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Thursday, September 27, 2012

A Break in Blogging... And Mildred Pierce!

How do the two topics in the title of this post correspond to one another?  They don't!  But, they are two of the things that I wanted to touch on in this, the first post on the Dapper and Dreamy blog, in far too long.

Life has a way of throwing curveballs at us...  Even those of us who wouldn't know a curveball from a hole-in-one.  In fact, sometimes those curveballs come in the form of 200 pound medicine balls that can take us out for more than a little while.  For me, that curveball was called "August 2012" and I hope and pray that such a month never occurs again.

Having said all of that, NOT focusing on the blog has given me time to do a lot of other things, although I would be hard pressed to name each one of those things at the present.  If nothing else, I have watched a lot of good movies, a couple new, most old.  One that covers both of those age groups is the wonderful Mildred Pierce.

Mildred Pierce, the Joan Crawford version, certainly needs no introduction from me.  This was Joan's comeback picture and remains one of her best.  She's surprisingly convincing early on as the suburban housewife baking cakes and pies in her own kitchen to sell in order to make ends meet.  By this time, Joan Crawford was a movie star ne plus ultra, but she could still reveal the vulnerability and simplicity of a mere mortal.

As the film goes on, Mildred's life becomes far more complicated that her simple Glendale, CA, roots would lead one to expect.  Deserted by her weak and straying husband Bert for Mrs. Biederhof, clearly the neighborhood floozy, Mildred has to up her game.  She goes from waitress to restauranteur in short order, and picks up a playboy husband in the meantime.  Bled dry by Monty, said playboy, and vicious, scheming, narcissistic, purely evil (there really aren't enough such words to describe this girl) daughter Veda, Mildred is about to lose everything.  In fact, not to give too much away, by the end of the film, all she really has left is the loyal and rather flaccid Bert.

Mildred Pierce has a fantastic cast that makes the movie fun to watch from beginning to end.  There's Joan Crawford in the title role, as well as Jack Carson playing chum and eventual downfall Wally, Zachary Scott as the somewhat suave, and somewhat creepy, Monte Baragon and Eve Arden as wise-cracking gal pal Ida.  Ann Blyth plays a mean Veda - truly the daughter from hell.  Well, when compared to the Veda in the HBO series we're about to talk about, maybe the daughter from heck.

This 1945 Mildred Pierce is far from James M. Cain's original novel, and it glosses over the more explosive plots of that original work, but it stands on its own as a movie well worth watching more than once.  It's doesn't compare favorably with the 2011 HBO miniseries in terms of faithfulness, but taken as its own product, it's a great movie.

Fast forward 66 years and take a gander at HBO's five-part miniseries, Mildred Pierce.  This version follows the book faithfully and grasps the viewer by the throat, not letting go for a full five hours.

While the style of the miniseries is a bit less flashy than the film, it's got all the 1930's atmosphere any production could muster.  It captures the Hollywood and Los Angeles of its era perfectly, although it was actually filmed in upstate New York.  Even more impressive than the appearance, and that's pretty impressive indeed, this version of Mildred Pierce allows the viewer to really get to know the characters - especially Mildred - and to understand more fully what motivates their actions.  Kate Winslet as Mildred works exceptionally well.  Abandoning all traces of her English accent, as many of the other actors do, Winslet even seems to channel the better parts of Crawford's earlier performance.  It's not a copy by any means, but it certainly pays homage to the heroine first portrayed by on of the last century's grande dames of the silver screen.  Guy Pearce as the once rich, now rather seedy, Monte Baragon is marvelous.  There are times when you feel sorry for him, only to be given ample reason to despise him along with Evan Rachel Wood as the older Veda.  Unlike the earlier Mildred Pierce where it's fun to see the well-known actors playing their parts, in this iteration, the actors simply are the roles that they play.

The new Mildred is short on murder but long on a far seedier kind of intrigue.  This Veda Pierce has nothing on the 1945 model.  Beware, if you have a difficult relationship with your daughter, not to mention your daughter and your current husband, you might want to view this Mildred Pierce as a cautionary tale!

Finally, HBO's miniseries is filled with impressive music.  Opera, as well as hits contemporary to the story, fill the background, transporting you to another time and another very fascinating place...

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