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French country girl Madelon falls for artist Larry, who leaves her after she becomes pregnant. She finds help from jewel thief Carlo, but he commits suicide when the police try to arrest him. Madelon is arrested and receives a ten year term in prison for assisting him in his profession. To support her son, who does not know that she's been in prison, she becomes a street walker, allowing him to attend medical school. Written by
Stephan Eichenberg <email@example.com>
Early tear-jerker takes the mother /son love theme to extremes...
It's amazing that in the same decade that produced films like GONE WITH THE WIND and STAGECOACH, technically superb in every way, there were the more primitive early talkies like THE SIN OF MADELON CLAUDET.
Everything about it has a museum piece quality. It's hokey from the very first scene and you immediately know that this film has not stood the test of time the way true film classics have.
The acting is overly dramatic with every line magnified for the sound camera, and even HELEN HAYES has a hard time being convincing when she has to play a woman of the streets. Nevertheless, her efforts in this tear-jerker won her an Academy Award as Best Actress of 1931. When she's required to wear age make-up for the later scenes, she looks so much like the Ada Quonsett character she played in AIRPORT ('70).
It's the kind of film that would be remade in later years with stars like Kay Francis, Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Crawford or Olivia de Havilland. A mother makes all sorts of sacrifices in order to be close to her son or daughter after an ill-advised love affair gone wrong.
NEIL HAMILTON, as the man who deserts his wife, gives probably the most natural performance in the film. LEWIS STONE, as a kind-hearted thief, for some reason looks even older than he did as Judge Hardy in the Andy Hardy series. As Hayes' romantic interest he seems incredibly miscast.
There is not a shred of background music or even a hint of humor in all the proceedings. Only anguish and heartbreak without the usual violin strings.
It's heavy going all the way--a primitive film from the early talkies that must have seemed shocking at the time but hardly holds up as respectful melodrama today and has been largely forgotten.
Just as Lewis Stone looks impossibly old to play the count, Robert Young, in one of his first films plays her son, the young doctor, long before he played Marcus Welby, M.D. on TV and looks impossibly youthful.
A curiosity piece, nothing more.
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