Kate Winslet does a great job of portraying long suffering, unlucky in love, sharp business woman, and often incredibly dim Depression era damsel Mildred Pierce. Mildred’s husband leaves her, one of her two daughters dies, and she starts her own business selling her famous pies.
Mildred is a proud woman. Too proud to work as a housekeeper for a super snob and too good to be a lowly waitress. Until she has no choice and takes a job waiting tables. One thing leads to another and she starts to sell her pies to local restaurants and then decided to open one herself-chickens and waffles. I’ve never understood that whole chicken and waffles thing.
Mildred seems to have the skills and talents needed to succeed in life-except for the fact that one of her daughters is pure evil incarnate and continually ruins Mildred’s life.
It’s popular to give villains some redeeming feature these days, some hidden fondness for the arts or small animals. Veda Pierce is not like Darth Vader, with his long and sorry tale of being a sweet fellow who takes a wrong turn. No, Veda is more like Mr Potter, pure and unadulterated evil. From the first time we see her as a small child until she finished pulling her last confidence job, she is cruel and selfish and vile. The fact that Veda waltzes off into the sunset is one of the main reasons that Mildred Pierce is ultimately unsatisfying.
HBO has taken Joan Crawford’s Mildred Pierce, colorized it and given it a happier ending. I’m going to guess that the HBO version is truer to the book by James M. Cain. It would been better if Veda fell into a open manhole cover, was hit by a bus, or had an anvil fall out of a clear sky and bop her on the head.
Story aside, HBO’s Mildred Pierce was beauty to look at and the acting was excellent. The costumes and buildings are lovely, bringing to life those bygone days when southern Californian was known more for oranges than motion pictures.
My own favorite take on Mildred Pierce came from Carol Burnett. Mildred’s restaurant is called Fat Burgers and Veda drags a full sized billboard onto the set when Mildred asks how she found out about it. Great Stuff, that.