Monday, April 04, 2011
Mildred Pierce Part Three
BLOGGER'S NOTE: This recap contains spoilers, so if you haven't seen Part Three yet, move along.
By Edward Copeland
LAST WEEK: Mildred Pierce looked as if she might finally be catching one of those rainbows she's always chasing during Part Two of last week's installments. When Veda cruelly mocked her after learning of her mother's waitress job, Mildred lied and said it was research into how a restaurant runs so she could open her own. Her story grew from a fib to a plan and with Wally's help, Mildred set out on the path to be a businesswoman. On her last day at the diner, she decided to accompany her handsome final customer, Monty Beragon, for a Santa Barbara swim since the kids were with their grandparents for the weekend. Then, things turned tragic. Upon her return home the next night, she learned that youngest daughter Ray had taken ill and was hospitalized. Many, such as Bert's mother, seemed to blame Mildred for the child's illness because she hadn't been home, as if Ray wouldn't have been sick if Mildred had been there. After it looked as if Ray was out of the woods, everyone left the hospital except for Mildred who stayed. Unfortunately, the poor child took a turn for the worse and died with only Mildred at her side.
Our focus begins on another circular item, though it's not a pie tin bearing either fillings or rocks: It's a hat box with a stuffed bear lying atop it. The camera slowly glides from it to two bare feet, feet belonging to Mildred Pierce still lying in bed next to the only daughter she has now. Veda's slumber continues unabated, but Mildred starts to stir, suddenly opening her eyes with a start and looking over at the empty and made bed that belonged to Ray. It wasn't a nightmare: Ray really died the night before. Some indeterminate amount of time later — days must have passed — Bert sits in the house, in a semi-catatonic state. Lucy tells the grieving parents that people should be arriving soon and Mildred says, sounding as if she's anesthetized, that she needs to get a dress. Lucy asks Bert if he wants a drink, but he declines. "It's right there and I'm right here," Mrs. Kessler tells him, but by the way Bert looks and wanders, it's doubtful any of her offer registered. Lucy takes a seat by Mildred who repeats her need to get a dress. Lucy volunteers to pick one out for her and asks if she wants a veil. "Do you think I should?" Mildred asks. "I wouldn't." There's a knock on the door and Lucy jumps up, telling them she'll get it. When Lucy leaves the room, Bert suddenly turns and says, "She's in heaven, Mildred. She's gotta be in heaven. She was the sweetest, most perfect kid," and Bert breaks down. "If any kid deserved to be in heaven, it's Ray." Mildred tells him that of course she is and two ex-spouses share a tear-filled, mournful embrace.
Bert watches as Mildred begins laying out clothes for Ray to be buried in. The arrival turns out to be Bert's parents who at some point had taken Veda to stay with them. Veda rushes in, full of tears, and embraces her father. Mildred joins the hug and her daughter immediately turns and asks again where she was the night Ray got sick. Mildred once again tells her that she was with friends. "Had I known, I never would have gone," Mildred tells the girl. Soon after, Mildred's decrepit mother arrives as well. All those gathered at Mildred's house watch as men bring Ray's tiny little coffin to the residence, which seems rather odd since Mildred was just gathering the girl's burial clothes. The next cut shows everyone in their funeral clothes at the graveyard where Ray's service is taking place. One portion of Cain's novel that I do wish they had kept was a great part involving Lucy. Mildred was so shattered that Lucy pretty much had to do everything for her and as there was the large gathering at her house, people kept whispering about her absence the night Ray took ill, but Lucy cleverly put the kibosh on it by having flowers delivered and then saying loud enough for everyone to hear that it was from those friends she was visiting telling how sorry they were and how Lucy thought they were the nicest people whenever she and Mildred had visited them before. It served its purpose and shut everyone up.
Life must go on and Mildred has a restaurant opening to prepare for — supplies to buy, though she thinks she may have purchased too many chickens. When she gets back to the restaurant, Wally has a surprise waiting for her, which he insists only cost him $2.11, and Mildred loves it: It's an illuminated glass case perfect for displaying her pies. She has Pancho (Erwin Falcon) get the groceries out of her car and gives her waitress Arline (Halley Feiffer) her vote of approval on how her uniform looks. Mildred and her staff stay busy in the kitchen getting the food ready as Mildred explains how things will be served. Mildred isn't expecting many, being the first night, so they wait. Then come the first arrivals — four. Then two more. "Delicious chicken," one man comments. Mildred expresses thanks and reminds him of their pies to take home. More keep coming in, including Wally and then Bert with Veda. Wally says he used the old Pierce Home mailing list and there might be a mob. Bert asks Wally if he took care of the change in beneficiary on the fire insurance and Wally, being a smart ass, replies, "No, I thought I'd wait until the joint burned down." Veda chimes in, "Mother, I think you've done very well, considering..." Mildred tells her daughter she hoped it would be something they'd be proud of and then she spots Ida coming in. Mildred goes to greet her. Ida apologizes that she's solo, but her husband got a last-minute job. She compliments her on the space and using trays. "Should save you at least one girl. At least," she tells her former co-worker. Mildred says she better get back to the kitchen, but Ida understands, probably the only person in the building who does.
To say the restaurant seems to be a success would be an understatement. To say that opening night has started to spin out of control would be accurate as Mildred and her staff struggle to keep up with a full house of customers and a growing line of patrons waiting to be seated, not to mention the food that still needs to be prepared in the kitchen. Everyone's nerves begin to fray, none more than Mildred's, since this is her dream and as she asks those waiting for seats to be patient and begins to notice tables that are empty, but haven't been cleared, and one with Ida, sitting quietly, apparently yet to have her order taken. When she gets back to the kitchen, Arline is on Pancho's back for washing dishes when they are behind on other things. Mildred tells Arline she needs her clearing tables, prompting a collision and broken plates that need to be cleaned up. Then Mildred spots waffles burning on the waffle iron and rushes to get them off. "Nothing is going out!" Mildred pleads and then in comes Ida to the rescue. "It's the dishes that's doing it." She throws on an apron. Referring to one of the waitresses, Ida says, "Now she ain't no good out there, so let her wipe while he washes and that'll help. Just give us a few seconds and we'll get this train back on the tracks." Mildred's face registers both amazement and gratitude. Lucy sticks her head in, "Hello. Anything I can do?" Mildred tells her no, that everything's under control, but Ida interrupts her. "Of course there is. Follow me." With Ida leading the way carrying a full tray, Lucy follows behind and gets put to work selling the pies.
With Ida serving as engineer, Mildred Pierce's Restaurant returns to running full steam ahead as the owner seemingly floats on air through the dining area, graciously and happily accepting compliments ranging from "It's just terrific" to "I haven't had waffles like that since I was a kid. I love them like that." Even a friendly face can put a brief damper on a party as a woman whom Mildred apparently knows re-introduces herself and tells Mildred how sorry she was to hear about "the little one." It's another remarkable Winslet moment as you watch the joy beaming from her face just seconds before drain from her body as she sadly thanks the woman and turns around to return to the refuge of the kitchen. Ida continues to lead the troops like a confident field marshal and Mildred returns to food preparation when a buoyant Veda comes dancing in, excited with the news of who has just arrived. Mildred, still reeling from the Ray reminder, seems disinterested about who would whip Veda into such a frenzy until the girl utters the name, "Monty Beragon." Mildred feigns ignorance as to who that might be, but Veda fills her in. It seems Mr. Beragon plays polo for Midwick, lives in Pasadena. is rich and good looking and all the girls just wait for new photos of him to appear in newspapers. "He's the keenest," Veda melts. As Veda seems to be getting the vapors, Wally and Bert enter the kitchen as well, also talking wildly of Beragon's appearance almost with as much enthusiasm as Veda did. "He is well known," Bert admits." "I wonder how he got wind of it," Wally asks to no one in particular. Mildred stays quiet. "Evidently, Mildred's reputation as a cook has spread far and wide" Bert chimes in. "That seems sufficient reason in my mind without doing any fancy sleuthing about it." That doesn't satisfy Wally who says, "I've got a notion to find out."
Then, they all become as silent as Mildred as they spot Monty Beragon standing inside the kitchen the door, holding in his hands a long white box wrapped in ribbon. The dumbfounded look LeGros paints on Wally's face is hysterical in its own right, even though we only see the reactions of Bert and Wally as Mildred passes them to greet Monty, who speaks first. "Why didn't you tell me about that little girl?" "I don't know," Mildred says. "I couldn't call anybody." Monty just learned of Ray's death a few moments earlier when Veda shared the news with him. Mildred tells him that Veda seems to be quite an admirer of his. Keeping a stern tone, Monty agrees that Veda's a delight but he wants Mildred to know that if he had had any idea, she would have heard from him. Monty removes the card from the box, which he says was in a humorous vein, and Mildred opens it to see "lovely" flowers. She introduces Monty to a still-stunned Bert and Wally when Ida comes through telling everyone to get out. "We've got two orders up and got three waiting and we're down on biscuits," Ida orders. "Now shoo." The men make their way out of the kitchen and Mildred heads over toward the oven, trying use a potholder to hide her giddy grin.
Having survived the first night, Mildred's close friends and family gather to celebrate her success. She announces that she made $46.37, $10 more than she dreamt of making. Despite her concerns of buying too many chickens when she expected to need no more than 20, Mildred ended up using 24. A thoroughly soused Bert raises a toast "to the best little woman any guy was crazy enough to let get away from him." "You oughta know, you cluck," an equally tipsy Lucy responds. A drunken Wally adds, "Yeah, cut the mush" and the reminder of Ray's favorite phrase brings everyone to a quiet halt. Ida and Monty do their part to try to quickly get the subject back on the restaurant. Mildred realizes how late it is and Ida will need a way home, so she asks Bert to take Veda home since she has school in the morning while she drives Ida back. When Mildred gets home, she's surprised not only to find Veda still up but chatting and laughing with Monty in the living room. It seems that Monty brought her and Bert home and when they dropped Bert off at Maggie Biederhof's, they could see her nude silhouette in the window and her breasts, as Veda put it laughing, "flopped." Soon, all three in the room find this terribly amusing. Mildred takes Veda to bed and Veda tells her how wonderful Monty he is. "He's exactly what we want," the girl says. When Mildred returns to Monty, he tells her he's been staring at her in that dress all night and resisting the urge to bite it off. Mildred proceeds to disrobe and she and Monty make love on the couch. A piano number plays over the entire scene of seduction and sex until we eventualy see that the piano playing comes from Veda playing at some other time as Mildred watches.
Monty and Mildred take another road trip in his convertible and we hear FDR speaking on the radio. As they're stopped at a gas station, Mildred tells Monty, "Don't snicker at me. I'm voting for him. Someone has to put an end to all this Hoover extravagance and balance the budget. And all these people asking for help? You can't tell me people couldn't get along, even if there is a depression, if they had a little gump," Mildred orates. "Yes, ma'am," Monty says with the tone of someone who just wants the person they've been listening to to shut up. Since they are referencing the election, I'm assuming at some point the story has crossed into 1932. It never says so on the screen, but other material indicates that Parts One and Two were to have taken place in 1931 and Part Three would cover 1931-33. Apparently, Mildred picked up on Monty's tone because she accuses him of not listening to her. "Of course I am," he insists. "I find your political views fascinating but we were discussing something else entirely." The gas attendant comes and Monty feigns outrage as Mildred insists she pay for it and then he gets back to the subject at hand. Veda has been discussing her piano lessons and if Mildred really is serious, she should try to get her in with a real teacher, a man he knows in Pasadena by the name of Charlie Hannen. He used to be well-known in the concert field until his lungs cracked up and he moved to Pasadena.
Much of actor Richard Easton's greatest work has been restricted to the stage and Canadian television. He won a Tony for best actor in a play for Tom Stoppard's The Invention of Love in 2001. Among the many great pleasures to be found in Todd Haynes' Mildred Pierce is Easton's single scene appearance as piano teacher Charlie Hannen. We see him as Guy Pearce's Monty continues to speak to Mildred about him in voiceover, describing him as organist and choirmaster at Monty's church, but he takes a few pupils and Monty's confident he can get him interested in Veda. We see Easton as Hannen pacing before a piano, arms folded behind his back. His pacing eventually leads him to a smaller piano where Veda plays furiously. "And you've never studied harmony?" Hannen asks the girl. "Just a little," she replies. Hannen grows stern. "Just a little WHAT?" "I beg your pardon," a confused Veda responds. 'I might warn you Veda with young pupils I mix quite a bit of general instruction in with the musical knowledge. Now, if you don't want a clip on the ear, you'll call me, sir." "Yes, sir," Veda responds. He then tells her to play the bit in the Rachmaninoff the way she said she always wants to play it. She doesn't get very far until Hannen leans over her and says, "Heh heh. If you did the bit like that, you'd be in a little trouble, wouldn't you?" Hannen crosses to the other piano and says, "I really think Rachmaninoff's way is better. I find a touch of banality in yours, don't you?" "What's banality?" Veda asks and then remembers to add, "Sir." "Well, it sounds corny, cheap," he answers. The scene goes on and even if you've seen it, I don't want to go into more detail because it's so wonderful not only to watch Easton act but to see Veda put in her place by someone with an earned sense of superiority. It really isn't pivotal to Mildred Pierce as a whole, but it might be one of a handful of my favorite scenes in the entire five-part miniseries.
With Veda accepted as a student of Hannen's, Mildred asks Bert if she can borrow his parents' piano for awhile. She wants to buy Veda a real grand piano, but she shouldn't take on more debt right now. She figures if she can open an account, she'll have enough saved to buy her one by next Christmas, though she makes Bert promise not to tell anyone. Mildred drives out to Pasadena to pick up Veda and endures strange stares from the other members of the Polo Club where Veda is watching Monty play, though perhaps they are in a bad mood because they can hear FDR's inaugural address on the radio, meaning we must have hit March 1933 already. Back at the restaurant later, the kitchen staff and Lucy are listening to news about the impending repeal of Prohibition and Lucy asks Mildred if she's given any thought to how that affects her. Mildred says she really hasn't, but Lucy says she should. Lucy says that people are itching to drink legally again and if she stays dry, they won't just come for the chicken. "It's going to put the restaurant industry back on its feet," Lucy tells her. Lucy tells her she'd be the bartender for 10% plus tips and guesses it would only cost $500. Mildred then tells her the financial truths she has to consider: She has loans, hasn't made much of a dent in Veda's piano fund and while everyone thinks Monty is flush, his business went bust last month and she supports him. Lucy convinces Mildred that if she doesn't sell liquor, the restaurant could be at risk.
With the restaurant remade and selling legal booze, Mildred and Monty watch the liquor-swilling customers. Monty tells her that Lucy was right: With an 80% profit on alcohol and all this business, she made exactly the right move. Mildred doesn't want to talk about it and Monty asks her why. She says Wally tells her she has no choice. She then asks Beragon if that's his third drink. "I don't know. Who's counting?" he asks. Mildred suddenly grills him about whether he mentioned the grand piano plan (indefinitely delayed due to the liquor makeover) to Veda. Mildred says she can't bear to disappoint Veda, but Monty swears he hasn't mentioned a word about it. Mildred asks Monty if they can leave. Once home, Mildred asks Monty if he can take Veda to get a new dress after practice. He says she doesn't need a new dress to meet his mother, but Mildred says it's for more than that, and then says he should take Veda to dinner and she'll meet them after the rush and gives him a handful of bills which she says is for dinner and gasoline. "Your paid gigolo thanks you," Monty replies, holding the cash in the air. Mildred looks for a moment as if she's going to let the comment slide, but she can't and tells Monty she doesn't think that's very nice. "Is that the only reason you come here?" she asks him. "Not at all," Monty says, actually sounding sincere. "Come what may. Swing high, swing low, you are still the best piece of tail I've ever had — or could imagine." That sincerity meter didn't stay on long, or at least stay polite. Mildred tells Monty to go home. Now, Mildred has Monty just plain puzzled. "Baby, the time to worry is when those type of feelings just go bust not when they're going strong. I was just paying you a compliment," Beragon insists. "If you told me that and you intended it as a compliment, then it might have been one, I don't know," Mildred says, "but when you tell me that and it's the only thing you have to tell me, then it's not a compliment. It's the worst thing anyone can say." Monty decides that Mildred is after the "I love you" scene, but Mildred says no, she just wants him to go home because he looks down on her and always has because she cooks and works for a living. "I've got news for you," she tells him, "you are the one who is going to have to start working." He says he will once he sells his house and gets that settled, but she says he'd rather keep the swanky address, show up at the club, have dinner with Veda and live off her than actually look for a job. Monty sort of whispers that she's right, but he's in seduction mode now, removing his robe and trying to free Mildred of hers, which he does successfully.
Christmas time has arrived at the restaurant: Lucy tends bar; employees get bonuses; Veda dines with Monty; Wally and Bert also are present. Only Mildred seems edgy, telling the staff to keep it down. At home, she and Veda have a quiet Christmas and Mildred brings out a small box for her daughter who says something about saving the best for last with a mischievous grin on her face. Mildred tells her it's not what she wanted to get her, but she hopes she likes it and you can see the anger on Veda's face as she sees that it's a wristwatch. She gives her mother a curt thank you, but it's obvious that someone had spilled the beans and led her to expect a grand piano. Veda starts to sulk off when the phone rings. It's Bert. She tells him how much she adores the boots he got her. When Mildred gets on the phone with Bert, he asks what Veda was talking about and Mildred says someone must have tipped her off and Bert swears it wasn't him. Mildred tells him that she got her a wristwatch and Bert says Veda has nothing to complain about. She'll get the piano when Mildred can afford it. When Mildred goes back to the other room, she sees the other phone still off the hook, suspecting Veda had listened in on her conversation with Bert. Mildred suggest Veda make a list of who gave her what so she'll know who to thank and Veda suddenly growls, "Christ, I hate this dump." "Anything in particular you object to?" "No mother and don't start changing things around just to try to please me," the girl spits. "No, nothing in particular. Just every lousy, stinking part of it. And if it would burn down tomorrow, I wouldn't shed a tear." Veda then lights a cigarette. Mildred tells Veda that she'll put out the cigarette and pick up that match. "Like hell I will." Mildred marches over and slaps her daughter's face, but Veda slaps her back before bitching about Glendale some more, taking a seat and continuing to smoke. "You actually think he'd marry you," Veda says, referring to Monty. "If I were willing," Mildred fires back. "Stupid. Don't you know what he sees in you?" the daughter asks the mother. "Probably the same thing you do," Mildred guesses. "No, it's your legs," Veda replies. "He said that to you?" Mildred asks. Veda continues her class torture of her mother over what Monty has told her such as "Never take the mistress if you can get the maid" and making a point that he still wears custom shoes. Mildred is ready to slap the monster she has spawned down on that one. "They should be — they cost me enough. Oh, you didn't know that one, did you?" She tells her daughter it's not just shoes she's been paying for for the past four months. "So, no Ms. Pierce, it's not my legs he likes me for, it's my money." She also tells her that's why he carts Veda everywhere, but her money ends now too and the piano she has is the one she'll always have until she apologizes for everything she's said. Mildred then storms out of the house. It's a sad farewell, for viewers at least, because it's the final scene for the great little actress Morgan Turner. When we see Veda again, she'll be played by Evan Rachel Wood, but in my opinion Turner was phenomenal and they gave her a great final scene.
Later, on New Year's Eve during a driving rain storm, Mildred has dolled herself up to go to Monty's. Lucy warns her that with the weather the way it is, she would be just as well off sending him a wire, but Mildred tells her she promised herself she was doing it that night and she was doing it, so she hits the hazardous roads. The rain beats down so hard, she can barely see, but she makes it to Monty's. She asks when the other guests are coming, but Monty says there are no others with the storm. Mildred says she's going home then. Then she's finally out with it, demanding to know how he could tell her young daughter those things. He asks Mildred if she thinks Veda doesn't know where she's been when he takes her off at night and brings her back in the morning. She even asks him how many times they did it. "Do you tell her?" "Sure. She greatly admires my capacity and yours." Then the two start having it out about their lifestyles and how Veda actually has lots of friends, just not in Glendale, but Mildred doesn't have any except for that bartender. Beragon tries his old trick of turning it into a seduction, but it doesn't work and Mildred takes off running.
Back in the car, hardly able to see, Mildred dodges downed trees and tries to follow detour signs until her car finally gets stuck in a flooded out road. Fortunately, some policemen rescue her and bring her home wrapped in a blanket. Veda stands on the sidewalk, seeming concerned, but Mildred brushes her off and Lucy as well, who just holds the door open for her as she goes inside.