As you should know by now, we are big — and we mean BIG — fans of Mildred Pierce. Time has proven this 1945 film noir a classic.
Not just because of the Oscar winning performance by Joan Crawford in the title role, but because of the direction (Michael Curtiz), art direction (Anton Grot and Bertram Tuttle) and photography (Ernest Haller). Those wet L. A. streets!
But what about that other Mildred Pierce, the 2011 version, a five-episode HBO tv series directed by Todd Haynes and starring Kate Winslet in the title role played by Crawford? Let’s briefly compare the two.
We sat through the full — and we mean full — HBO edition (available on DVD), and it was immediately evident that it follows the James M. Cain’s novel slavishly, far more closely in that there’s plenty of betrayal and explicit sex (not spelled out by Crawford and company). But no murder.
What no murder, the 1945 movie’s plot setup?
Yup, in the HBO rendition, the shooting of Mildred’s lover — Monty Beragon (Zachary Scott in the movie, Guy Pearce in the HBO edition) — is missing. So much for the film noir element.
Credit the addition of the murder setup in the Warner Bros. version to the seven screenwriters the studio hired to work on this adaptation of the Cain novel. One was William Faulkner. Screenwriter of credit is Ranald MacDougall.
Then there is the casting. The supporting cast in Crawford’s Mildred is superb, and was recognized at the time the movie came out.
Both Ann Blyth (as daughter Veda) and Eve Arden (as Ida Corwin) were nominated for supporting actress awards. Jack Carson had the role of his career. Who can forget his amiably sleazy businessman turn as Wally Fay, going toe-to-toe with Crawford. Savor the movie’s early scenes in which Crawford as Mildred plays on the libidinous designs of Carson to set him up for the murder of her lover.
In the HBO edition, the “Wally Burgan” character is downplayed and performed in competently understated fashion by James Le Gros — although unlike Carson’s movie character, he does get to have sex with Winslet’s Mildred.
Veda is played by two actresses (Morgan Turner and Evan Rachel Wood), and emerges in the tv edition as a high-toned soprano, not the night club “chantoosey” so ably performed by Blyth.
Winslet is sexy, smart and believable in the HBO version. (She won a Golden Globe for best actress in a mini-series for her portrayal of Mildred as a Forties pioneer-businesswoman). But her performance lacks the glitzy brio of Crawford’s.
How great an actress Crawford was. As Mildred she went from mother/housewife to novice waitress to professional waitress to businesswoman — with love and sex, betrayal and murder thrown in, of course, with masterly precision. Her star persona always overshadowed what a really fine actress she was.
HBO’s Mildred has magnificent period set designs (put together by Haynes’ team) generally lacking in the movie. But the long-winded tv rendition — clocking in at more than 5-1/2 hours — lacks the crisp dramatic punch of the Warner Bros. version, which runs a mere 1 hour and 85 minutes. Longer is not necessarily better.
We have covered Crawford’s Mildred Pierce in at least two previous blogs (Feb. 1’s Mildred Pierce (AKA Joan Crawford) — The Steamy Book Vs. The Movie Classic and Feb. 17’s Mildred Pierce — The Hot Stuff The Movie Left Out). For more on this wonderful movie, feel free to check them out.