Tuesday, April 02, 2019
Madeleine (1950 film)
Directed by David Lean and written by Stanley Haynes and Nicholas Phipps, Madeleine is based on the true story of Madeleine Smith who was from a wealthy family in Glasgow, Scotland who was accused of killing her lover in 1857. The film is a trial drama that explores the life of a woman whose affair with a Frenchman lead to his death and questions about lifestyle and such as she is portrayed by Ann Todd. Also starring Ivan Desny, Leslie Banks, and Norman Wooland. Madeleine is a riveting and compelling film from David Lean.
The film revolves around the true story of Madeleine Smith who is accused of poisoning her French lover as it lead to many questions about his death with people wondering about their affair and the scandal it would’ve brought to her social status. It’s a film that explores a woman hiding this affair from her family and fiancé as it would later become troubling and complicated. The film’s screenplay by Stanley Haynes and Nicholas Phipps, with the latter providing the dialogue, has a straightforward structure as the first act is about Smith’s affair with Emile L’Angelier (Ivan Desny) as it’s a secret affair that her father James (Leslie Banks) doesn’t know of fearing that he might disapprove of the relationship. James believes that another society gentleman in William Minnoch (Norman Wooland) is more suitable as he does offer security and kindness. The second act revolves around L’Angelier’s intentions and Smith’s attempt to break off the affair with its third act being the trial into whether or not Smith did poison L’Angelier.
David Lean’s direction does bear elements of style though much of his direction is straightforward as it opens with the exact location in Glasgow, Scotland where Smith lived nearly a century ago where the story took place. Shot largely at Pinewood Studios in London with some shots at Edinburgh, Lean does use a few wide shots for some of the locations as well as a lavish sequence of Smith and L’Angelier watching locals dancing to a traditional Scottish number which would cut to a medium shot of Smith and L’Angelier mimic the dancing. The usage of medium shots and close-ups give Lean a lot of coverage into the interior settings with the latter being used to focus on a piece of clothing or a character’s face such as Smith who is dealing with confusion about her love for L’Angelier and her increasing interest in Minnoch. Even as it would add to the drama and the growing dissolution between Smith and L’Angelier.
Lean’s direction also play into the ambiguity of how Smith is trying to handle her situation that would lead to the third act where she’s on trial. The trial scenes also have these usage of flashbacks from the testimonies of those who know Smith and wonder if she’s capable of doing something terrifying. Lean would use some long shots for some of the monologues in the trial scene as well as some shots of people at the trial. The film’s climax is about its verdict as well as its aftermath that ends up raising more questions than answers. At the center of it is Smith as a woman who was torn between two lovers but also a lifestyle that’s given her so much as it add to the emotional stakes of the film. Overall, Lean crafts a mesmerizing yet chilling film about a woman’s troubled affair with a Frenchman that leads to his death and troubling aftermath.
Cinematographer Guy Green does excellent work with the film’s black-and-white photography as its usage of shadows and lights to help provide some of the drama as well as some of the film’s darker moments. Editors Clive Donner and Geoffrey Foot do amazing work with the editing as it help play into the dramatic suspense as well as scenes in the trial to play into the emotional elements of the film. Costume designer Margaret Furse does brilliant work with the period costumes from the lavish dresses that Smith wears to the suits that the men wore in those times.
Hair stylist Biddy Chrystal does nice work with the hairstyle of Smith in her different looks to play into her persona as this prestigious society woman. Sound mixers Stanley Lambourne and Gordon K. McCallum do superb work with the sound as it help play into some of the suspense including a sequence of L’Angelier returning to his apartment as well as sparse sounds of objects at Smith’s home. The film’s music by William Alwyn is wonderful for its lush and rich orchestral score that has elements of bombast in the strings but also in somber moments that play into the drama.
The film’s terrific cast feature some notable small roles from Patricia Raine as Smith’s youngest sister Bessie, Susan Stranks as Smith’s younger sister Janet, Andre Morrel as Smith’s defense attorney, Barry Jones as the prosecutor, David Horne as the judge, Edward Chapman as a doctor, Jean Cadell as a concerned landlord for L’Angelier, Barbara Everest as Smith’s mother, Elizabeth Sellars as the Smiths’ maid Christina who is suspicious about Madeleine’s meetings with L’Angelier, and Eugene Deckers as a friend of L’Angelier in Thuau who would uncover some belongings that would raise questions about L’Angelier’s relationship with Smith. Leslie Banks is fantastic as Smith’s father who is a man of great importance as he wants what is best for his daughter while becoming uneased about the crimes she has committed.
Norman Wooland is excellent as William Minnoch as a society gentleman whom Smith’s father believes is an ideal man where he is kind and willing to listen to Smith as well as be someone who genuinely cares about her. Ivan Desny is brilliant as Emile L’Angelier as a Frenchman living in Glasgow who charms and woos Smith as they become lovers as he’s hoping to make their affair public which brings some complications due to his desire to rise up in the world of society as well as wanting to meet Smith’s father. Finally, there’s Ann Todd in an incredible performance as the titular character as this society woman who is torn between two different men while wanting to maintain her role in upper-class society where Todd displays that sense of quiet ambiguity and anguish as a woman that has put herself into a situation that could mean doom for her.
Madeleine is a marvelous film from David Lean that features a great performance from Ann Todd in the titular role. Along with its supporting cast, captivating story of status and desires, and dazzling technical work, it’s a film that explore a woman caught in an affair that becomes troubled just as it would risk her own lifestyle and later put her into a scandal involving murder and deceit. In the end, Madeleine is a remarkable film from David Lean.
David Lean Films: In Which We Serve - This Happy Breed – Blithe Spirit - Brief Encounter - Great Expectations (1946 film) - Oliver Twist (1948 film) - The Passionate Friends - The Sound Barrier - Hobson's Choice - (Summertime (1955 film)) – The Bridge on the River Kwai - Lawrence of Arabia - Doctor Zhivago - Ryan's Daughter - (Lost and Found: The Story of Cook’s Anchor) – A Passage to India - (The Auteurs #75: David Lean)
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