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The upcoming five-part miniseries starring Kate Winslet is a good reason to visit the original movie version of Mildred Pierce, with an Oscar-winning performance by Joan Crawford. She plays the title character, who sacrifices everything to give her daughter the benefits of wealth and status only to find that she has raised a shallow, selfish monster.

Based on the book by noir novelist James M. Cain and directed by Michael Curtiz (“Casablanca,” “The Adventures of Robin Hood”), it is the story of a woman who is determined that her daughters will have money and social position. She leaves her out-of-work husband and hides from her daughters her job as a waitress. Veda (Ann Blyth), the older daughter, is a snob who is furious when she finds out the truth. The younger daughter dies of pneumonia. Through sheer determination (and the manipulation of the men around her), Mildred establishes a chain of restaurants and marries an upper-class, though impoverished, playboy to help Veda’s social climbing. When Veda turns out to be just as ruthless as Mildred — on her own behalf rather than to care for someone else, Mildred is called upon for one final sacrifice.

This was Joan Crawford’s first starring role at Warner Brothers following a humiliating termination of her contract at MGM. Curtiz did not want her for the part (he wanted Bette Davis, who turned it down because the character had a teenage daughter). Crawford’s own sense of determination and resentment is part of what made this her best-remembered performance. Carol Burnett’s funny “Mildred Fierce” parody is a loving tribute to this classic film.

I was delighted to find this great version of one of my favorite Tom Chapin songs, performed by Steve Charney — very timely with the increased sensitivity to issues of bullying and mean behavior in schools, and a great way to start a family conversation about how all of us can find ways to be kinder and more respectful.

I was delighted to see US movie critic Thelma Adams go after “Mars Needs Moms” for the retro sexism of its plot. As she notes in a comment following my review, she wrote on her blog about the weirdness of a movie for kids in 2011 about a planet where the females have no feelings, the children are raised by robots whose feelings are extracted from earth mothers (selected for their willingness to be disciplinarians), and the males are “dumb as a bag of rocks,” incapable of even the most rudimentary comprehension or achievement.
She says:

[H]ere’s the takeaway: the working mothers of Mars have lost their ability as women to love and nurture. They have to import an earth breeder to take care of that one chip necessary to continue the race. And the poor oppressed men, who live in substandard conditions, without a vote, without power, have been totally squelched to the detriment of Martian society.

The answer, my friends, is blowing in the hot air: The reinstitution of the nuclear family – happy mommy, happy daddy, happy baby of either sex — and the annihilation of the cranky crone. If sci fi plots allow their creators to work out real-life issues, then here we see a bunch of angry Hollywood males crying out against their feelings of emasculation with nostalgia for a reinstatement of the nuclear fifties family. Hmmm.

The weirdest part is that it just doesn’t make any sense. Forget the part about how Martian babies are produced by popping out of the ground, without any involvement by parents of any gender. How exactly does this planet work? The shrewish female leader is a totalitarian who thinks she can protect herself and the other females from feelings. So, why program the robots with the memories and views of an earth mother who may be stern but is also affectionate and supportive? What is it that all these working females do, other than march around? I am surprised that the few good reviews this movie got emphasize its lessons about family; I’m glad Milo learns to appreciate his mother, but it would have been nice to show her as capable of more than sending him to bed without television and being willing to sacrifice herself to save his life.

I love hearing from the people who read what I post here and it is my hope that we can create a community that welcomes a spirited discussion on media, culture, and values. I am lucky to have found a job as a critic because it suits my interests and personality. I love movies (I often say that the primary qualification for the job is the willingness to watch an unlimited number of awful movies) and I love to express my views. And as a critic myself, I love to hear the views of other people, whether about the movies I review or the reviews themselves. Opinions are less often good or bad than interesting or uninteresting, well-supported or not well-supported. You don’t agree with what I had to say? Bring it on! Nothing would make me happier than hearing about what you saw in a movie that I missed.

But I have no tolerance for bad manners and it is important to me that everyone feel that this is a safe place to ask questions and express views. You are more than welcome to disagree, but no one will be allowed to be disagreeable, hostile, or rude and I will delete any comments I consider inappropriate. “Why do you think that?” is fine. Corrections are appreciated. But insults of any kind are not permissible. That includes questioning anyone’s motives or the legitimacy of their views.

I do not understand what makes people feel that it is all right to be rude or hostile in an email or a comment when they would never do so in person. Please keep in mind that you diminish the credibility of the points you are trying to make when you post insults instead of arguments. We want to know what you are thinking. Lack of courtesy does not tell us anything interesting about what is on your mind.

Many thanks to those of you who have taken the time to write thoughtful comments. You have made me laugh, you have made me think, you have made me fix mistakes — you have made this a better place to be and I will do my best to make this place a welcoming and safe community for you. I hope you will return often and keep letting me know what you think. Those whose comments I have deleted are also welcome to return; I know you can do better and I look forward to hearing from you again.