Mildred Pierce, Part V

Previously on Mildred Pierce: Mildred opened a chain of restaurants but was still unable to please the dreadful Veda, who finally took one step too far when she wound up blackmailing some poor sap. So, Mildred kicked her out of the house, and Veda became a singing star.

Mildred intercepts Mr. Treviso as he’s leaving the music school and introduces herself as Veda’s mother. That immediately puts the man on his guard. Mildred fails to notice and plows on, telling him she’d like him to start forwarding Veda’s bills directly to her. Treviso tells her no way and excuses himself. Mildred gapes for a bit and follows him outside to protest. Treviso speaks for the audience when he asks Mildred why she wants this girl back so badly anyway. He continues to be awesome by going on to say that Veda’s a really talented coloratura, but a spectacularly awful human being, and he’s not interested in pissing her off.  Plus, Veda warned him that, after she was on the radio, her pathetic mother would probably come around and start trying to pay for the lessons, and if that was the case, he was to send her packing. Wow, does Veda have her mother pegged or what? How does she know Mildred so well and Mildred knows Veda so little?

All depressed, Mildred gets back in  her car and starts driving around, taking in the local color on the sidewalk, when whom should she spot by Monty, hanging around, doing absolutely nothing, which is one of the few things he’s good at. She pulls over and calls out to him. He’s surprised to see her, naturally, but they chat amiably enough. She offers to give him a lift to where he’s going and, after one refusal, he gets in and they drive off. They wind up at the diner where they first met and spend a little while catching up. He asks after Veda and Mildred lies flat out and says Veda took an apartment on her own because she didn’t like having the neighbors hear her practice. God forbid the rubes in Glendale should hear the great coloratura work on her scales. She keeps up the pretense for all of five seconds before, out of nowhere, she admits she hasn’t spoken to Veda in months. Monty thinks this is just a phase and Veda will come back eventually. Seems Mildred may have a plan in that direction, although she doesn’t directly say so: she’s planning to move from Glendale to Pasadena, and she wants Monty to show her around, since he knows Pasadena so well. Monty agrees, and off they go.

Monty and Mildred drive up and down wide, tree-lined streets, looking at palatial homes while Monty goes on at length about where she should and shouldn’t be living. They eventually end up at his house, shockingly enough, and it’s in an even sorrier state than the last time we saw it, although it’s clearly a beautiful mansion. They start to walk through the house and she asks what the asking price is. $30,000 for those interested. Wow. Could you imagine buying an estate for $30K? Monty takes her upstairs and offers her a drink. Before long, as it always does with these two, drinking leads to flirting, and flirting leads to sex, and somehow the sex scenes between these two continue to be somewhat uncomfortable to watch.

Later, they’re cuddled up in bed together, and Mildred wonders how she could ever live in this house without him. Monty says he always thought she’d make someone a nice wife, and she asks him if that’s a proposal. He says it is if she moves to Pasadena, so she agrees. Monty gets this strange look on his face, like he just realized he did a terrible thing. But, I guess he figures it’s too late to go back now.

Mildred heads off to work, where she writes some checks for a supplier while the staff listens to Veda on the radio. Mildred also meets with the bookkeeper and tells her she needs a raise, from $300 a week to $400 a week. The bookkeeper’s uncomfortable with that, because it means she’ll have to transfer funds from the corporate reserve and cut cash. Mildred says fine, so the woman goes to do what Mildred says.

After work, she returns to her new palace, where workmen are busy restoring the interiors and exteriors, and new furniture is filling the once-empty rooms. Mildred tells Monty the place is looking great. Monty takes her to the breakfast room, where he’s constructed a sweet shrine to her business success. Aww, that’s actually kind of cute.

Mildred and Monty marry at city hall and are showered with rice by Lucy and, presumably, Lucy’s husband before returning to their estate for a bit party with Monty’s Pasadena pals and Mildred’s crew, which includes Bert. Bert congratulates her sincerely and reveals he’s no longer with Mrs. B, who returned to her supposedly dead husband after he struck oil. Mildred says she’s sorry to hear it, and then she’s drawn aside by Ida, who can’t seem to get the books from the previous month to balance and wants to talk with Mildred about it. Mildred begs off for the night and goes to find Monty. She learns from a servant that he just returned to the house with a young lady, and Mildred gets all excited, thinking Veda’s returned to the fold, but it’s just some random guest who went with him to get olives. Mildred deflates and starts whining a bit about how she sent Veda an invitation and everything, and Monty tells her not to stress. Right on cue, someone inside the party starts to sing, attracting the attention of all the guests. Mildred hurries in, and sure enough, it’s Veda. As soon as Mildred walks into the room, Veda launches into The Wedding March. That’s appropriate, since the wedding in that opera ended in a horrific bloodbath. Mildred doesn’t seem to consider that at all, she’s so happy to see her evil offspring. Mother and daughter embrace, and everyone applauds.

Later, Veda and Mildred settle down with Monty and a few others to catch up. Monty asks how she got into singing and Veda tells them it was all an accident. She went the philharmonic one night and was humming the music that was being played as she walked back to her car, and Treviso overheard her and offered to give her lessons, so she went, and the rest is history. And now here she is, settling into her new home in Pasadena, just where she always wanted to be.

Veda’s star continues to rise, with prominent radio performances in front of a live audience that includes Mildred and Monty. After one performance, Veda’s pulled aside by a representative from Consolidated Foods, who wants to hire Veda to perform on their behalf for the princely sum of $2,500 a week. $2,500 a week? Can I have that contract? Imagine what that kind of money was like back in 1940, when people could live quite comfortably on about twice that for an entire year. Veda loves the idea, but her manager, Mo Levenson, interrupts to tell Mr. Consolidated that it’s a no go—Veda’s already got a contract with a cigarette company, which is paying her $500 a week. Still more than her mom’s making. Veda’s upset, because the Consolidated contract would take her to New York, and pay her lots more. Consolidated hands her his card and asks her to call him if anything changes.

Once he’s gone, Veda throws a little hissy fit over having to turn down the offer and accuses Levenson of being greedy and short-sighted, which pisses him off. He tells her he has an offer for her to sing with the philharmonic, which is a big damn deal, but she’ll have to apologize to him if she wants him to set it up. Veda manages to choke out an apology, and the philharmonic is hers.

The family starts planning for the big event. Veda says she’s going to need to have a dress and hat made, and Mildred agrees, then turns her attention to planning a big dinner to celebrate after the concert. She starts ordering a ton of really expensive food from her office at work, and after she hangs up a secretary comes in and tells her there are a bunch of messages, including some overdue bills, a call from Ida, and one from Wally. Mildred distractedly says she’ll take care of everything later, after she’s done ordering white orchids for the party.

Harried, Mildred returns home and finds Monty sampling the newly arrived booze in the middle of the afternoon and Veda arguing with Levenson over her publicity. She doesn’t want to be painted as a Pasadena princess, she wants everyone to know she studied right in Los Angeles, and she’s from Glendale. So, suddenly Glendale’s become Glendale! for her. She wants the audience to see her as one of them. After he gives in, the dressmaker comes in with a sketch of Veda’s costume. Veda wonders if it’s too vaudeville, and Monty advises her to ditch the laced bodice on it. Veda passes the order along to the dressmaker, and tells her to make a parasol to go with it. The dressmaker scurries off, and Veda and Levenson leave for a rehearsal, and Mildred immediately starts nagging Monty for drinking in the afternoon and not doing anything to help. Guess the honeymoon’s over, huh?

The big night arrives, and the philharmonic’s mobbed. Mildred meets Bert outside and they head backstage to hand off some flowers for Veda and tell her good luck. They’re too late, though, and a stage manager takes the flowers and waves them off. The two of them go into the auditorium and marvel at the crowd for a little while before going to their seats. The Pierce grandparents are there, along with Ida, and I’m sure Lucy’s around somewhere as well. Monty reaches his seat just as Mildred takes hers and tells her Veda’s doing fine. The curtain parts and the show begins. Veda’s outfit is so godawful I had trouble focusing on the music instead of it. The green color, which probably looks great on Evan Rachel Wood normally, looks sickly under the lights, and the frilly big hat and parasol are way, way too much. She looks like she belongs in the chorus of Hello, Dolly!

Anyway, Veda sings and everyone thinks she’s great. At the very end of the concert, she rather cutely asks for permission to sing something non-operatic, just because she wants to sing it. The crowd indulges her, and Monty whispers to Mildred that this is for her. The song is “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows,” and it’s really sweetly done. It’s the first time in the last four plus hours I’ve gotten an inkling of why Mildred cares about this girl so damn much.

After that great success, comes a crash. Mildred arrives at the Laguna Beach restaurant on a rainy afternoon, where she’s met by Monty and lawyers for several of her suppliers. Nobody’s looking too happy. Wally tells Mildred privately that the suppliers haven’t been paid and just want some reassurances. Mildred lies that payments went out on Monday, but Wally knows better. Mildred heads in for the meeting. She admits there’s been a bit of a dip in business in Laguna since the other restaurant opened down the street. One of them says that must be a huge dip, to be causing so many problems. Mildred confesses she’s had some additional personal expenses that needed seeing to, which one of the lawyers correctly interprets as: you’d be showing a profit if it wasn’t for the mansion in Pasadena. Mildred gets offended by that and says that’s none of their business. But it’s true, right? The white elephant, like its former owner, is bleeding you dry.

Wally tells her to chill out, they just want to help her, so Mildred slaps on a fake smile and asks them what they want to know. Wally flat out asks what Veda pays in, since she’s got plenty of cash, between her contract and what she got in that settlement (so that’s what she was living on after she left Mildred’s.) Mildred spits that she doesn’t keep books on her own daughter, and Wally tells her she’s totally within her rights to ask Veda to help out. Mildred gets really pissed and says that Wally made her incorporate this company so nobody could
take her property. Wally calmly says she’s right, the only thing they could do is take her to court, have her declared bankrupt, and take over the company, kicking Mildred out and handing the reigns to Ida. Really? Ida? Why not Lucy? She has seniority.

Mildred can’t believe Ida would agree to do such a thing, but apparently it’s all fixed. Ida was reluctant at first, but Mildred was too distracted, so Ida got annoyed and played ball with the boys. In a moment that really makes me love him, Wally gives the whole thing to Mildred straight: she needs to cut down on expenses, raise some money somehow, square her bills, and start again. He gives her one week to show some improvement, before he and the others take action. I actually like this square-talking Wally. He’s certainly more interesting than gross, bumbling Wally.

Mildred meets up with Bert and tells him what’s going on. She also admits that she was keeping two separate sets of ledgers, which is why Ida couldn’t square the balances. Bert doesn’t think she did anything technically illegal, although it sounds to me like she was committing some sort of fraud. He agrees she should ask for some money from Veda, since she’s the biggest expense, and she kind of owes Mildred, for having supported her all those years, and paid for all the lessons. For what it’s worth, in the course of their conversation we learn that Veda was wrong: Bert and Mildred didn’t get married because Mildred was knocked up. They weren’t even aware she was at the time.

Suddenly, Bert gets it into his head that Wally’s out to screw Mildred and Veda, just like he once screwed Bert. Bert’s sure Wally is out to somehow get his hands on Veda’s money through Mildred. He urges Mildred to go home and spirit Veda away somewhere secret, and to meet him and a lawyer at the Brown Derby for breakfast the next day.

Mildred hurries home, where she goes to Veda’s room, only to find it empty, save for her dress draped over the footboard. Mildred runs around, calling for Monty, and then dashes to the servants’ quarters, where Monty’s still keeping his room. She hammers on his door, and he opens it just enough to speak to her, which is a big red flag. Mildred freaks that she can’t find Veda, who must be in the house somewhere, since her car’s there. Monty tries to get rid of her, and finally Mildred realizes something strange is going on, so she shoves open the door and sure enough, her evil offspring’s lying in Monty’s bed, calm and clearly post coital. Monty, unbelievably, kind of starts to make fun of Mildred as she stands there gaping, slowly crumbling. He tries to turn it around on Mildred, accusing her of having used him for all her special purposes over the years, and using him as bait to lure Veda back, and as a result, he and Veda fell in love. Oh, sure. I’m sure you’re sooo in love. This is so disgusting. You’re her stepfather, Monty. You’re old enough to be this girl’s father! You knew her when she was a child, in pigtails and knee socks! Gah! What is wrong with him? And what’s wrong with her? Oh, whatever, these people are all so deeply damaged I’m pretty sure even the Borgias would have found them somewhat horrifying.

Veda calmly sends Monty away to get dressed, then she slowly, nakedly gets out of the bed and parades to the dressing table, where she puts on a show of brushing her hair as Mildred watches. Monty comes out just long enough to drape a totally see-through robe over her, then returns to his dressing. The music gets all crazy and minor key and dissonant, so we know things are about to go pear shaped, and sure enough, Mildred cracks and launches herself on Veda, throttling the hell out of her. Monty comes in and tries to break it up, but Mildred’s gone crazy, and crazy tends to bring strength with it. He manages to wrestle her off, and Veda goes flying down the stairs, choking and hacking away. She makes it to the drawing room, where she vomits, plays a note on the piano, and tries to sing. Her voice is a croak, just like Carlotta’s after the Phantom of the Opera started screwing with her. Ha! I admit, I did a little happy dance right there, even though I’m pretty sure that, unless the vocal cords get seriously slashed up, like Julie Andrews’s did, they’ll heal. Veda doesn’t seem to know that, and she collapses onto the floor in a sobbing heap as Mildred looks on, horrified by what she’s done.

Happy music picks up again, and it’s a bright, sunny day as a car driven by Bert arrives at the old Glendale manse and disgorges both Bert and Mildred, who walk into the house, carrying suitcases, and are met by the Pierce grandparents and all their friends, who are there to throw a little surprise party for the newlyweds. Yep, Bert and Mildred re-tied the knot. Awww. Mildred and Lucy exposit that Mildred’s no longer in charge of the company, Ida’s in charge (and coming to the party), and Veda’s not expected, even though she was sent an invite and seems to be burying the hatchet with Mildred. Her voice is getting better, too. Sigh. I knew it.

Ida shows up and apologizes profusely for how things went down, but Mildred doesn’t care. Ida kicks her some pie business, so I guess we’re right back where we started. Bert wanders into the kitchen where the ladies were all talking and tells Mildred Veda’s outside, but she won’t come in, because she’s the melodramatic type.

Mildred goes outside, where Veda’s waiting next to a cab. She explains she’s flying to New York that afternoon and wanted to stop by and say goodbye. Mildred asks if she’s moving to New York alone, and Veda admits Monty’s already there. I’ll bet he is. Now your voice is better, you’re a regular cash cow again. Remember that Consolidated Foods offer? It’s hers now. So everything worked out best for her after all. Dammit.

Mildred coolly observes that Veda certainly did play her cards well. Veda tries to play dumb, but Mildred’s over it. She asks Veda if her voice was even damaged. I’m going to guess yes, it was, at first, but probably not as badly as Veda made out, and she realized she could use the whole thing as an excuse to get out of that contract. Mildred loses it and tells Veda, finally, to just piss off and leave and never, ever come back. Veda gets back into the cab and drives off as Mildred dissolves into tears. The party guests have come out to watch the show, and Mildred takes off, unable to deal.

Poor, dear Bert follows her to the Original Mildred’s, where they sit down at a table together. At last, Bert says: “the hell with her,” pours them both a drink, and invites Mildred to get drunk with him. After a while, she smiles a little and agrees.

Jesus, what a wrist-slitter. I need to go take a Prozac or something. Or maybe I need to get drunk. Who’s with me?

One thought on “Mildred Pierce, Part V

  1. [” It’s the first time in the last four plus hours I’ve gotten an inkling of why Mildred cares about this girl so damn much.”]

    Mildred is a narcissist woman. Even worse, she sees Veda as some kind of embodiment of her. Which is not surprising, considering that Veda had inherited some of Mildred’s worst traits – a talent for manipulation, narcissism and snobbery. Only these traits in Veda are ten times worse. Because Mildred sees Veda as an embodiment of herself and is narcissist to boot, she loves Veda with all of her heart and soul. That is why when it comes to Veda, Mildred acts like a stage mother determined that her child will achieve the professional or social success that she believes has eluded her.

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