Pop Culture Princess

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Friday, April 30, 2010

Why remaking Mildred Pierce is actually a good idea

Filming is under way for a new version of the classic 1945 film Mildred Pierce,as a five act miniseries for HBO ,set to debut in 2011.

Kate Winslet plays the title character,a part made famous by Joan Crawford,who won an Oscar for her performance as the doting divorced mother that did more than she should have to make a perfect life for her eldest and ultimately ungrateful daughter(Evan Rachel Wood takes over the role originated by Ann Blyth).

Normally,I would be bemoaning yet another remake of a Hollywood classic,however in this case,it would be more of a benefit to the original work to have a fresh edition of it made in a time period with less creative constrictions placed upon it.

The 1945 adaptation starts off similar to where the James M. Cain novel does,with suburban homemaker Mildred finally kicking out her shiftless husband,not only because of his professional failures but his fooling around with another woman in the neighborhood. She winds up becoming a waitress and eventually the owner of a chain of restaurants,thanks to a little help from a couple of men in her life.

Part of Mildred's motivation to do well in life is to help Veda,her firstborn who grows accustomed to getting what ever she wants and putting on airs of entitlement. (There is a younger daughter who passes away conveniently enough that all of Mildred's maternal focus becomes fixed on Veda). Mildred's love and devotion is sadly repaid with betrayal,by those she loves the most-your typical melodramatic irony at play.

Where the film veers off from the book is the fatal shooting of Mildred's new husband,who has been cheating on her with Veda. Mildred is considered one of the suspects and held at the police station telling her life story,trying to take the blame for the crime. By the end,Veda is revealed to be the killer and Mom Mildred tearfully watches her beloved brat being carted off to jail.

Without giving too much away,I can safely say that there is an act of violence but no murder in the book. Some of the reason for adding in a murder mystery into the plot of the film is due to the Hayes code of morality enforced upon mainstream movies back then, which demanded that bad behavior from fictional characters must lead to punishment by the end credits. The Cain novel had a more realistic ending but showing that to the general public was a bit too daring for Hollywood in those days:

Don't get me wrong,the 1940s version of Mildred Pierce is a damn good movie but without being hampered by a needless moral to the story spin on things,this new miniseries could really bring James M. Cain's words to actual life on screen.

This isn't the first time that someone tried to do a more authentic remake of Cain's work;while the 1946 adaptation of his most infamous novel,The Postman Always Rings Twice had very suitable smolder from John Garfield and Lana Turner as the scheming lovers who conspire to do away with their husband/boss in order to be together and claim a nice bundle from his life insurance policy,some of that heat was tempered down by the Hayes office as well:

In 1981,a remake of the movie was made by director Bob Rafelson,who cast Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange as the leads. The movie wasn't kindly looked upon by either critics or audiences,due to direct comparisons to the first film.

While the new adaptation did stay truer to the steamy sexuality between the main characters(and some of the finer details of the book),it lacked some of the subtle seductive energy from the 1946 version. Also,Nicholson and Lange appeared to be given their parts more due to their resemblances to the original performers than any actual chemistry sparked between them. It's not a bad movie,yet it could have been so much better than it was:

For this new take on Mildred Pierce,I have much higher hopes. For one,the miniseries format will allow for a full expansion of the novel and development of the characters. Also,Todd Haynes is the director and screenwriter here,who has shown his flair for period pieces with his tribute to Douglas Sirk films of the fifties with Far from Heaven.

To many people,the main bone of contention will be Kate Winslet vs. Joan Crawford as the leading lady. Kate and Joan are worlds apart in their acting styles and sensibilities,which should be taken into account.

However,Joan does still command a strong following,even with those Mommie Dearest insights into her personal demons. In my opinion,Joan Crawford did the best performance of the material as it was scripted for her time and Winslet will most likely do her best rendition of a screenplay written in a much more modern era of film making.

While I applaud the cinematic powers that be for finally doing a remake that is artistically justified for once,I advise them to not to bother with a remake of Double Indemnity.

The 1944 noir version of that Cain story does true justice to the author's vision and needs no improvements. Granted,Cain himself would care less(he once told an interviewer who complained that Hollywood had "destroyed" all of his books,"No,they're still there." while pointing at a shelf of them)but sometimes,you need to quite while you're ahead of the game. I don't want to inadvertently give someone a bad idea,but it's good to not leave certain things unsaid:

1 comment:

Ladytink_534 said...

I don't believe I ever saw the original but I remember seeing clips of it here and there. I've been meaning to read the book for years now. The new adaptation will be interesting though!