Ambitions Meet Quiet Noir In ‘Mildred Pierce’–LISTEN/WATCH
The 1945 movie Mildred Pierce starred Joan Crawford as an ambitious woman capable of anything — even murder. But it turns out that this film noir was quite a departure from the novel it was based on.
Although author James M. Cain was known for his hardboiled plots in The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity, his novel Mildred Pierce was a comparatively quiet portrait of a single mother in 1930s Los Angeles.
To make ends meet, the title character works her way up from baking pies to owning a string of successful restaurants. Rather than murder, the novel’s only crime is the painful, turbulent relationship between Mildred and her ambitious daughter Veda.
It was this version of Mildred Pierce that inspired director Todd Haynes’ new HBO miniseries starring Kate Winslet.
“The Mildred that emerged on the page was someone quite different from the Joan Crawford Mildred,” Haynes tells Morning Edition‘s Renee Montaigne. “It was no longer a film noir; it was almost a social realist document about rough times in a very specific economic moment in our history.”
After Mildred sends her unemployed and cheating husband packing, she finds herself a “grass widow” in the Great Depression. Struggling to take care of her family, without the help of her husband, one character describes Mildred as “the great American institution that never gets mentioned on the Fourth of July.”
“It’s really about a woman taking stock of herself in a whole new way and looking at what her sort of value is, now that she has to go out on the street and find some sort of livelihood to sustain her middle class life,” says Haynes.