HBO’s “Mildred Pierce” mini-series, directed by Todd Haynes and based on James M. Cain’s 1941 novel, starts this Sunday.
In director Michael Curtiz’s 1945 movie version of the book, Joan Crawford won the Oscar for her portrayal of the title role in the ultimate story of a self-sacrificing mother and her ungrateful child, Veda (Ann Blyth). Mildred’s hard-earned success as a restaurateur allows her to support not only her family but also her aristocratic and cash-poor love interest Monty Beragon (Zachary Scott).
In Haynes’ mini-series, Kate Winslet stars as Mildred, Guy Pearce plays Monty and two actresses share the Veda role: Morgan Turner as the girl and Evan Rachel Wood as the young woman. Haynes and Jon Raymond wrote the teleplay.
In many ways, the series, which follows the book more faithfully than the 1945 movie and covers nearly 10 ten years in the characters’ lives, is a delight to watch. Depression-era Southern California is beautifully recreated and shot by Edward Lachman. Carter Burwell’s original music is spot-on as is Ann Roth’s costume design. And the acting is excellent, particularly the leads.
Whereas Crawford’s Mildred is stoic and dignified, Winslet’s is sensitive, wistful, often tentative and unsure of herself. Her expressive features suggest her mounting anger, guilt and desperation as her business grows but her relationships deteriorate.
Early on in the series, Winslet’s Mildred identifies in her daughter a “pride or nobility I thought I had” and we glimpse the complexity and closeness of her bond with Veda. The mother-daughter relationship in Haynes’ five-hour version is perhaps more nuanced than in Curtiz’s film.
Pearce easily inhabits the playboy scoundrel Monty and Wood sizzles as the junior miss femme fatale. As the story unfolds, we learn that Mildred and Veda also have very similar taste in men. This year’s supporting actress Oscar winner Melissa Leo and Mare Winningham are quite good as Mildred’s friends.
A disappointment, however, is James LeGros’ insipid performance as Pierce family “friend” Wally Burgan. In Curtiz’s version, the role as played by Jack Carson – conniving and sly, but charming – was one of the movie’s many strengths.
Another downside is the pacing, which is far too slow. It would have benefited from shaving about an hour, especially in the beginning. But then if Haynes’ aim was to be true to every page of the book, he has succeeded.
I prefer Curtiz’s original because it is canonical film noir, in tone, look and story. Granted, Cain’s book was altered because in 1940s Hollywood, immorality was never allowed to triumph. Instead of the evil-doers leaving California to begin a new life in New York, one is fatally shot and the other eventually is punished. The murder sets the story, told via flashback, in motion and lends an edgy suspense.
Still, Haynes did not set out to make a noir; apparently his aim is to explore the subtext and subtleties in Cain’s novel. Cain was, arguably, sympathetic toward his feisty protagonist (what choice does she have but to establish independence and security, given the weak and deceitful men she has to choose from?). But she pays a dreadful price for doing so and the book decries materialism, the class system and social climbing. As for Cain’s ultimate take on Mildred’s power, in Hayne’s work, there is fodder for both sides of the argument.
Even if you’re a makeup minimalist, every femme fatale worth her revolver needs a signature scent to call her own. The holidays are always a great time to see if your perfume collection could use a few new pretty bottles. And of course fragrances make wonderful gifts for fellow vamps and virile fellows when you have an idea of the recipient’s taste. Dig in!
Norell eau de toilette This retro scent reminds me of an old friend of my mother’s who ran her own business, liked to eat Haagen-Dazs Swiss almond vanilla in the middle of the afternoon and always had her nails done in Jungle Red. Norell was one of her favorites in the late ’70s. Notes of musk, vanilla, moss and myrrh meet sassy florals jasmine, rose and ginger lily.
As long as we’re on memory lane, Norell also reminds me of a handsome senior financial editor I used to know who always complimented me when I wore a little Norell behind my ears. It’s a formidable fragrance for a woman who knows what she wants and how to get it. $25.49 for 3.3 ounces atTarget
Victoria’s SecretSexy Little Things Noir eau de parfum Winner of the 2009 FiFi fragrance of the year award, this fruity floral blends nectarine, amber and cattleya orchid, according to the company. Put a little of this on and then try not to flirt. It will put you in the mood, period. The black bottle and retro pump with tassel (what a cute gift!) would do Lana Turner proud. $29 for .85 ounces; $39 for 1.7 ounces; $49 for 3.4 ounces
Michael Kors Very Hollywood eau de parfum True, this fragrance is more starlet than Stanwyck, what with its soft feminine notes (mandarin, gardenia and vetiver) and clean, dare I say wholesome, finish. But even tough ladies are tender sometimes and when you feel the need for a light and luscious confection, Very Hollywood should do the job nicely. $45 for 1 ounce eau de parfum; $65 for 1.7 ounces; $85 for 3.4 ounces
Jo Malone Pomegranate Noir cologne Fruity with a smoky edge, this cologne, inspired by a red silk dress and that jewel of the desert, the pomegranate, is sure to bring out your wily side. And Jo Malone’s light singular scents are designed to be used in “the art of fragrance combining.” I like to mix Pomegranate Noir with French Lime Blossom or Vintage Gardenia. I’m also partial to the woody Wild Fig & Cassis, on its own. The black and white packaging is so clean, simple and elegant, Jo Malone is a must on any girl’s vanity table. $55 for 30 ml cologne; $100 for 100 ml cologne
Gucci Guilty eau de toilette “She’s got something on her conscience,” says Raymond Massey in “Woman in the Window” from 1944. “But what woman hasn’t?” Just ask Gucci, maker of this oriental floral fragrance with top notes of pink pepper, a heart note of lilac and base notes of patchouli and amber. Playing on neo-noir appeal, Evan Rachel Wood and ChrisEvans heat up the screen in Gucci Guilty’s commercial, directed by Frank Miller. Mmmm, bring it on! $55 for 30 ml; $75 for 50 ml; $95 for 75 ml
D&G L’Imperatrice eau de toilette Fresh and clean, yet sophisticated, you could wear this just about anywhere. Dolce & Gabbana says the inspiration for this fragrance collection came from personality types. L’Imperatrice stems from The Star: “Flamboyant and energetic, for L’Imperatrice life is a movie and she is its heroine.” Notes are watermelon, kiwi and pink cyclamen with a musky base. $65 for 3.4 ounces
GuerlainL’Heure Bleue (The Blue Hour) eau de toilette, et al “Why do they still make perfumes like Bouquet des Fleurs as if things still happened in flower gardens?” Van Heflin asks Joan Crawford in “Possessed” from 1947. Seductions might not take place in rose gardens any more, but flower power hasn’t diminished one iota.
When Guerlain, another perfumer with a kick-ass pedigree, created this scent in 1912, it was all about flowers. Says Guerlain’s site: “Jacques Guerlain … pictured this bouquet of roses softened with iris, violet and vanilla, which evoke his favorite moment of the day when, as he put it, ‘the night has not yet found its star.’ ”
L’Heure Bleue may be a bit intense for some, but I love its distinctive character. Guerlain L’Heure Bleueeau de toilette, $70 for 1.7 ounces; $97 for 3.1 ounces
And if, as a little girl, you saw a bottle of Shalimar at your grandmother’s house, used a drop and thought, “I’m so glad I’m a girl,” you have Guerlain to thank for that happy moment. Shalimar eau de parfum, $72 for 1 ounce; $95 for 1.7 ounces
Also, ideal for holiday parties: Guerlain’s Or Imperial Sublime Radiant Powder Face & Body – violet-scented iridescent bronzing powder – housed in Guerlain’s Eau de Cologne Impériale bottle, $85. Ooh la la …
Tom Ford Private Blend Noir de Noir Eau de Parfum Tom Ford is so brilliant, just wearing something he created makes you feel inspired. Take on the world? Sure, I can do it with my eyes closed. Maybe it’s the sleek clean lines of the brown glass bottle that seem to whisper at dawn, “shoulder pads, darling, and stand up straight!”
And then there’s the delight of inhaling and dabbing the provocative but dignified Noir de Noir on your skin. Designed for the fragrance connoisseur, it’s an oriental with notes of saffron, black rose, black truffle, vanilla, patchouli, oud wood and tree moss.
He had me at black rose. 😉 $190 for 1.7 ounces; $260 for 3.4 ounces; $465 for 8.3 ounces
Bond No. 9 Madison Soiree The company puts it this way: “Ultra-feminine elegance and unmistakable posh meet unabashed sultriness in this day-into-late-night-blooming floral bouquet.” Notes of gardenia, jasmine, oakmoss. Madison Soiree is one of many unforgettable Bond No. 9 fragrances with New York namesakes and each stunning bottle nearly bursts with the city’s inimitable energy. $215 for 100 ml eau de parfum
Creed Royal English Leathereau de toilette Creed has been crafting amazing fragrances for centuries and this example is uncommonly sexy. Oh and did I mention it’s from the men’s line? Maybe that’s why I like it so much. Top notes are mandarin and bergamot; middle note is ambergris; base notes are leather and sandalwood.
Not so sure re: leather? It’s definitely, pleasantly, different. According to Tilar J. Mazzeo, author of “The Secret of Chanel No. 5,” Coco Chanel liked that her English lover Arthur “Boy” Capel smelled of “leather, horses, forest, and saddle soap.”
You can share Royal English with the guys in your life or if you think you’ll spar over the jar, get him some Green Irish Tweed (sandalwood, ambergris, violet leaves, verbena and iris) which, the company says, was “created … for a film industry client who personified masculine style and elegance on the silver screen.”
Royal English Leather $150 for 2.5 oz/ 75 ml
Green Irish Tweed $130 for 1 oz/30 ml travel size; $270 for 4 oz/ 120 ml flask
Chanel No. 5 OK, I cheated, there are 11 top scents. So sue me. But surely you didn’t think I was going to bring up Coco Chanel’s name and then not mention the world’s best-selling perfume, Chanel No. 5. As author Tilar J. Mazzeo writes: “Reverently known among industry insiders as le monstre – the monster – it is arguably the most coveted consumer luxury product of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.”
Chanel No. 5 parfum $95 for .25 ounces; $155 for .5 ounces
Chanel No. 5 eau de parfum $80 for 1.7 ounces; $115 for 3.4 ounces
And two more runners-up, both new this year: Estee Lauder’s Sensuous Noir and Guess Seductive.
Product Source: From my own collection and store samples; I did not receive products or compensation from companies named.
I saw “Mildred Pierce” for the first time nearly 20 years ago on a Sunday afternoon in my small, studenty London flat – pale gray walls, Venetian blinds, a Victor Skrebneski print opposite the TV.
Just before the opening scene unfolded – a shooting in a shadow-drenched California beach house with a sinister vibe – I remember popping a batch of popcorn in oil on the stovetop and making American lemonade (fresh lemons, sugar and water). Such wholesome snacking for the decadence on the little screen.
Directed by Michael Curtiz, “Mildred Pierce” is based on James M. Cain’s 1941 novel, adapted by Ranald MacDougall with uncredited help from William Faulkner. Joan Crawford plays the title character, a wife and mother, who tries to buy the love of her spoiled and ungrateful teenage daughter Veda (Ann Blyth). Her younger daughter Kay (Jo Ann Marlowe) is easy to love, but Mildred is determined to win Veda over as well.
Hubby Bert Pierce (Bruce Bennett) doesn’t think Veda is worth it and they break up over Mildred’s intense maternal devotion. Some subtexters theorize that Mildred’s love has romantic overtones; I don’t think there’s a strong case for that.
Mildred works as a pie-baker and a waitress, then opens a chain of restaurants to pay for Veda’s clothes, music lessons and extravagant taste. Problem is, nothing’s ever good enough for the Everest-level high-maintenance Veda. “I can’t wear that rag,” she snarls, upon seeing a dress Mildred bought for her.
Besides sniping at loved ones and spending their money, Veda enjoys hatching blackmail plans and singing in sleazy nightclubs. So it’s no shocker that she also has designs on Mildred’s new love interest Monte Beragon (Zachary Scott). Monte is an aristocratic playboy who’s always short of cash but really rather useful for Veda’s plan to become patrician.
No matter what, Veda sinks her serpent’s teeth deeper and deeper into Mildred’s flesh, which, by the way, at 40, was still very shapely. Curtiz wisely gives Crawford plenty of opps to show off her gams. And her little hats, tailored suits and ankle straps are the picture of retro chic.More