Sunday, February 17, 2013

Madame X (5 stars)

In celebration of Lana Turner's February 8th birthday, I recently enjoyed a re-watch of my favorite of her films---Madame X---and since my review of it was way back on the very first day of this blog, I decided a re-write and expansion of that post was in order.

With Lana Turner in the title role and supporting help from John Forsythe, Constance Bennett, Ricardo Montalban, Burgess Meredith, and Keir Dullea, 1966's Madame X is not only my favorite Lana Turner film but my favorite film of the 1960's and among my top 7 movies of all-time.  It's an incredibly beautiful, heart-tugging movie...the one I consider to be the tearjerker of all tearjerkers (though Gary Cooper's Ten North Frederick is right up there too). It doesn't just cause me to weep...but to sob...almost to the point that I can barely breathe.  Sometimes, I pop the movie into the player and then fast-forward to the final 30 minutes just so I can sob my  heart out.  Strange, yes...but the absolute truth. 

The story is about Holly Anderson (Lana), a young woman who has married into a rich and powerful family.  Her husband, Clay (John Forsythe), has political aspirations and an extremely controlling mother (Constance Bennett) who wants to be sure her son becomes all that he aspires to be.  Although Holly and Clay seem happy and even have a son early into their marriage, Clay travels a great deal, leaving Holly very lonely.  Her mother-in-law, however, tells Holly that she simply must not sit home and long for Clay...that she has a role to fulfill...that she must continue to be seen socially.

Holly begins to attend social functions with another man (Ricardo Montalban), and eventually he falls in love with her.  When Holly informs him she cannot see him anymore, they fight, and he tumbles down a flight of stairs, dying immediately.  Mother-in-law insists that since it looks like Holly killed him, a scandal will ensue, thus ruining Clay's political future.  Determining that the best way to protect her son and grandson from Holly's "indiscretion" is to get Holly out of their lives, mother-in-law promises to cover everything up if Holly will just disappear forever. mother-in-law's urging and with her help, Holly "dies" in a tragic boat accident and then goes to Europe, where mother-in-law sends money for her support.

For twenty years, Holly spirals downward into alcoholism and addiction and perhaps prostitution (nothing is shown, so that possibility is left to the imagination). She is a shell of the beautiful woman she used to be. Eventually, a con man discovers who Holly really is, and he intends to use that information to extort money. Desperate to keep the man from destroying her husband's political hopes and her son's future ambitions, Holly shoots him and is sent to trial. The man appointed to defend her is none other than her now-grown-up son, and neither mother nor son has any idea who the other is.

At the time I first discovered Madame X, I didn't profess to be a huge Lana Turner fan; in fact, I really didn't care for her that much. While I loved the movie and the title character, Lana herself did nothing for me.  Since then, though, I've come to  love Lana and now deem her among my five favorite actresses of all time.  I truly believe her performance in Madame X has to be the finest performance of her career.  She is completely brilliant here...very definitely worthy of an Academy Award nomination, which, unbelievably, she did not receive.

It has recently come to my awareness that there is a 1937 version of Madame X, with Gladys George in the title role.  I would love an opportunity to see it and to compare the two films.

Since Madame X is out on DVD, it ought to be fairly easy to track down a copy.  Try to see it if you can, as it really is an amazingly beautiful, heart-tugging movie which I highly recommend.

Happy viewing!!