Wednesday, April 13, 2011

James Agee on Mildred Pierce (1945)

Mildred Pierce: Nasty, gratifying version of the James Cain novel about suburban grass-widowhood and the power of the native passion for money and all that money can buy. Excellent work by Joan Crawford . . . and a little girl whose name I can't find who is as good an embodiment of all that is most terrifying about native contemporary adolescence as I ever hope to see.
                        - James Agee in his review of the film (1945)

Mildred Pierce [VHS]It's very funny how Agee describes the character Vida, because Evan Rachel Wood plays that character in the new series version on HBO. Wood had her breakthrough role in a movie called Thirteen (2003) and after I saw that movie I pretty much thought it was "all that [was] most terrifying about native contemporary adolescene as I ever hope to see."

The term "grass-widowhood" that he uses was one I was not familiar with. Cursory searches show that it is used in America to mean a woman is divorced or separated and is usually meant a bit maliciously. But "grass-widow" originates from the British-ism for the wives of British officers stationed in India who were sent away in the summer to the cooler (and greener) hills. This brought to my mind the wives in The Seven Year Itch (1955) that find the city far too hot and take their summers in New Hampshire or Vermont. I love an etymology that starts with movies, goes far, far afield and then comes right back around to classic movies!

This quote comes a book I am reading called Agee on Film: Criticism and Comment on the Movies. My husband, Daniel, recommended the book as Agee is one of his favorite authors. Agee also wrote several screenplays and hundreds of movie reviews that span the Golden Age of Hollywood. Keep checking back soon for a guest post from the dear husband on men's vintage style!

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