Comparing Movie and Book Versions of Cain's Mildred Pierce
I pity the screenwriter who had to adapt the novel, Mildred Pierce, from 289 pages down to an hour and 57 minute movie. The main character, Mildred Pierce, repeatedly steps out of the traditional role for women of that era, and challenges society’s norms about class. Significant changes were made to the plot while converting it from book to movie. These changes add up to a significant difference in the meaning.
In both the book and the movie, the story is about a housewife who dramatically changes her life. She kicks out her unfaithful husband and starts making a living on her own. Her life’s desire is to win the love of ...view middle of the document...
Other characters, such as Wally Fay, say many of their key lines. Maggie Beiderhoff, Bert’s mistress, is not characterized as a hussy, contrary to the book. Bert’s character is cold and hardened, not at all the happy, bubbly guy he is in the novel. He is jealous and proud, similar to the book, but he doesn’t seem to like Veda. In fact, in the movie Bert says that he actually wants to smack Veda because she’s stuck up.
The main character is very sexually liberated for women at the time. Showing this kind of theme in a movie was frowned upon at the time. For instance, in the movie, Wally tries to seduce Mildred. Whereas, in the book Mildred seduces Wally in order to trap him into marriage. In the book the woman has the power, but when made into the movie, the roles are reversed.
In fact the movie just hints at sexual attraction or relations. People didn’t talk about sex openly back then, so there was a kind of code of conduct which doesn’t apply nowadays. When watching such a complex movie we can’t always catch all the subtleties. For example, while out in the car with Mildred, Wally whispers something, to which Mildred replies “I don’t feel romantic.” “I don’t felt romantic” was a way of saying “I don’t feel like having sex.” Today, one could miss that sexual innuendo. In the book, Cain was much more direct.
The screenwriter decided to make the novel into a murder mystery filmed with chiaroscuro lighting, (high contrast between light and dark), in the typical film noir fashion. The term film noir is used to describe “crime films featuring cynical malevolent characters in a sleazy setting and an ominous atmosphere that is conveyed by shadowy photography and foreboding background music.” (“Film Noir”) The movie begins with a murder, the inciting incident, once again typical of film noir, which doesn’t take place in the book. This type of film was popular at the...