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Madeleine Movie Review

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Madeleine Smith was a Victorian murderess…or was she? Director David Lean wanted audiences of the 1950s to have a question in their minds after seeing his film. Apparently, Madeleine (played by Lean's wife, Ann Todd) had a lusty relationship with Emile L'Angelier (Ivan Desny). Her father (Leslie Banks) wanted her to marry a man named Minnoch (Norman Wooland) who was more suited to her station in life. Scenting either hush money or a lucrative alliance, L'Angelier threatened to show Madeleine's letters to Mr. Smith. Not long after, Madeleine entered a chemist's shop, purchased a bottle of arsenic from a Mr. Murdoch (Ivor Barnard), and soon L'Angelier was writhing in agony from a fatal dose of arsenic. Who done it? We won't be able to tell from the Scottish court transcripts; Madeleine's guilt was “not proven.” Madeleine herself never discussed her guilt or innocence after she was dismissed by the court. It's an unsolved mystery, and, nearly 150 years after the fact, it's liable to remain one forever. With so many unyielding participants, Lean reveals how everyone's strict code of behavior led directly to murder. For all Lean's meticulous attention to every historical detail, the film's one flaw was inevitable. These are the most passionless of people; indeed, if there had been one spark of genuine passion, Lean might be making a film about a legendary elopement or a shocking rebellion, instead of a cool, conscienceless disposal of a human impediment to a rigid way of life. Recommended for further research: Mary S. Hartman's superb 1977 Pocket Book, Victorian Murderesses (including Miss Smith)! AKA: The Strange Case of Madeleine.

1950 114m/B Ann Todd, Leslie Banks, Ivan Desny, Norman Wooland, Barbara Everest, Susan Stranks, Patricia Raine, Elizabeth Sellars, Edward Chapman, Jean Cadell, Eugene Deckers, Amy Veness, John Laurie, Henry Edwards, Ivor Barnard, Barry Jones, David Morne, Andre Morell, Douglas Barr; D: David Lean; W: Nicholas Phipps, Stanley Haynes; C: Guy Green; M: William Alwyn. VHS

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