There was no nudity in the final episode of Californication (s4e12),
but Carla Gugino was
sexy in her underwear. Given that Carla is approximately the sexiest woman
in the universe, I'm disappointed that she never did any nudity in this series,
but I sure enjoyed watching her strut her stuff. (720p; Sample below; third
Laura Wiggins flashed the
chest again in Shameless, s1e12. 720p. Third party. Sample below.
(1945 and 2011-TV)
This is a rare disappointment from HBO, perhaps because it breaks one of the
first commandments of remakes - don't remake something which was great and still
plays well. Remaking Mildred Pierce is almost as sacrilegious as remaking
Casablanca, which was directed by the same Michael Curtiz a couple of years
earlier. Indeed, if you've ever seen an old black and white film and enjoyed it,
it was probably directed by Michael Curtiz, because he had an excellent eye and
a knack for smooth storytelling at a pace rapid enough to hold up to modern
viewing. His job back then was not comparable to what directors do today. In the
old studio system, directors did not create or write their own projects. They
were hired hands, like the actors and the key grips. But a good one could really
bring a project to life, and Curtiz was more than merely good. His filmography
speaks for itself. He directed 93 films. 86 of them are rated 6.0 or higher at
IMDb. 19 of them are rated 7.0 or higher. Some of the most memorable include:
- (8.80) - Casablanca
- (8.10) - The Adventures
of Robin Hood (1938)
- (7.99) - Mildred Pierce
- (7.89) - Angels with
Dirty Faces (1938)
- (7.79) - Captain Blood
- (7.79) - Yankee Doodle
- (7.78) - The Sea Hawk
- (7.65) - The Sea Wolf
- (7.39) - We're No Angels
- (7.20) - White Christmas
- (7.19) - The Breaking
- (7.18) - Life with Father
- (7.17) - Kid Galahad
- (7.17) - Marked Woman
- (7.09) - Essex and
- (7.08) - Dodge City
- (7.08) - The Charge of
the Light Brigade (1936)
- (7.06) - The Unsuspected
- (7.05) - Four Daughters
- (6.97) - Young Man with a
Like the best films of its era, the original Mildred Pierce is a masterpiece of
economical storytelling. The script is genius. (By the way, this is one of
the films which William Faulkner worked on while he was making his ill-advised
career stop in Hollywood, but I'm not sure how much Faulkner actually
contributed.) It takes a story which could be a long rambling melodrama and
hooks the viewer into it immediately by beginning with a beautifully
storyboarded murder. Elegant setting, shots ring out, footsteps are heard
fleeing away as we come in for a closer look at the body, tires screech as a car
pulls away ...
The narrative then follows the police investigation of the crime, thus telling
the story primarily in flashbacks. The audience is left to guess the identity of
the murderer, which is not revealed until the film's final moments. The novel's
many characters are consolidated into a number small enough so that we can feel
that we know every one of them. Welcome comic relief is provided by the
wisecracking, fast-talking, cynical minor characters played by Eve Arden (Oscar
nomination) and Jack Carson.
Although the murder mystery is the film's basic framing device, the film moves
toward its conclusion with a concise but coherent narrative, some snappy
dialogue, some great supporting characters, wit, some music, atmosphere, the
director's great eye for arresting images, solid performances, and star power.
It is fast-paced, but the director never allows it to move too fast to make it
confusing, or to suppress the colorful supporting details. It was nominated for
six Oscars, including Best Picture, and is currently rated 8.0 at IMDb.
It's not as good a film as Casablanca, but what is, dammit? And it might be
considered just as good as the Bogart masterpiece if it had something equally
important to say, but Mildred Pierce has no powerful, resonant themes. It's just
a glossy, star-studded, multi-faceted entertainment picture, and a terrific one
at that. I'd call it the L.A. Confidential of its time.
So what's wrong with the HBO version?
Well, remember how I mentioned above that this story had the potential to be a
melodramatic snoozefest. Bingo. This version does not begin with a big action
scene or a mystery of any kind, let alone murder. It begins with some domestic
squabbling between Mildred and her husband, followed by a long, long, long
overview of Mildred's subsequent job hunt, and a long, long, long exposition of
the details of the restaurant business, all of which left me struggling for
wakefulness and not liking any of the characters.
What does the HBO version do better than the original?
Well, for one thing, Kate Winslet is a serious actress, not a movie star like
Joan Crawford, so when she's supposed to look 40sih and frumpy, she does.
Although Crawford was actually 40 when she made this film, she still looked
glamorous and perfectly turned out in her pre-success scenes as an allegedly
frumpy housewife from the lower middle class.
For another thing, there were parts of the story that could not be told or
pictured in the 1940s. HBO is able to show us who is sleeping with whom. In
detail. And in glorious color. The relationship of the seedy stepfather and his
underaged stepdaughter had to be presented very cautiously in the 1940s, to say
And that's about it. People have argued that this production is more faithful to
the source novel by James M Cain. That may be true, but it's not a positive
thing. As Variety wrote,
Cain's novel of the same title might not suggest screenable material." In
other words, the original film was brilliant simply because it was not faithful
to that source, but used the best parts of a complex, ambitious novel based on
character development to form the basis of a taut story. HBO, on the other hand,
decided to screen the unscreenable. Instead of a big, juicy story framed by a
murder, they created some kind of art film that would have Bergman and Tarkovsky
yelling at the screen to "get on with it, already."
I don't mean to be excessively critical of HBO. Just about everything they do is
great. Even their weakest productions reek of class and diligence, and this is
no exception. It's filled with impressive settings, elegant costumes, and snappy
roadsters. The problem is that they took a great 100-minute story with no dull
moments and turned it into a 300 minute story with, well, 200 minutes of
unnecessary padding. Make that 195. I'm OK with the five minutes of hot nudity.
I've only seen the first two episodes, which were broadcast Sunday night, and
there are three more episodes to go, so I reserve the right to change my mind if
and when Evan Rachel Wood's upcoming frontal nudity gives me a massive boner.
The Great Scout and Cathouse Thursday
I mentioned that I was going to watch this.
The story takes place in 1908 Colorado, just as the Old West is disappearing
and the modern world beginning. The gunslingers are gone. Taft is running for
president. Horses have to compete for the dusty trails with new-fangled
roadsters. Into this bustling new century, two grizzled frontier characters
re-emerge from the past to settle a score with the nouveau riche city slicker
who cheated them out of a gold mine 15 years earlier.
Lee Marvin plays pretty much the same comic character he played in Cat Ballou
and Paint Your Wagon, the crusty old tough guy who is no longer quite so tough
in his twilight years as he was when the west was young, but still can
occasionally dredge up traces of the heart and soul that once made other men
admire him. Oliver Reed is absolutely hilarious as his partner, a "half-breed"
native American with a Harvard education. Robert Culp plays the weasel who
bilked his partners out of their stake, but the script makes him
multi-dimensional in the "honor among thieves" vein, and Culp himself manages to
infuse the character with a likeable down-to-earth quality that balances off his
Elizabeth Ashley is also funny in this film. When Culp walked off with Lee
Marvin's gold mine, he took his woman (Ashley) as well. Marvin intends to settle
both scores until he finds out that the sweet innocent woman in his memories,
albeit still beautiful, has turned into a foul-mouthed shrew. Marvin kidnaps
her, but loses all romantic interest when he sees what she has become, so he
decides to hold her for ransom. Only one problem. Culp doesn't want her back, no
matter how low the price. In a final fist-fight for all the marbles, Culp takes
time out from kicking Marvin's ass to kick Ashley's as well. That distraction
momentarily gives Marvin a chance to deliver a hard blow, but Culp declares, "It
was worth it."
The author, Richard Shapiro, is one of the great TV writers (217 episodes of
Dynasty, and about a hundred other episodes of some two dozen shows and TV
movies), but this was his only theatrical film script, and one of his few
efforts at comedy. He created a fun movie. I'm not sure why it got so completely
forgotten. While it has no depth or social importance, it's entertaining
throughout, with few slow moments, and for my money that makes it an excellent
example of popular entertainment.
While my memory was correct in that there was no nudity from Elizabeth Ashley or
from cute little Kay Lenz as Cathouse Thursday, there was some brief nudity from
two of Lenz's colleagues in the mattressback profession:
Luz Maria Pena as Cathouse Holidays
Leticia Robles as Cathouse Saturday