress won an Emmy, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award for her role. Winslet has also won an Academy Award for Best Actress in the film The Reader (2008). The cable version of Mildred Pierce appeared again on HBO twice this year.

The plot pretty much remains the same based on the James M. Cain 1941 novel by the same name – a married woman with two girls during the Great Depression years is forced to work due to her husband leaving her, she becomes a waitress, then opens up a chain of restaurants, and does everything she can to please the eldest ungrateful daughter, Veda. The younger sister dies in both versions due to an illness.

The film takes off into its own veneer from the book when at the beginning Mildred’s lover who later becomes her husband Monte Beragon (played by actor Zachary Scott) is shot, falls to the floor and says his last dying word “Mildred.” The cable miniseries is more detailed with Mildred meticulously shopping for goods for her opened restaurant, explicit sex scenes with Monte (played by actor Guy Pearce, she also beds Wally Burgan, played by actor James LeGros); and having a neighbor who advises her on how to handle men.

The film shows no sex; but you can use your imagination that it did occur, especially after the beach scene when Monte and Mildred are in front of the fireplace and he relishes her beauty with words all women wish to hear. They soon kiss passionately, the record playing on the stereo gets stuck, and you know the rest.

The miniseries characters are not as attractive looking as the movie characters. However both Vedas are pretty. In the film actress Ann Blyth played Veda the whole time while an unattractive young girl played a young Veda in the series. Actress Evan Rachel Wood later took her place as she got older which was a refreshing replacement.

The nasty, bold and evil Veda totally disrespected her mother. Wood in the series got off her bed naked and walked over to Monte after they had sex in front of her mother. In the film Veda was nastier, told her mother off, called Mildred a “common frump”, and slapped her when Mildred found out her $10,000 scheme; snatched her pocketbook away, and tore up the check. Veda then left when her mother threatened to kill her.

The film version in Veda’s end was better because she got what she finally deserved – she murdered Monte, was arrested, and went to jail. The miniseries followed the book – Veda had an operatic voice, became famous, and joined Monte at the end. The most fame Veda got in the film was in a cheesy dive Wally owned (played by Jack Carson), singing while sailors whistled at her.

Ida (played by Mare Winningham) in the series was barely seen compared to the film’s Eve Arden. Ida in the film and Mildred became best friends, and spoke about men depending on their situation. Mildred’s first husband Bert (played in the film by actor Bruce Bennett) left Mildred at the beginning; they later divorced, he told Mildred of Veda’s whereabouts, and remained friends in the film. The series showed Bert and Mildred remarrying toward the end.

Both versions are very good, but if you like a good drama noir that displays in-your-face talk, emotions running high and vulnerability to the core, the 111-minute movie is clearly the winner.

The HBO version trailer can be seen here:

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