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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Madame X (Blu-ray)
Madame X (Blu-ray)
Kl Studio Classics // Unrated // May 28, 2019 // Region A
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted July 29, 2019 | E-mail the Author
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Highly Recommended
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Until its problematic climax, Madame X (1966), an adaptation of Alexandre Bisson's 1908 French play Le Femme X that had already been filmed at least eight times for the movies, is, even by 1966 standards, an old-fashioned, even classical "weepie," the type of which producer Ross Hunter excelled. A former actor, Hunter produced movies of all types but came to specialize, concurrently, in romantic comedies and melodramas, producing hit pictures that were among Universal's biggest successes of the 1950s.

Critics tend to ascribe the greatness of Ross-produced melodramas like Magnificent Obsession (1954), All That Heaven Allows (1955), and Imitation of Life (1959), exclusively to the director of those films, Douglas Sirk. While Sirk certainly greatly enhanced those pictures, a compelling case could be made that Hunter, rather than Sirk, was their true auteur. In in just about every way, Madame X, directed instead by David Lowell Rich, is nearly stylistically identical to those earlier films, particularly Imitation of Life. With the exception of Written on the Wind, produced by Albert Zugsmith, Sirk's other movies in other genres don't look or play like his melodramas. The Tarnished Angels (1957), arguably Sirk's best film, bears little resemblance to his Hunter-produced melodramas, even though it was marketed as one.

Regardless, weepies like Madame X for a long time were considered over-the-top claptrap approaching high camp, though recently the trend has been to reassess their value. They operate by a slightly different set of rules compared to ordinary Hollywood dramas. They're more stylized, in one sense much less realistic, and in this film's case revolving around an outrageous coincidence, yet offer an emotional truth as few Hollywood movies attempted. Longing, suffering, and heartbreak are a big part of these films, and Madame X certainly pulls its audience through the ringer.

Beginning roughly in the late-1930s*, working class Holly Parker (Lana Turner) has married Clayton Anderson (John Forsythe) of the Connecticut Andersons, a filthy rich family. A rising star in the world of politics, Clayton is almost never home, stationed for months at a time in far-flung places like North Africa while Holly is stuck at home with Clayton's disapproving, high-handed mother, Estelle (Constance Bennett, who died before Madame X was released), who regards Holly as an embarrassment and possible impediment to her son's predestined greatness.

Holly finds some comfort caring for their young son, Clayton Jr. (Teddy Quinn), but after several years of loneliness turns to charming playboy Phil Benton (Ricardo Montalbán). Clayton suddenly returns home, finally ready to settle down, prompting Holly to break it off with Phil, but the Latin lover isn't ready to give Holly up. They struggle, and Phil falls down a long flight of steps, breaking his neck. Estelle, who had a detective tailing Holly the whole time, discovers the body before the police do.

Estelle, seizing upon the accident, blackmails Holly into faking her death and, to spare her husband and son ruinous scandal, Holly tearfully agrees to move to Switzerland and assume a new identity. It doesn't go well for Holly and after becoming a hopeless drunk addicted to absinthe, and living in a Mexican flophouse, returns to America for a sensational courtroom trial.

Madame X is, primarily, a vehicle for Lana Turner, whose final starring role this was. Turner's own scandal-plagued life (heavy drinking, eight marriages to seven men, including a possible pedophile who raped Turner's daughter, a gangster boyfriend her daughter stabbed to death, etc.) added a vague air of authenticity to her roles in films like Peyton Place (1957), Imitation of Life, and Madame X, all late-career hits. She wasn't a great actress, but could be very good in these types of parts. Turner's chain-smoking and drinking aged her prematurely, the actress only 44 when Madame X was made but Turner looking much older, perhaps 60. Further disheveled by makeup and wardrobe, her Holly really does look like a pathetic, emotionally worn wreck during the last third of the picture.

(Indeed, all the leading women in the film look older than they were. Sixty-year-old Bennett looks 75, and Virginia Grey, 48 and playing a socialite-friend, appears well into her sixties. The older men fare better, but then again at least three of them are wearing toupees.)

Madame X is a lushly-appointed film: one can sense this from the opening titles, which prominently credit the source of its furs and jewelry. Russell Metty, the cinematographer who shot all of Sirk's earlier melodramas, uses the same primary and pastels lighting and color scheme, in one impressive scene bathing Forsythe in a deep red shadow. The backlot recreations of Switzerland are unusually convincing and, overall, it's an impressive, first-class Hollywood production, one of the last of its type.

(Spoilers) The screenplay by Jean Holloway early on and quite unnecessarily gives away the major plot twist: Holly, who refuses to identify herself, is assigned a court-appointed attorney who - o bitter irony - also happens to be her now-adult son, Clayton Jr. (Keir Dullea). Even before Holly has an awareness of this, she steadfastly refuses to REVEAL ALL. Clayton Sr. and that battleax of a mother-in-law of hers are seated in the courtroom, initially to support Junior's first court appearance, but they quickly recognize Holly.

Incredibly, they just sit there, Estelle shedding crocodile tears as Senior sits slack-jawed, shocked to find his wife somehow still alive. And, yet, they do nothing. The writing seems to suggest they're holding back rushing to her aid only out of respect for Holly's self-sacrificing determination to remain anonymous, but instead they come off as extraordinarily selfish, in wanting to save the husband from political scandal on the eve of his election to the governor's seat.

Keir Dullea's performance pulls what might have been a terrible ending from the fire. He's wonderful, a perfectly cast and acted mixture of intelligence, sincerity, and nonjudgmental innocence. One guesses Dullea went straight from this emblematic Hollywood studio production over to England to begin shooting Kubrick's anything-but 2001: A Space Odyssey, and one wonders if this was at least one of the roles that got him cast in the latter. As diametrically different as they are, there's a peculiar continuity between those two roles, and Dullea's performance.

Video & Audio

  Licensed from Universal, Kino's release of Madame X is presented in 1.85:1 widescreen. The transfer looks great, with color that really pops and an impressive sharp image. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 (mono) is likewise very good. Optional English subtitles included on this Region "A" disc.

Extra Features.

Supplements are limited to an audio commentary by film scholars Lee Gambin and Dr. Eloise Ross, along with a trailer.

Parting Thoughts

For fans of this genre, Madame X comes Highly Recommended.

* Typical of 1960s Hollywood films, Madame X pays little attention to period detail. The hairstyles, costumes, props look as contemporary as much as they do period. By today's standards, it's hard to tell exactly when most of the film is taking place.

Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian currently restoring a 200-year-old Japanese farmhouse.

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