Welcome back to the wonderful world of Mildred Pierce. We rejoin our leading lady loading up pie plates with rocks in her bedroom so she can practice carrying multiple laden dishes. Smart. The lyrics to the no doubt carefully chosen song are “I’m always chasing rainbows, watching clouds passing by,” for those who are interested in such things.
Mildred’s practice is interrupted by the sound of the front door closing and the kids squealing happily. She goes downstairs and finds Bert, who explains he stopped by to pick up a few things he left in his desk. Mildred smiles and invites him to put his feet up for a while. The girls happily fill him in on their doings, and then Vita asks him if he’d like a Scotch, in that very hoity-toity proper way of hers. Bert seems surprised there’s Scotch to be had, considering it’s illegal and all, but he says he’s cool with a drink, so Mildred, her smile getting tight, goes to fetch it.
Veda joins her in the kitchen and asks if she needs a hand, and her mother furiously asked her who told her it was OK to go snooping around in her closet, where the liquor was hidden. Hiding liquor in your closet? Isn’t that usually a bad sign? Then again, like I said, it’s illegal still. Veda calmly says she didn’t know there was any secret about it. Yeah, sure, Veda, that’s why it was hidden in the closet. Because it wasn’t a secret. Please. Mildred scolds her for offering the drink in the first place and tells her to lay off in future. “Very well, mother, it shall be as you say,” Veda sighs, bored. Mildred snaps at her to stop talking like she just wandered out of an Austen novel. Thank you, Mildred. Veda complains that things have gotten so stingy around the house lately, as if peasants had taken over. Mildred asks her if she even knows what a peasant is. No, she doesn’t. She just knows a peasant is “a very ill-bred person.” What a nasty piece of work. Instead of correcting her or trying to teach her daughter something, Mildred just sighs and hands her the tray with the Scotch and glasses on it. As they return to the den, Mildred pauses by Bert’s jacket draped over a chair and pulls the car key out of his pocket.
Back with the family, Bert hands the kids glasses filled with 99.9% water and just a drop of Scotch, then hands a stiffer one to Mildred. Veda tries to be all grown up and asks her father what he thinks of the current economic situation, and he actually speaks to her like she’s an intelligent person, which is nice. Then he starts goofing off with Rae, who briefly pretends to be drunk, and Mildred regains her good humor, watching her husband with the girls he clearly loves very much. She finally has to break up the party, though, and sends the girls off to bed, suggesting Bert tuck them in.
Later, Bert’s ready to go, but he can’t find the car key. Mildred readily fesses up to taking it, telling him she needs the car now, because she’s working and needs to get around, while all he’s doing is lying around with some other woman. “You’re working?” Bert says, in a surprised but not condescending way. Mildred confirms it. “Well, why didn’t you say so?” he says, rather cutely. Now she’s won, Mildred backs off her fiery attitude and offers to drive him home. He thanks her, humbly.
After dropping Bert off, Mildred takes a few moments to enjoy being behind the wheel, flooring it all the way to 40 mph.
At the diner, Mildred’s clearly finding her footing, speaking confidently with the chef, managing the handsy customer ably, and apologizing to a regular for the crappy pie. Hmmm. Handsy guy, Mr. Rand, flirts with her as she makes her way back to the kitchen, where Ida is complaining to the owner about the crappy pie. Hear that, everyone? The pie’s lousy. And Mildred makes pies! OK, I think we get it.
As they’re getting ready to leave, Mildred asks Ida what the owner pays for the pies. Ida doesn’t know, but she knows if he’s paying anything he’s being cheated. Mildred tells her that she makes really, really good pies, and she’d be happy to sell him some that would be a feature at the restaurant. Ida tells her to bring in a sample. Mildred offers to bring some in the next day, so Ida tells her to go right ahead. Mildred offers her a ride home, which helps win Ida over a little more. She tells Mildred to bring in a lemon, a pumpkin, and an apple pie the next day, and Ida will see they get served. She’ll find out what the owner pays for the pies, too. Mildred happily thanks her.
The following day, the owner emerges into the restaurant, where the pies are going like hotcakes. He seems satisfied, and Mildred seems pleased. She and the other waitresses go out to a dive bar for a drink to celebrate her success—she’ll be making 35 pies a week at $.35 each. Wow, 35 pies a week? Where will she find the time for that? Even Mildred realizes she’s going to need a bit of help.
Back home, Mildred, Rae, and a woman we’ve never seen before (Lettie) busily work at making the pies while Veda wanders around doing jack all. Put that girl to work, Mildred, it’ll do her some good!
After doing a bit of shopping, Mildred comes home to a ringing phone and a supposedly empty house. She picks up the phone and chats with Lucy for a bit, sharing for all of us that she just got another restaurant contract. As they talk, Lettie comes wandering into the kitchen wearing Mildred’s waitress uniform. As soon as Mildred catches sight of her, her face falls in horror. She quickly hangs up with Lucy and asks Lettie where she got the uniform. Lettie tells her “Miss Veda” made her put it on. She also makes Lettie call her “Miss Veda.” Charming. Mildred heads off right away to have a set to with Veda, and for some reason, she doesn’t tell Lettie to take the damn uniform off, although I would have. That’s some serious gall for a kid to start ordering people to wear uniforms and address her like she’s mistress of the house.
Veda and Rae are playing in the office when Mildred bursts in and furiously asks Veda where she found the uniform, which was hidden in her closet. You’d think that after the liquor bottle fiasco Mildred would find a new hiding place. Veda lies that she was just in there looking for a handkerchief. Mildred calls BS on that and asks Veda why Lettie’s wearing it. Veda boredly explains that she figures Mildred bought the uniforms for Lettie and if Lettie’s going to be carting the girls’ things to the pool, then she should be properly dressed. Woah! Where the hell does this kid get off? Where does she get these ideas? Does she have rich friends or something? Rae chimes in that Lettie’s made to walk two steps behind them to the pool, and she has to carry their bags both ways. Good God! Mildred, take these kids in hand and tell them this is NOT OK! I can see now why they recast Lettie as a white girl in this version (or maybe that’s true to the novel, I have no idea). Can you imagine the uproar if they’d kept her as a black woman, as she was in the ’45 version, and we were hearing this?
Lettie comes to the door of the study, still dressed in the uniform, and both girls laugh at her like it’s the funniest thing they’ve ever seen. Gah. Instead of, I don’t know, parenting and telling the girls exactly why this is inappropriate, making them apologize to Lettie, and then forcing them to do the dishes or something actually useful, Mildred does nothing and instead allows Veda to take control of the situation. Veda condescendingly tells her mother that she’s making a big fuss over nothing, because naturally she bought the uniforms for Lettie, so why shouldn’t she wear them? Mildred says nothing to her horrible elder daughter; instead she just drags Rae off for her bath. This is why Veda is the way she is, because she always gets away with it. And Rae will be just like her if they’re not careful, because she sees what’s going on with Veda and will naturally start to emulate her. We’re already seeing it, the way she laughed at poor Lettie.
That night, Mildred heads into the kitchen and corners Veda, and asks her once again why she gave Lettie the uniform. Veda musters up all the obnoxious attitude at her command and sighs that she’s already explained this, and she’s going to bed now. Mildred catches up with her in the living room and tells Veda the uniform’s hers, as she well knows. Mildred confesses she’s working as a waitress in Hollywood, which horrifies Veda. Mildred lays down the facts: they had to eat and have a place to live, so she took the only job she could. Mildred, a little dumbly, can’t imagine how Veda figured it all out.
“From the uniform, stupid, do you think I’m dumb?” Veda brats. That earns her a sharp slap across the face, but instead of just shutting up, she keeps right on going, shouting the pies were bad enough, but now Mildred’s degrading them all by being a waitress. Mildred snaps, takes the kid across her lap, and starts spanking her with her bare hand. I’m not an advocate of hitting your child or child abuse or anything like that, but this kid sorely needed a spanking. She might not have needed it if she’d had effective parenting from the get-go, but it’s too late to go back now, and she needs a good humbling. If I were Mildred, I’d be tempted to make her wear the uniform for a day, and to do all the chores around the house as well.
Veda screams bloody murder and finally Mildred, spent, stops spanking her and wails in frustration as Veda eases away onto a chair across the room, once again sniping about her mother being a waitress. This girl doesn’t learn, does she? She finally, oh so generously, says she’ll just try not to think about it. How big of you. Mildred admits she felt the same way Veda did but—and it’s clear this idea is just occurring to her here—she needed to learn the restaurant business, because she wants to open a place of her own. Veda actually approves of this idea, because there can be money in a restaurant, if you run it right, according to Mildred. Mildred promises it’ll be a fine restaurant, something they can be proud of. Veda finally comes down off her throne of snobbery and apologizes for being wretched. She thinks it’s just mah-velous what Mildred’s planning. They hug, all forgiven, and for some reason Mildred tells Veda that she was right and Mildred was wrong. Greeaaat. Awesome thing to tell her, like she needed confirmation. Mildred tells her never to give up the way she has of looking at things. Like they’re completely and utterly beneath her? Yeah, that’s a great way to go through life. If you want to alienate everyone and be hated and miserable. Awesome advice, mom!
Mildred promises that things are going to get better for them from then on, and maybe they’ll be rich. And if they are, it’ll all be on account of Veda, that everything good that happens is because of Veda. Come again? Name one good thing that’s happened because of this snotty brat.
At the restaurant, Mildred makes her way into the kitchen and starts looking around attentively, watching as a busboy throws away a bunch of food, taking note of the owner going over the books. Later, she wanders through a restaurant supply shop, taking notes, then walks down the street, peeking at restaurants’ menus along the way and making more notes.
At night, Wally comes pattering out of Mildred’s bathroom, wearing only boxers, and turns sideways as he’s putting on his undershirt, giving us a nice, lingering look at his overhanging gut. Charming. And why is she still sleeping with this guy? I thought she kind of hated him.
Mildred, sitting at her vanity, asks him if he could help her pull together a business proposal for her to give a potential investor. Wally asks her to back up and tell him exactly what she’s planning, so Mildred tells him she wants to open a little restaurant where all they serve is chicken. Uh, ok. It starts to make sense when she points out that they have steak places and fish places, but at the diner every other order is for chicken. If all she served was chicken, she wouldn’t have to worry about tons of waste, or printing menus, since all she’d serve is chicken and veg or chicken and waffles for a flat price. She’d have the pies too, for takeout, and she’d keep up the wholesale pie business too. She wants to give the proposal to Mr. Rand, the handsy regular, because she thinks he has money. Wally tells her that, if she thinks she can pull this off, he’s got an idea that would allow her to do it without an investor. Sounds too good to be true to me.
Wally takes her to see what is, essentially, an early model home for Pierce Homes. It can’t be sold as a home and is just sitting around collecting dust, but Wally thinks it could be perfect for the restaurant, since it’s got a big dining room, pantry, kitchen. He says if she wants to take it over, she can have it, because they have to unload this place somehow, and quickly, because the receivers need to show losses within the next month. Mildred, like me, is a bit skeptical of this deal, but Wally says that once someone takes title to a property in California, they can get all the credit they need. Really? Even in 1931? How many banks were crashing? Where’s this credit coming from?
Mildred still can’t believe the place can just be given away, there has to be someone else who has a claim to it. Wally admits that there were some original incorporators sniffing around the property, but they’re not going to get past the Feds. The only problem is Bert, who was one of the original incorporators, which for some reason means she can’t just take over the property, because she and Bert are married. I have no idea how all this works, so I’m just going to go with it. I still feel like Mildred’s getting herself into a sticky situation, though, and it’s going to come back and bite her in the ass someday. Wally suggests she get a divorce, but Mildred’s not too enthusiastic about the idea. She says she’ll think about it.
Bert’s not enthusiastic either, and he thinks this whole plan is a bunch of nonsense (her just helping herself to a building, not her opening a restaurant. From what we’ve seen of Bert, I bet he’d support her in that). Tempers start to get a bit heated, but Bert finally manages to calm himself and tells her he’d been planning on giving Mildred their house outright, so she and the kids would definitely have a place to live. Mildred accepts and thanks him, then apologizes for having said unkind things in the past. He apologizes for having intimated Wally’s out to scam them somehow and tells her if she’s got something going on with Wally, that’s cool with Bert. She makes it sound like the idea’s absurd, and Bert, sounding relieved, laughs that he knew there could never be anything between her and “that fat slob.” Mildred manages not to cringe.
Bert gets back to business and says they’ll have to settle on a cause. Mildred morosely jokes that he’ll have to hit her. “You sound like Veda. She’s always wanting to be hit,” says Bert. WHAT? Can you please clarify that totally bizarre statement? Instead of being totally weirded out by that, like any normal person would be, Mildred sighs that she’s glad there’s a little of Veda in her after all. That’s a totally backwards way of thinking about the parent-child relationship, I think. Bert and Mildred look at each other, and her face crumbles. He tries to stay stoic, but you can tell this is totally wrecking him. This is some great work from the actor playing Bert. I feel like he’s a bit of an unsung hero in this cast.
Having settled things, Mildred bids him goodnight with a hug. Bert claps his hat on his head and walks off into the night.
Mildred pours her heart out to Lucy, admitting she feels like she’s picking this poor man’s bones, having taken the kids, the car, the house, and now forcing through a divorce so she can have the restaurant. “He just looked so pitiful,” Mildred whispers. “They all do, baby. That’s what gets us,” Lucy sagely tells her.
The only way to go is forward at this point. Mildred packs the kids up for a weekend with their dad and grandparents at the beach. She hustles them out the door to school, gives them kisses, and tells them to have fun before hurrying to the future restaurant with Wally, where workmen are hard at work, installing fixtures and painting. Wally tells her it’s looking good, and she gets all excited for a while, then swirls out to go to the diner for her very last day.
Ida and the other waitresses are finishing up their breakfast. Ida introduces the new girl, and a customer comes in. Mildred volunteers to take him, so the others can finish eating. The customer’s Guy Pearce, with a truly unfortunate floppy-haired style that really doesn’t work for him at all. He grouses about the foolishness of menus for a minute, then reels off an impressive breakfast order that she memorizes immediately. Our girl’s come far. He mentions he’s heading to Santa Barbara and she sighs that she wishes she could go. He invites her to come along and she smiles before going to fill his order. When she returns with his orange juice and coffee, he once again invites her to come along. They banter a bit, but then the new girl slips and falls with a crash, so Mildred leaves her flirting for later and goes to help her.
In the kitchen, Mildred tells Ida she thinks she’s making the new girl nervous, so maybe she should leave early? And leave them short-staffed while they’re training someone. How nice of you, Mildred. Ida nonetheless tells Mildred to run along and sincerely wishes her luck with the new place. Mildred takes the customer’s breakfast out and tells him she’ll be coming along to Santa Barbara after all, as long as they can stop by her house so she can drop off her car and pick up a few things.
Later, the two of them climb into his big, shiny convertible and take off, Mildred grinning like a kid who’s just skived off school successfully. She admits she can’t believe she’s doing this, because this isn’t the sort of thing she does often. Guy introduces himself as Monty Beragon. She jumped into a car with a total stranger whose name she didn’t even know to take off to Santa Barbara without telling anyone where she was going? Man, different times.
At Monty’s, which is kind of a shacky-looking place, from the interiors, Mildred makes small talk with him while she changes into her swimsuit. He tells her one of his forbears was one of the original Spanish settlers. The two of them go running down to the water like children and embrace in the surf. That night, they make love, and clearly Winslet’s gone back on that “I won’t do any more nudity” promise. It’s a nice scene, and if I had to guess, Mildred just had her first ever orgasm.
Much, much later, Mildred and Monty are relaxing in the living room of the love shack. She asks him what he does, and the short answer is: nothing. He loafs. He owns part of a fruit export company that sends him a check every quarter, although Sunkist and some of the other big companies are making life a bit harder for him. Mildred can’t believe the guy does nothing and asks if he ever wants to do anything. Monty asks her why he would. I can’t help but agree. I’d totally loaf if I could.
In the early hours of the day, Monty drives Mildred home, but first she asks him to detour past her new restaurant. She turns on the lights of the sign—the place is unimaginatively being called “Mildred’s”. She delightedly shows the place off. Monty seems to think it’s nifty that she’s a businesswoman. She admits she’s sort of fallen for him. In a day? Girl moves fast. They make out for a little while, and then he drives her home. He asks her when she’s opening and she tells him in about two weeks. He promises to be there, and she smiles and floats back towards her house.
Mildred’s allowed to be blissful for all of three seconds before one of her neighbors grabs her attention. Mildred’s a little bewildered by the woman’s appearance. Has this poor neighbor been sitting outside Mildred’s house waiting for her all night? It’s still dark out! Poor lady. The lady tells Mildred that Rae came down with flu and they took her to the hospital because Mildred wasn’t home.
Mildred races to the hospital, where Bert finds her and leads her to Rae’s room. The little girl’s not looking too good. Veda, who’s hovering in the doorway with her grandparents, says Rae was running a temperature, but they thought she’d be ok, but then the temp shot up. Rae manages to open her eyes and sees Mildred as a man is wheeled into the room on a gurney. The doctor explains that they’ll be giving Rae a blood transfusion—the man on the gurney’s the donor—to try and bring down Rae’s temperature. Does that really work? Whatever, I’m not a doctor. The doctor says he’s especially concerned about Rae’s high temperature, and a strange pimple-like thing on her upper lip, which could get infected. They’ve sent samples and smears to the lab to try and figure out what’s going on.
Bert leads Mildred to the waiting area, explaining that Rae just seemed a little tired at first, but then this temperature appeared, so he called the family doctor, who told them to take Rae to the hospital. His mother butts in to say they only took her to the hospital because Mildred wasn’t home to take care of her kid. Thanks, lady. Helpful. Veda turns on the waterworks and asks Mildred where she was.
Mildred’s spared having to explain by the appearance of the doctor, who informs them Rae’s temperature and pulse are down. She’s reacting well to the transfusion, but they’ll be keeping an eye on her. He advises they all head home to get some rest. Mildred asks Bert to take Veda home, because she’ll be staying at the hospital. Once they’re all gone, Mildred wanders the halls, catching sight of herself, looking worn and haggard, in a plane of glass. Seems like ages ago you were with Monty, doesn’t it?
Later, she’s wakened from a no doubt restless sleep on a hard bench by what sounds like a school bell ringing frantically. Nurses start racing around, which is never a good sign. Mildred wakes right up and follows them and the doctor to Rae’s room, where the little girl’s got a nasty chill. They start packing hot water bottles around her, but just as suddenly she starts running a high temperature. A nurse taking her pulse starts counting it off. It’s getting higher by the second. Mildred stands at the foot of the child’s bed, wringing her hands helplessly as the doctors and nurses scurry. Rae convulses, then lies still. The nurse quietly says there’s no pulse. The doctor’s not willing to give up and gives Rae an adrenaline injection. Nothing. He tries another, then another. No go. He goes for a fourth, but Mildred tearfully tells him to stop. The doctors step away from the bed, looking sad, and Mildred takes her daughter’s hand and kisses it. She walks out of the room, stunned and shaken, then goes and calls Mrs. B’s to tell Bert the news. Bert isn’t there, so Mildred asks Mrs. B to tell him that Rae died a few minutes ago. Mrs. B rather sweetly tells Mildred how very sorry she is and Mildred thanks her.
Mildred drives herself home, and when she gets there, she’s so exhausted she falls on the grass and takes a minute to get back up. Inside, she goes up to Veda’s room, where she curls up in bed with her now only daughter and sobs heartbreakingly.