06 April 2011

In praise of HBO's Mildred Pierce

HBO is about midway through their broadcast of their incredible mini-series, Mildred Pierce. Without a doubt, it's one of the best period pieces I've ever seen.






Since this is rumored to be a kitchen design blog. I'll start off with a photo of the set for Mildred's kitchen.


Like I said, the production best period piece I've ever seen. Add to the lavish, painstaking authenticity of the set a story line that won't quit and you have a recipe for true greatness.


Three episodes in, HBO's Mildred Pierce is approaching true greatness. Again, because this is supposed to be a kitchen blog, check out Mildred's gas range.


Amazing! I love this series for how different it is from the film noir movie. You see, I have a thing for Warner Brother's 1945 version of Mildred Pierce.

Joan Crawford and Butterfly McQueen chew the scenery in 1945 

In fact, it's one of my favorite movies of all time. Like most people, I saw the original Warner Brothers movie long before I read the novel upon which it's based, James M. Cain's 1941 Mildred Pierce. In the hands of  Warner Brothers and in response to a whole lot of pressure from the Hays Commission, James M. Cain's novel of  eroticism, self-reliance and the Great Depression was turned into a film noir murder mystery. In 1945, murder was preferable to bed-hopping I suppose but the original wasn't a murder mystery. No one dies in the novel (except for little Rae) though I'm sure most of the characters wish they would at one point or another.

As great as that film is (Crawford won her only Oscar for her leading role), it's a very different piece of work from the novel.







James M. Cain's novel from four years earlier is a masterpiece in its own right and I'm thrilled to see it getting the attention it deserves care of HBO. Their mini-series is a painstaking retelling of the original novel as much as it's a nearly perfect period piece.

The last time the US experienced an economic upheaval similar to the one we're enduring now was in the the 1930s. That Mildred Piece's reversal of fortune came at the bust of a real estate bubble makes the story all the more easy to relate to.

James M. Cain was an important novelist and journalist in the early 20th Century. He wrote in what's called the roman noir style, he was all about the hardboiled crime novel. Mildred Pierce stands out in early work in that it's not a crime novel. Rather, it's a novel about perseverance and triumph over adversity. Further, it's the story of a woman and it's told from the point of view of a woman in a time where women's voices and opinions were not heard very often. Add to it that the Great Depression is practically a character in and of itself and you end up with a book that's a Must Read. So go read it. Please!

James M. Cain is one of the great writers of the last century no one's ever heard of but he wrote some important stuff. Three of his greatest works are included the collection I linked to in the last paragraph. The movies made from his novels endure and are some really great films.











As great as the movies are, his novels deserve to be read even more.

In the meantime though, watch the HBO mini-series. The story keeps getting better with each installment (even though I know where the story's headed). If you don't get HBO or live in a part of the world where it's not available, take heart. They spent so much money on this production that it's bound to be released on DVD in a matter of weeks.

5 comments:

  1. Paul,
    I am loving this mini-series as well! I thought is started a little slow but now I can't wait to see the last two episodes.

    You've inspired me to watch the movie version and read the book. I think I'll order them both this weekend!

    Amy

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  2. Thanks Amy, I've been hearing some chatter about this mini-series disappointing some people because the story line is so different from the 1945 movie. This same chatter is making some ill-informed noises about why the current story is so different from the Warner Brothers movie. It's almost funny because HBO's project is almost a word-for-word retelling of the novel. They've made the movie that couldn't be made in 1945 and that's one of the many reasons I love what they've done. If this is successful, maybe they'll do the same thing for Postman and Double Indemnity.

    Go read his novels, seriously. The Postman Always Rings Twice is one of the most erotic, erotic thrillers I've ever read.

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  3. I need HBO! They filmed in my neighborhood last year (the house Mildred visits for the housekeeping gig in the first installment was about 4 blocks from me) and the streets were closed and filled in with old cars and costumed extras. So cool! I managed to catch the first two and am dying to see the rest. Good to hear they diverge from the original!

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  4. I am probably the last guy in America who does not have HBO. Also I must admit Paul, that I do not watch much television. But I have long been a fan of Postman and Double Indemnity. I should read the author, once I get through "The Complete Stories of J.G. Ballard".
    I find the new mini-series Kitchen very appealing on many levels. Especially the accurate portrayal of traditional kitchens in color, and not boring trendy white.

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  5. Amen brothahh! I'm lovin it too. Saw the first two and three is awaiting me on DVR. Now you've got me curious about the original and I'm definitely going to hunt down the "Postman" movie.

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