Sunday, 7 February 2021

Movie Review: Madame X (1966)

A melodrama about one woman's downfall, Madame X sinks into a churning sea of sentimentality. 

Clay Anderson (John Forsythe) is the scion of an influential Connecticut family, living with his mother Estelle (Constance Bennett) in their grand ancestral home. He marries San Francisco shopgirl Holly Parker (Lana Turner) and they have a child. Clay travels constantly in pursuit of a diplomatic career, and Holly succumbs to loneliness and seeks comfort with suave bachelor Phil Benton (Ricardo Montalban).

Clay's sudden return from a long trip and Phil's unexpected demise threaten a tragic scandal. The vindictive Estelle is eager to preserve the family reputation and pressures Holly into faking her death and disappearing forever from the lives of the Andersons. Initially relocating to Europe and meeting charming musician Christian Torben (John van Dreelen), her life spirals downwards. In Mexico she falls into the clutches of serial swindler Dan Sullivan (Burgess Meredith) as fate conspires to reunite her with the Andersons and her now grown son Clay Jr. (Keir Dullea).

Another Hollywood remake of the 1908 French play by Alexandre Bisson, the 1966 version is colourful, glossy, and crushingly boring. Producer Ross Hunter aims for the glory years of Douglas Sirk social melodramas, but 10 years later and in the uninspired hands of television director David Lowell Rich, Madame X is a glorified small screen soap opera, lacking in context, depth and thematic commentary.

The problems start with the casting of John Forsythe (48 years old) and Lana Turner (44 years old) as newlyweds, creating a disorienting 15 year narrative shift. Not surprisingly, both are unconvincing. With his wealth and family connections Forsythe's Clay should be well further ahead in his career, while Turner struggles to settle in the role of a naive bride unaware what she married into. However, her performance improves with her character's age and Turner commendably embraces a dowdy and deglamourized image as Holly's fortunes nosedive. Constance Bennett, in her final film appearance, adds a welcome spark as the conniving mother-in-law .

The Jean Holloway script lacks subtlety, and the second half is one mother's neverending farewell to a tormented life. The final 45 minutes surrender to various levels of physical, mental and emotional agony, Holly often on her back in bed and flirting with death. The wallowing is made much worse by a syrupy and unrelenting Frank Skinner music score designed to emphasize all the weepy moments.

The climax arrives in a courtroom filled with far-fetched coincidences and characters floundering in oblivion. Madame X is destined for a hard life, and her film is equally dire.



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