Tuesday 27 March 2007

Madame X (1937) Sam Wood

Jacqueline Fleuriot is not having a good day. She's been cheating on her husband, it seems, but feeling bad about it. Before she can finally call it quits and go home, they're interrupted by her lover's wronged woman who proceeds to shoot him dead while Jacqueline hides on the balcony. She escapes and makes it back home only to find her son ill, her husband home and herself out on her ear because he isn't stupid and realises exactly what's gone on.

The husband is Bernard Fleuriot, played by the wonderful Warren William as a fair but very hard man. He doesn't want the shame of it to be reflected on either himself or his son, so cuts her off completely. As far as he's concerned she's dead to him and his son both. Of course when he finally comes around and decides to try to contact her for the sake of decency she's long gone and any attempt to her find her through official channels ends up in misunderstanding. Every policeman that turns up to help her home looks like a cop ready to hang a murder on her.

It also means that William isn't the lead for a change. Gladys George is a superb Jacqueline, finding her way from the glamorous high life along the long road of decline to be a drunken hostess in New Orleans singing torch songs like she was Marlene Dietrich and pressganged into service as a stewardess on some boat travelling the seven seas for ten years. She ends up in Buenos Aires unable to pay her rent and caught up in the schemes of a card shark with a careful ear and big ideas who listens to her drunken ramblings and sees the truth in what she doesn't even realise she's saying.

There are quite a few names in here that I know well: Henry Daniell as the manipulative card shark and blackmailer, Reginald Owen as Fleuriot's friend who persuades him into looking for his wife and George Zucco as the doctor who takes care of the young Fleuriot. There's also a young John Beal trying to be Franchot Tone. He only has a small part here but his performance, overacted but still powerful, enabled him to find his way all the way up to share the limelight in his next film, Double Wedding, with William Powell and Myrna Loy.

It's a very busy cast but there's no taking the spotlight away from Gladys George who proves that she deserved the leading roles up there with Bette Davis and the other greats of the era who were more content to be actors than stars, however much they were both. She isn't afraid to shine or descend into the depths, whatever the role demands, and of course the more the role demands the deeper the depths and the more she can shine. Here she does a lot of descending and a lot of shining.

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