Hard to Find; Worth Having
Stephanie DePue | Carolina Beach, NC USA | 11/11/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
""Madeleine" (1950) appears to have been the eighth film made, in his long career, by famed British director Sir David Lean, who won Oscars in 1958 for The Bridge on the River Kwai; in 1963 for Lawrence of Arabia (Collector's Edition, 2 discs) - DVD; and was nominated in 1966 forDoctor Zhivago; and in 1985 for A Passage to India. The film was made at Pinewood Studios, initially released by the J. Arthur Rank Organisation: as a child, I just about squnched down in my movie seat with delight every time Rank's living logo of the bare-chested man banging the dinner gong came on; I was always that sure that I was in for a treat, and "Madeleine," in many ways, sure is. The film has recently been released on DVD by Filmax, a Spanish company: it has Spanish subtitles, runs 109 minutes, and, unfortunately, is only Region 2, just plays on region-free DVD players, but you were going to get one anyway, weren't you? I just did. At any rate, the film has been restored and remastered. It is a dark, sinister film, with a menacing, moody look from the opening shots, lots of Scots `weather,' a period, costumed `film noir,' made at a time, actually, when a number of strong movies focused on female psychological conflicts were being made.
As a film made early in Lean's work, it differs greatly from the latter work that made him so well-known and much-admired: it is in black and white, small-scale, shot almost entirely indoors, and, in fact, for much of its length, is a courtroom drama. It is based on a once very famous true crime case, brought to trial in Scotland in the summer of 1857 - right in the middle of the lengthy reign of Britain's epoch-making Queen Victoria. A beautiful young Scottish socialite, Madeleine Smith, was charged with the murder of her French, Channel Islands born lover Emile l'Anglier.
As best we can tell at this late date (the movie doesn't cover this material).Madeleine and l'Anglier met in 1855, in a Glasgow park, when she was but 20; she stood trial for his murder at 22. She lived in a big house that still stands, # 7 Blythswood Square; she was beautiful, and spoilt, the granddaughter of David Hamilton, the best-loved of Scottish architects, and daughter of one of his ultimately extremely successful apprentices, James Smith. L'Anglier was actually a warehouseman employed by her father. They were miles apart in wealth and social standing. Apparently, she had a mind of her own; she might well have thought she was suffocating in her father's rigid, tedious, stultifying Victorian household, and might well have been very bored. At any rate, she was soon involved in a secret affair with the inappropriate warehouseman: something virtually unheard-of for a well-to-do, unmarried young woman of the time. And it gets better: she was entertaining him in the maid's room, in her father's house, late at night, right below her father's bedroom, next door to the bedroom she shared with her younger sister. Then an associate of her father's proposed to her, which apparently came as a surprise to them all. It was a good offer. Yet she offered to elope with l'Anglier: he huffily refused.. A few days later, the warehouseman was dead, a painful death, arsenic poisoning. With, unfortunately, 200 of her love letters still among his papers; and Smith had recently bought arsenic. But the state couldn't prove she'd administered it to her lover. Therefore the jury brought in a verdict unique to Scotland, Not Proven.
Lean is supposed to have made the movie as a wedding present for his new wife, the beautiful British actress Ann Todd (The Seventh Veil [ NON-USA FORMAT, PAL, Reg.2 Import - Great Britain ]): she had played the part on stage, and was supposedly anxious to get it on celluloid. However, she was 41 when she played the titular role in the movie, and loving husband though Lean may have been, his camera angles, frequently shot from below, with harsh lighting, were not kind to Todd. She often looks too old for her character. Still, the film is, from beginning to end, tense and suspenseful, though telling a well-known tale. Historically, it's been very difficult to find. But it's really worth seeing.
You Know As They Say, Hell Hath No furry As The Scorn Of A
Marley | Long Island, NY | 10/30/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"David Lean's 1950 entry into his Pinewood Studio filmography is the unsung "Madeliene". Lean was the acclaimed director of "Blithe Spirit" and "Oliver Twist" and the beautifully told "A Brief Encounter", all made during his tenure at Pinewood. But he will forever be remembered for his grand Hollywood epics; "Lawrence Of Arabia", "Bridge On The River Kwai" and "Dr Zhivargo".
"Madeline" like "Lawrence of Arabia" is based in fact, not fiction. It is the murder trail of a young woman in Victorian Glasgow. She is the daughter of a wealthy and highly respected architect. Accused of murdering her lover, Madeleine stands trial amid an angry mob hell bent on revenge. But was justice served or was Madeleine fortunte enough to have had the resources of an upper class family. Her attorney provided a convincing case against the charges brought on by The Crown. And finally, what was the real outcome of the story beyond the jurry's verict? What can be said of our final glimpse of Madeleine leaving the courthouse, seated in her coach as she is wisked away to freedom and out of reach of a hostile, blood thirsty crowd. Is this the look of relief or of satisfaction or is it sheer elation to be free of these charges? Perhaps she is resolute to live out her days as a social outcast? In reality she would never regain all that was lost of her prior life. She died alone and forgotten in 1927, living in a Bronx apartment. The jury's verdict did not vindicate Madeleine of the charge of first degree murder. Instead they merely found the case "unproven", according to Scotish law.
I could ramble on for some time in my attempts to describe the superb black & white cinematography. Suffice to say, I have never seen more meticulous detail in recreating the atmosphere of Victorian splendor. The scene of Madeleine's arrival into the courtroom is incredible. She is filmed assending a narrow stairwell and emering by way of a trap door set in the floor. Lean chooses the most dramatic effects throughout this very underated and unrecognized film. Particularly noteworthy is the closing scene mentioned earlier, which is a close-up of Madeleine alone in her coach. This final scene is shot with the utmost depth and intrigue, making Madeleine a truly memorable film, in every respect.
A last note of interest and by way of comparison... Seek out the wonderful "Dance With A Stranger", starring Miranda Richardson. This is also based on the real life murder trial involving Ruth Ellis, the last woman put to death in The UK. Set approxamately sixty years apart, the two movies have much in common. They are woman from vastly different circumstanses yet their characters are similar in many ways. Both become consumed by the object of their deepest desires. And both pay the ultimate price for their indiscretions. You know, as they say, "Hell hath no furry as the scorn of a woman".
Dance with a Stranger"