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Themes in the Novel and Movie Adaptation of James Cain’s Mildred Pierce

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Themes in the Novel and Movie Adaptation of James Cain’s Mildred Pierce


In contemporary film making, “Hollywood-ization” generally refers to the re-creation of a classic work in a form more vulgar and sexually explicit than the original in an effort to boost movie attendance. After all, sex and violence sell. However, from the mid-1930’s to the 1950’s, “Hollywood-ization” referred to the opposite case where controversial books had to be purified to abide by the Production Code of 1934.[1] This occurred to many of James Cain’s novels as they moved from text to the genre of “film noir.” As has been said about Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice, “The property, bought several years ago, was kept in the studio’s archives until now because of [Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s] “inability to clean it up.””[2] The sanitation of Cain’s novels greatly took from the strong themes of female emotional and financial independence that were rarely addressed at that time as they were adapted for the screen.

James Cain’s Mildred Pierce, published in 1941, explored issues that plagued the domesticated woman amidst the social upheaval caused by the Great Depression of the 1930’s and suffered from the rule of the Production Code. As Mildred Pierce’s first marriage with Bert Pierce disintegrates, she is confronted with the responsibility of supporting her two children while creating opportunities for financial independence despite having no skills or education. She becomes a successful restaurateur through the careful manipulation of the men around her only to become the slave to the desires and whims of her eldest daughter, Veda. According to David Madden, the story of Mildred Pierce is “a powerful and suggestive study of social inequity and ...


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...rs, again: The Postman Always Rings Twice,” Literature/Film Quarterly (2000): 41.

[3] Madden, David, James M. Cain (Twayne: 1970) 68.

[4] Oates, Joyce Carol, Tough Guy Writers of the Thirties (London: Southern Illinois University Press, 1968) 110

[5] Farrell, James, Literature and Morality (New York: The Vanguard Press, Inc, 1945) 89.

[6] Madden 148

[7] Farrell, James, 88



Work Cited

1 Encyclopedia Britannica Online www.search.eb.com/bol/topic?eu=119926&sctn=6.

2 Biesen, Sheri Chinen, “Raising Cain with the censors, again: The Postman Always Rings Twice,” Literature/Film Quarterly (2000)

3 Madden, David, James M. Cain (Twayne: 1970)

4 Oates, Joyce Carol, Tough Guy Writers of the Thirties (London: Southern Illinois University Press, 1968)

5 Farrell, James, Literature and Morality (New York: The Vanguard Press. Inc, 1945)


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