RARA-AVIS: Re: Mildred Pierce (novel, film)

From: Chris Schneider ( chrisaschneider@earthlink.net)
Date: 11 Jul 2003

> on 7/11/03 9:16 AM, Jay Gertzman at jgertzma@earthlink.net wrote:
> I am going to lead a discussion soon at the local B&N of Cain's
> _Mildred Pierce_. I am not sure it fits into the noir tradition, in that
> there is no crime committed. And the darn thing is prolix. However, it
> is certainly hard boiled, and the motivations of both Mildred and Veda
> are fascinating. They seems to be the only characters with power and
> control, except for Mildred's mentor and friend Mrs. Gessler. It seems
> to me the Depression is a powerful force in the book, and that Mildred
> especially gets the desperation to succeed financially from it. Yet is
> it more responsible for what Mildred does than is Veda, and is Mildred
> responsible for Veda's feelings for her? Is Veda a monster or is she
> also a victim of fate, i.e., the Depression? I'd appreciate any ideas.
> Thanks
             [Note: It hardly seems necessary, at this late date, but ...
          I should probably warn you that this note contains <SPOILERS> for
          the "Mildred Pierce" movie.}


             Isn't it an axiom that any novel dealing with opera, as both
          "Mildred Pierce" and "Serenade" do, simply ain't "noir"? I joke,
          of course.
             The absence of a crime in Cain's novel is startling --
          especially to anyone who became familiar with these characters
          thanks to the 1945 movie version. In the movie, of course, what
          sets the story into motion is the shooting of Monty (Zachary
          Scott), a crime which we learn -- eventually -- was committed by
          Veda (Ann Blyth) and yet might just as well have been committed by
          Mildred (Joan Crawford). It was producer Jerry Wald who insisted
          that this murder be imposed on Cain's story. My guess: this was
          to insure that the picture lived up to "Postman"-based notions of
          what "a James M. Cain story" was supposed to be. Plus, of course,
          the Hays Code-pleasing opportunities it offered for punishing
          characters who behave naughty.
              In certain ways, you could almost set up the "Mildred Pierce"
          movie as an example of Male Storytelling Vs. Female Storytelling:
          "Mildred In The Police Station" (male, mostly scripted by Ranald
          MacDougall) versus "Mildred In The Kitchen" (female, mostly
          scripted by uncredited Catherine Turney).
               I would favor the "Veda as monster" answer, by the way. One
          can always cite the Depression, of course ... but the "monster"
          answer is in accord with Cain's Zola-esque tendency to view
          characters as beasts.


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