BU Film School

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

FT 540 Reading: Mildred Pierce

Screenplay info
Written by: Ranald McDougall, based on novel by James M. Cain (William Faulkner, Catherine Turney uncredited)
Film info: http://us.imdb.com/Title?0037913
Filmsite.org link: http://www.filmsite.org/mild.html

A car starts, shots heard, car turned off, man falls downstairs saying, "Mildred". (Heck of an opener -- builds suspense right away.)

Mildred is on the boardwalk. She walks to the rail and looks down at the water (shot of water). She looks like she's considering jumping, but a cop forestalls her. She walks by a cafe. Wally sees her, gets her attention. From the conversation, it's clear he did something or took something (he says don't have any hard feelings about this afternoon). She invites him to the beach house, acts flirtatiously, says must change into something. Instead she slips out the window and runs down the beach. Wally looks for her, sees dead man, and starts to flee, but is caught by cops.

Mildred goes back home, talks to Veda, who's upset, reveals cops. They say Monte Beragon is dead, take her in for questioning. Mildred is brought to station. As she comes in and is made to wait (great buildup of tension in this sequence), she sees a number of other characters in turn -- she addresses some, but is told not to speak to them. Finally Mildred goes into the interrogation room, is told cops have their killer -- first husband, Bert. Dismayed, Mildred says that he couldn't have possibly killed Monte. Cop asks why they got divorced. Mildred says he and Wally used to be in business, but they split (Wally got most of it). Launches flashback.

Mildred makes a birthday cake for Veda. Bert asks mailman for change of address form (foreshadowing). Bert and Mildred argue about his not having a job. Dress for Veda arrives. They argue about bills, raising of kids. Bert leaves with suitcase (going to his mistress, Maggie). Veda fetches Kay from game, they go home, see Bert as he drives off. Veda goes to try on her dress, criticizes it as cheap, Mildred upset.

Mildred goes over her accounts -- she's dead broke. Wally comes by, proposes (sets up that dynamic). She refuses.

Mildred looks for work -- can't get a job without experience, but can't get experience without a job. Goes to a restaurant to eat, two waitresses fired, Mildred is hired. Montage shows Mildred learning on the job. Restaurant's pies stink, Mildred volunteers. Mildred sees her uniform on Lotte (Veda gave it to her, assuming it was hers), confronts Veda, who sneers about her mother being a common waitress. Mildred says will open restaurant -- Veda more impressed.

Mildred goes to Wally wanting location for restaurant. One owned by Monte Beragon (has name, but no money). They go to meet Monte, he agrees to defer payment for one year. Wally tells Mildred she must divorce Bert to avoid his creditors. She asks Bert, he angrily refuses, leaves to take girls out.

Location's being renovated. Monte stops by, persuades Mildred to come to the beach house for a swim. They talk, swim, kiss ... She comes home to find that Kay's sick (at Maggie's). Kay dies of pneumonia. Veda is all she has now.

Restaurant opening is a success. Veda and Monte meet there, he remarks that she looks very much like her mother. Bert comes by the restaurant, gives divorce.

Back to present. Peterson says Mildred has given him Bert's motive -- jealousy. Someone hands Peterson papers, he says new evidence has raised questions about her testimony -- her call to Ida looking for Monte, her asking Wally to house. Mildred confesses to killing Monte. Start of another flashback.

More restaurants open, business doing well. Mildred gives Monte money. He's reluctant at first, but then it becomes a habit. Ida tells Mildred that Veda's borrowing money from everyone. She gives Veda a car for her birthday, Monte says he helped pick it out, Veda thanks *him*. Mildred tells Monte to stay away from Veda, bad influence, losing her because of it, he's interfering with her life. He breaks it off. She writes a check, which he gives to a parking attendant.

Veda and Ted Forrester are sitting in a restaurant. Wally comes over, offers to "help". Ted's mom confronts Mildred about Ted wanting to marry Veda. Mildred confronts Veda. Wally reveals they're already married, and that Veda wants out. At divorce hearing, Wally asks for $10,000. Veda says she's pregnant. Veda reveals to Mildred that she's not pregnant, and that the money is to get away from Mildred (the grease, the cheap things). Mildred slaps her, rips up the check, tells Veda to leave.

Mildred takes a vacation, returns home, asks after Veda. She meets Bert at cafe (same one at beginning with Wally), turns out Veda is singing there. Veda refuses to come home. Mildred goes to Monte and asks to buy his house, tells him to propose. Monte agrees, for 1/3 of the business. Bert brings Veda home. Veda and Monte exchange a look, she says she'll stay if Monte doesn't mind.

Veda's 19th birthday. Mildred is at the office -- Wally is taking over the business, because of debt (from buying things for Veda). Wally reveals it was Monte's idea (Monte wants to sell). Mildred calls Ida, goes to the beach house.

Back to present -- Mildred says she killed him. Peterson contradicts. Door opens, reveals Veda, who accuses Mildred of giving her away. Continuing flashback.

Mildred discovers Veda and Monte. He slaps her gun away. Veda says Monte will divorce Mildred and marry her. Mildred leaves. Monte says he'll never marry Veda, calls her a vicious brat. Mildred begins to start her car, shots ring out. Veda pleads for help (will change). Mildred gives in one last time.

Bert and Veda leave. "I'm still her mother."

My notes
-- snappy dialogue.
-- no one's all good or all evil. Flawed characters.
-- mystery, melodrama, film noir.
-- told in flashbacks, framed by police interview. scenes often linked by Mildred's narration.
-- gritty, realistic.
-- decision points -- for Mildred, prompted by desire to do right by Veda. For others, mostly self-interest.

FT 540 notes (from 05/29/03)
-- Mildred a ballsy dame. As good as a guy. Woman forced to play certain roles -- if forced, will be trouble, create a monster (like Veda). Mildred neither good nor bad, caught in the middle. Just a couple of steps from profane to sacred.


Comments: Post a Comment