(Episode 5) Way back when, episode two in fact, a chap noted that it was difficult to get a rise out of Mildred Pierce because of the high quality writing and production. Also mentioned was the need to scour the later pages of James M Cain’s source novel to indulge in some gentle teasing; such were the more ludicrous plot devices presented to his readers. This raised faint hopes of the same cathartic idiocy in the final part of this series.
Are we there yet, CL? Oh yes, my little corumblings.
Last week we left Mildred unhappy but free from her wellsprings of weakness and downfall: Mad Veda and The Man Who Was Del Monty. Veda has left home in a strop (it was a mink strop, having exhausted her extensive wardrobe of huffs) to explore the downtown existence of an uber-diva. An advance guard of contrived silliness here, being as she has never sung a note in her life. Meanwhile Monty has been jettisoned on account of being a bit of a nuisance in the accounts; his first, then Mildred’s [note to feminine side: aristocratic gigolo with pencil moustache and cheek-bones built for glacier skiing bad for wallet).
The final episode opens with Mildred stalking Carlo Treviso, the famous conductor with whom Veda is pursuing her nascent career of operatic parping. She wants to pay the bills but Carlo, having been briefed, refuses to take orders from the mother ship. He also offers a baroque homily about coloratura sopranos, a trillful elite among whom Veda is the trilliest. This pep talk is a little hard to follow – still less quote – so here are my notes verbatim: “See little snake at zoo. Very pretty. Take home? Not sensible. Girl is snake. Coloratura much worse than snake. I no enjoy snake bite.”
So there you have it. I think. Mildred sets off on a moody drive around town and – well did you evah? – bumps into a be-spatted Monty. Between cars, both figuratively and literally, Mildred learns that he’s “on a hot date” with his creditors. Before you can say: “That’s one remote shack in the woods I’d avoid if I were a hot teen in skimpy shorts,” she’s holed up in Monty’s mansion (yep, he’s still got it) where he proceeds to chew the stuffing out of her sofa (or so it looks; it’s hard to tell with Mildred lying on it). I say “her” because it’s only a matter of moments before she’s bought the place and they’re oh-so-happily-ever-aftering in marital bliss.
Heel-wise – Monty’s defining characteristic – that’s the first of Mildred’s achilles’ back in place. You’ll never guess what happens next: Veda’s so happy with being the Snack-o-ham sponsored top-eratic totty that she forgets to be a complete cantata for a scene or two. Long and short: she’s back. Now you can call me Cassie, Cassandra if you must, but I don’t think this is going to be pretty. And so it proves: dark clouds are looming in the shape of Monty’s sleeping arrangements and Mildred’s spending.
Wally Burgan meets Mildred way out in Laguna, at her beach-front surf and turf eatery, for a hot one with her own creditors. Turns out that Monty and his mansion are as much of a money pit as ever, such expenditure matched only by the cost of just one dress for Veda. From what I can make out it’s a confection of spun gold, Bentley polish and is be-jewelled with the embryos of a thousand iPod touches. More moody motoring from Mildred ensues (she could always take up mini-cabbing) and this time she hooks up with ex-husband Bert who proves a comfort with his hip flask astride a moonlit fence.
Thus fortified Mildred returns home to score off Veda who everyone thinks is loaded these days. There she discovers that the flame-haired temptress has been doing some scoring of her own if the scratch marks across Monty’s back are any guide (and they are). Cue a curious if arresting scene of serpentine daughter parading naked and languid in front of her mother, whose emotions are so far off any measurable scale that it’s best not to bother with detail and wait for the big bang. We are not disappointed and, best of all, there’s another along in a minute.
And so it is that Mildred marries kind-hearted Bert, again. The restaurants are gone (but the pies are still peachy) best pals Lucy and Ida are still chums and … and … Veda pops by to say she’s off to New York on the back of Consolidated Foods and network radio. Oh and by the way, Monty is waiting on her pleasure once there. Once more enraged, Mildred nearly tears the roof off Veda’s taxi with her fingernails (Consolidated Foods have protected their investment by not leaving any can openers within reach). Bert says: “To hell with her,” twice and suggests “let’s get stinko.” Mildred gazes around glassily in that Kate Winsome way of hers, then swallows a stiff one.
Gosh. Was Mildred Pierce any good then? This boy has to admit that it got to be a slog because of all that Depression, and Mildred’s willful blindness to Veda’s venomous traits. It aspires to being a bit noirish – as advertised, admittedly – but noir is crime, sleaze and moody lighting in black & white. Mildred Pierce is melodrama, forgettable but forgivable if you allow it’s a book written in the 1940s and a film of the same era. With this HBO production it’s difficult to give that latitude because the behaviour becomes dated. This is not an ironic comment on a period production since it would appear out of time in any setting, bar the original. The mini-series is faithful to the book, certainly more so than the Joan Crawford film, so print is where the blame lies.
Further reading: there’s an excellent essay comparing the book, the film and this series here.
Posted by Corumba Love