Monday, November 23, 2015

TODAY'S NUGGET: Mildred Pierce (1945) - A Three Dimensional Character Moment

[Quick Summary: Desperate for her selfish daughter's approval, a mother scrambles to find work.]

I felt bad for Mildred Pierce, who is addicted to approval from her daughter, Veda.

She makes a lot of bad decisions to supply unappreciative Veda with a good life (divorce, 2nd marriage, job, bankruptcy, etc.).

So why did I continue to root for Mildred?

One reason is the script develops Mildred as a three dimensional character.

She's not just single note, i.e., an ambitious/guilt ridden mother, or business owner.

She's also lonely, complex, a woman with desires, who wants to be wanted.

Below is a rare romantic moment when she lets herself feel good.

ex. "INT. BERAGON BEACH HOUSE - LIVING ROOM

...MILDRED: Thank you, Mr. Beragon.. (savoring the sound of it) Mr. Monte Beragon. It's a very unusual name. Spanish?

MONTE: Mostly. Maybe a little Italian thrown in. But my mother's a real dyed in the wool Yankee. That's why I'm such a self-controlled, dignified young fellow. (he makes a face)

MILDRED (amused): And just what do you do, Mr. Beragon?

MONTE: Oh, I loaf...in a decorative and highly charming manner...

MILDRED: That's all?

MONTE (gently reproving): With me, loafing is a science.

Mildred laughs, and throws her hair back. Monte is appreciative.

MONTE (murmuring): You're very beautiful, like that.

MILDRED (smiling): I'll bet you say that to all your sisters.

They both laugh.

MONTE (thoughtfully): I'm not very impressionable, Mildred. I lost my awe of women at an early age. But ever since that day you first came here...I've thought of nothing else but what I'd say to you when we met again... (he stops and shrugs) And now I can't say anything. You take my breath away.

CLOSE ON MILDRED

MILDRED (softly): Do I? I like you Monte. You make me feel - I don't know - warm...wanted. You make me feel beautiful.

TIGHT TWO SHOT

as Monte leans forward, holding out his hand.

MONTE: Shall I tell your fortune?

MILDRED: Can you?

MONTE (nodding): We Beragons come from a long line of teacup readers.

She stretches out her hand. He takes it and rises, pulling her up with him.

FULL SHOT MONTE AND MILDRED (OUTLINED AGAINST THE FIRE)

MONTE (softly): When I'm clse to you like this...there's a sound in the air...like the beating of wings. Know what it is?

MILDRED (breathless): What?

MONTE: My heart. Beating. Like a schoolboy's.

MILDRED: Is it yours? I thought it was mine.

Leaning down, he kisses her. In the b.g. the record player picks this moment to get stuck on a record, playing  a single phrase over and over again. Mildred tried to pull away from Monte.

MILDRED (her mouth against his): The record --

Again he kisses her. The SOUND of the record keeps on."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I have a bad habit of speeding by these moments in my own writing, but they really do add dimension and richness to the story.

Mildred Pierce (1945)
by Ranald MacDougall
From the novel by James M. Cain

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