With all the attention that the new HBO miniseries “Mildred Pierce” has been getting, I thought it would be fun to revisit the original from 1945. I hadn’t seen it since I was a teenager and all I really remembered about it was Joan Crawford, her fur coat, and the murder in the beach house. Watching it again, I was struck by how amazing all the sets were, from the Spanish bungalow the Pierce family lived in to Monte Beragon’s fabulous beach house.
Mildred Pierce’s House in Glendale:
Mildred Pierce is a classic example of 1940s film noir. It opens with a murder and then we see what happened in a series of flashbacks until the mystery of who fired the gun is revealed at the end. The famous tagline for the movie was “Please Don’t Tell Anyone What Mildred Pierce Did!”
Mildred’s house on Corvallis Street in Glendale is shown as a one-story Spanish-style bungalow, but the interior set has a staircase leading to a second story with the bedrooms.
The Pierce family: Bert, Mildred, Veda and Kay:
Joan Crawford was 40 and considered a “has-been” after a string of flops at MGM. Michael Curtiz had to be convinced to cast her. He originally wanted Bette Davis, but she turned it down.
Mildred says she feels like she was born in the kitchen. When times get tough, she gets cookin’! After husband Bert loses his job as a real estate agent (“Suddenly no one was buying any more”), she makes ends meet by baking cakes.
The trailer says, “She gave her daughter everything. But everything wasn’t enough.”
The Remake with Kate Winslet
This photo (above) was taken as they filmed in the Gables area of Merrick, New York, which passes for Glendale in 1935 (more info and photos at Awards Daily):
They went for a more realistic Depression-era look with the sets than the original.
There was no murder in the novel. In fact, a lot of things were changed for the original movie to make it more palatable for 1940s audiences. Downplaying Mildred’s affairs, for instance. The new miniseries is sticking much more closely to the book than the movie did.
One of the most memorable images from the original movie was the stylish restaurant that Mildred opened, with her name scrolled across the top in lights.
Mildred’s office at the restaurant is so big that you know she’s hit the big-time!
The Beragon Beach House (aka “Scene of the Crime”)
Monte Beragon’s beach house was actually owned by the film’s director, Michael Curtiz. It was built in 1929 and stood on Latigo Shore Drive in Malibu. Sadly, it collapsed into the ocean after a week of heavy storms in January 1983.
After Wally Fay (played by Jack Carson) finds the corpse in the beach house and runs outside, the cops yell, “Hey, you, stop right there!” and then shoot at him. They don’t know who he is or even that there’s a body inside the house, so it always makes me laugh that they immediately draw their guns.
Monte keeps a closet full of bathing suits for unexpected lady visitors. He explains, “They belong to my sisters.”
Mildred: “There’s nothing like having a large family! All of your sisters seem to be my size.”
Monte: “I like them your size. Here’s to brotherly love.”
The front entry has a big, gorgeous window overlooking the water:
A test shot of the beach house set taken before filming began (via the Joan Crawford Encyclopedia):
The beach house in the remake isn’t nearly as glam in it as it was in the original. It’s more like a beach shack, which I found kind of disappointing.
Filming the fireplace love scene:
The house has its own bar in the lower level:
Jack Carson, who played Fay, would disappear from Hollywood for weeks at a time to secretly perform as a clown in the circus. Audiences never knew it was him, and he enjoyed the anonymity. “They loved me and my routines,” he said.
Shirley Temple was originally considered for the part of Mildred’s older daughter Veda, but it went to Ann Blyth instead. She was 17 at the time and was nominated for Best Supporting Actress.
How do you think the remake compared to the original? Right now I’m reading the novel it was based on by James M. Cain, and it’s interesting to see what they added — and what they left out of the movie!