Anyone who loves thrillers and film noir must be aware of the work of James M. Cain. Double Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings Twice and Mildred Pierce are three of his most famous works, and on Saturday, a remake of Mildred Pierce is about to explode onto our TV screens on SKY Atlantic HD.
A key iconic figure of film noir is the femme fatale who poses seductively both on film posters and on hundreds of mid-twentieth century pulp covers. The elements of the image are a kind of visual shorthand for dangerous attraction, murder and torrid sexuality. Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity, Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice and Rita Hayworth in Gilda are all, in very different ways, femmes fatales.
In the original, Joan Crawford plays Mildred Pierce, who slaves as a waitress in the grim Depression of the ’30’s to buy her snobbish daughter’s love, even though the social climbing spoilt brat bleeds her dry, while coldly despising her for her lowly job. Mildred continues to smother Veda (played by Ann Blyth) in affection and worldly goods, but Veda is nonetheless appalled by Mildred’s common background and choice of profession. Mildred goes as far as entering into a loveless marriage with the formerly wealthy Monte Beragon in order to improve her social standing and impress her daughter. Beragon lives the life of a playboy supplemented by Mildred, much to Mildred’s dismay and potential ruin. Mildred ends up losing the business thanks to Monte’s manipulation and Veda’s greed. When Veda coldly seduces her own mother’s lover, taking up with the scheming Monte, a showdown ensues at the beach house where the film began.
In the remake, Kate Winslett plays Mildred, the excellent actor Guy Pierce plays the louche playboy, Monte, and Evan Rachel Wood plays Veda.
If Stanwyck is a psychotic murderess, Lana Turner is part victim and part murderess and Rita Hayworth as Gilda is totally a victim, in Veda Pierce, we have the femme fatale who is the biggest bitch of them all.