Hello, everybody. Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your classic movie guys, finishing up today our two-part series comparing Mildred Pierce, James M. Cain’s 1941 novel to Mildred Pierce, the superb 1945 movie starring Joan Crawford. Which is tougher and more explicit?
For answers we turn once again to our BOOKS2MOVIES expert, Larry Michie, who has explored both Mildred Pierce versions, and here addresses some key questions:
Question: How is Mildred’s first husband, the deadbeat sleeping with the dame down the street in the book, handled in the movie version?
LM: Mildred’s first husband is glossed over in the movie (and is portrayed in dignified, almost starchy style by Bruce Bennett). In the movie, the dame down the street (Lee Patrick) actually shows up briefly as a sympathetic character later. The husband in the novel shows up from time to time to see his little girls and check on Mildred, as he does in the movie.
Question: Exactly how does the younger daughter (Jo Ann Marlowe in the movie) die in the book?
LM: Pneumonia is definitely the killer. The girl went to the beach with the parents of her father (the second daughter went to the beach also) and apparently picked up the problem there. Some blamed Mildred even though she had nothing to do with it.
Question: In the book, are Mildred-owned eateries exclusively diners? And, how many are there in the book? (In the movie, they are depicted more grandly, as a chain of full service restaurants.)
LM: They are called diners in the book, but morph into a chain of, as I recall, five restaurants, which for at least a while are quite successful, although Mildred unwittingly gets into deep financial trouble thanks to Wally, a lawyer (Jack Carson in the movie), shyster and shark.
Question: Is Mildred’s playboy lover depicted in the book pretty much the same as the cad in the movie portrayed by Zachary Scott?
LM: Zachary Scott’s role is on target. He (the playboy character) is from a wealthy family, his mother is a huge snob, and all he does is play polo and drink.
Question: Is the playboy character bumped off in the book as he is so dramatically in the movie?
LM: Veda (Ann Blyth in the movie) definitely did not shoot the playboy in the novel — that was strictly movie stuff. The guy (Scott in the movie) was treated in the book as a charming but very careless playboy, with snobbish wealthy parents (this was still the Great Depression). Veda did wind up in the sack with him, and as I recall few off to Chicago with him to get married. But that fell apart.
Question: Is the murder mystery angle that bookends the movie in the Cain book at all?
LM: No murder mystery in the book.
Question: Is there sex depicted explicitly in the book that’s not in the movie?
LM: There is a lot more sex in the novel. Mildred goes off to an overnight with the rich boyfriend, and when she comes home she finds her daughter near death, which is one reason some biddies suggest she is responsible for the death. Her boyfriend definitely is a Zachary Scott look-alike.
Veda, the talented and beautiful daughter who is a real bitch on wheels, is practically a book unto herself. As for sex, Veda gets (or says she gets) pregnant by a rich boy (same as in the movie). And the climax (excuse the word) of Mildred’s last-straw view of Veda is when Mildred comes home, and finds Veda in bed with Mildred’s playboy husband.
Larry’s conclusion: The movie version of Mildred Pierce seemed to me to be tame indeed after reading the novel. To my taste, it was a bit less scorching, with a kind of hokey who-pulled-the-trigger kind of ending. But give credit where it is due. The cast is excellent as was Michael Curtiz’ handling of the megaphone.