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Young Raymond Floriot, following in his father Louis Floriot's professional footsteps, he now France's attorney general, has just passed the bar exam. Raymond's first case, appointed to him by the courts, is a murder case. His pitiful and poor Jane Doe client, who refers to herself only as Madame X, admits to killing the scoundrel of a man named Laroque, but won't disclose why or in turn defend herself in court. Raymond knows nothing of her past, which includes once being a woman of class, married to man of prestige. But that marriage ended because he treated her without love, which resulted in her leaving him for another man, who in turn passed away shortly thereafter. Her first marriage produced a son, who her husband refused to let her see. Her son never knew she was alive, he being told by his father that she died. The consequence of his action left Madame X on a downward path where she never found love. Now, in turn, she hopes her silence will protect the one that she really ... Written by
Seeing this 1929 version of Madame X was quite a revelation, the only other version I had seen was the Americanized Ross Hunter soap opera production that starred Lana Turner in 1965. This film illustrates the problems of early sound production and how the players and directors had trouble adapting to the new sound medium.
Ruth Chatterton was nominated for her stage like overwrought performance as the degraded Madame X formerly Jacqueline Floriot. I'm glad that before seeing Chatterton I had seen Mary Pickford in the Oscar winning film for Best Actress, Coquette. Pickford's performance is no more overwrought than Chatterton's. The Academy voters I'm sure chose from a whole lot of similar product.
Lionel Barrymore was up for Best Director in the only other Oscar category Madame X was entered in. Barrymore directed a few silents, but after talkies came in he soon found himself in front of the camera. His direction is for a stage play, but again I'm sure no better or worse than his competition.
The play is of French origin and debuted on Broadway in 1910 with a run of 156 performances. The lead was Dorothy Donnelly whose reputation today comes from being the book and lyric writer for Sigmund Romberg for Student Prince, Blossom Time, and My Maryland. The author Alexandre Breson took his plot idea from Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. Chatterton marries a cold hard self righteous Lewis Stone who when she gets no love at home, strays and seeks it elsewhere. Stone acts like Anna Karenina's husband and tosses her in the streets. And like Karenin, Stone tells his son, his mother is dead.
Fast forward about 25 years and Chatterton is now a poor man's version of Sadie Thompson. She hooks up with a South Seas low life in Ulrich Haupt who guesses her true identity and sees the blackmail possibilities in it. But when the idea is broached to Chatterton, she balks and Haupt pays the price.
This one as did the modern version had the Victorian ladies weeping every Wednesday matinée. Chatterton, Stone, Raymond Hackett as their grown son, and Haupt deliver their performances in true 19th century style.
The film is a curiosity and of course doesn't hold up well for today's audience. But in viewing don't compare Madame X with more modern work. It won't stand comparison that way.
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