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First-edition cover (1941)
|Author(s)||James M. Cain|
|Publisher||Alfred A. Knopf|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
Mildred separates from her unemployed husband and sets out to support herself and her children. After a difficult search she finds a job as a waitress, but she worries that it is beneath her middle-class station. More than that, she worries that her ambitious and increasingly pretentious elder daughter, Veda, will think her new job demeaning. Mildred encounters both success and failure as she opens three successful restaurants, operates a pie-selling business and copes with the death of her younger daughter, Rae. Veda enjoys her mother's newfound financial success but increasingly turns ungrateful, demanding more and more from her hard-working mother while openly condemning her and anyone who must work for a living.
When Mildred discovers her daughter's plot to blackmail a wealthy family with a fake pregnancy, she kicks her out of their house. Veda, who has been training to become an opera singer, goes on to a great deal of fame as Mildred convinces her new boyfriend Monty (a young man who, like Mildred, lost his family's wealth at the start of the Great Depression) to help reconcile them. Unfortunately for Mildred, this means buying Monty's family estate and using her earnings to pay for Veda's extravagances. Mildred and Monty marry, but things go sour for her: Wally, her partner in the restaurant business, has discovered that her living like a rich person has dramatically affected the company's profits. He threatens a coup to force her out of the company. This causes her to confess to her ex-husband Bert that she has been embezzling money from her company in order to buy Veda's love.
Needing some of Veda's money to balance the books - and fearing that Wally might target the girl's assets if they are exposed - Mildred goes to her house to confront her. She finds Veda in bed with her stepfather. Monty explains to Mildred that he's leaving her for Veda, who gloats that they've been planning this all along. Mildred snaps, brutally attacking and apparently strangling her daughter, who now appears incapable of singing and loses her singing contract.
Weeks pass as Mildred moves to Reno, Nevada to establish residency in order to get a speedy divorce from Monty. Bert moves out to visit her. Mildred ultimately is forced to resign from her business empire, leaving it to Ida, a former company assistant. Bert and Mildred, upon the finalization of her divorce, remarry. They are shocked when Veda shows up with several dozen reporters to "reconcile" with her mother (a move designed to defuse the negative publicity of her sleeping with her stepfather). Mildred accepts, but several months later, Veda reveals that her voice has healed and announces that she is moving to New York City with Monty. Veda's apparent loss of her voice was only a ploy so that she could renege on her existing singing contract and then be free to establish a more lucrative singing contract with another company. As she leaves the house, a broken Mildred agrees to say "to hell" with the monstrous Veda and to "get stinko" (drunk) with Bert.
- Mildred Pierce – middle-class mother of two
- Bert Pierce – Mildred's first, and later third, husband
- Moire ("Ray") and Veda Pierce – Mildred's daughters
- Wally Burgan – Bert's former business partner
- Monty Beragon – wealthy playboy, Mildred's lover and later second husband
- Lucy Gessler – Mildred's friend
In 1945 the novel was made into a film starring Joan Crawford, Eve Arden, Ann Blyth, Jack Carson, Bruce Bennett, Zachary Scott, and Lee Patrick. The screenplay was adapted by Ranald MacDougall, William Faulkner, and Catherine Turney, and directed by Michael Curtiz.
The Motion Picture Production Code in use at the time specified that 11 subjects "shall not appear in pictures produced by the members of this Association" and listed 25 other subjects where "special care be exercised in the manner in which... [they] are treated." These provisions made it impossible to film a literal depiction of the events in the novel. The screenplay removes any depiction of a sexual relationship (which would have been both incest and infidelity) between Monty and his stepdaughter, Veda. Mildred neither discovers them in bed, nor injures Veda in any way.
These elements were replaced with a murder mystery told in flashbacks. In the movie, Veda becomes attracted to Monty and kills him when he does not return her affection. Mildred initially confesses to Monty's murder in order to shield Veda from prosecution but ultimately gives her over to the authorities.
Mildred Pierce was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (both Arden and Blyth), Best Screenplay and Best Black-and-white Cinematography (Ernest Haller). Crawford won the film's only Academy Award as Best Actress.
Director Todd Haynes filmed a five-part miniseries with Kate Winslet as Mildred, Guy Pearce as Monty Beragon, and Evan Rachel Wood as Veda in Spring 2010 (with Morgan Turner in the role as the young Veda). Haynes wrote the script with Jon Raymond, and also served as an executive producer with Pamela Koffler, John Wells, Ilene S. Landress and Christine Vachon, along with HBO in association with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
The miniseries aired on HBO, starting on March 27, 2011, and ending with a two-part finale on April 10, 2011. It differs from the movie version, staying more faithful to the book's original story. In fact, it is an almost word-for-word dramatization of the novel, including nearly every scene and using Cain's original dialogue. Features great period music performed by Vince Giordano and The Nighthawks Orchestra.
See also 
- Warner Brothers Archives, http://www.usc.edu/libraries/collections/warner_bros/. A list of actresses drawn up by producer Jerry Wald shows Crawford's name at the top of a list of actresses mentioned for the role in 1942. In the file for Mildred Pierce, neither Bette Davis nor Barbara Stanwyck's names are mentioned for the role at any stage. Ann Sheridan's name came up when negotiations with Crawford broke down in 1944 during her first year at Warner Bros.