9 user 4 critic

Sergeant Madden (1939)

Approved | | Crime, Drama, Family | 24 March 1939 (USA)
A highly respected Irish cop is pleased when his son follows him onto the force. Unfortunately, the son is more interested in rewards than in upholding the law. When he shoots a child ... See full summary »


(as Josef Von Sternberg)


(story "A Gun In His Hand") (as William A. Ulman Jr.), (screenplay)




Cast overview, first billed only:
'Piggy' Ceders
Charlotte LePage
Punchy LePage
Donald Haines ...
Henchman Stemmy
Dove (Madden's maid)
John Kelly ...
Henchman Nero
Philadelphia (as Horace MacMahon)
Neil Fitzgerald ...
Casey (police broadcaster)
Dennis Madden, as a boy


A highly respected Irish cop is pleased when his son follows him onto the force. Unfortunately, the son is more interested in rewards than in upholding the law. When he shoots a child caught stealing, the others frame him and he is sent to prison where his attitude becomes even worse than before. Written by Ulf Kjell Gür

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Beery's Back In "Big House" Thrills ! See more »


Crime | Drama | Family


Approved | See all certifications »




Release Date:

24 March 1939 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Au service de la loi  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Sound System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?


This film's initial telecast in Los Angeles took place Sunday 18 August 1957 on KTTV (Channel 11), followed by Philadelphia Saturday 23 November 1957 on WFIL (Channel 6), by New York City 23 July 1959 on WCBS (Channel 2), and by San Francisco 26 September 1959 on KGO (Channel 7). See more »


When Eileen is exiting the doctor's office, studio lights and the boom microphone can be seen in reflection in the door's glass as it closes. See more »


Sgt. Shaun Madden: Aww... you shouldn't be kissing an old sheepdog like me.
See more »

Crazy Credits

Opening card: There is an unsung hero on our street to whom we owe our lives a hundred times, yet seldom know his name. He is the cop on the beat. This is the story of such a hero.. A policeman who chose between love for his son and devotion to duty. See more »

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User Reviews

SERGEANT MADDEN (Josef von Sternberg, 1939) **1/2

This is another atypical Sternberg film, his sole official effort at staid MGM; I TAKE THIS WOMAN (1940; which is to follow) was another assignment for that studio that would however be completed by other hands. Still, given the presence of Wallace Beery, I thought this would be a comedy-drama whereas it turned out to be a thriller with elements of both the gangster pictures then at their zenith and the soon-to-be in vogue noirs!

That said, the film starts off in a sentimental vein as Irish copper – with traditional heart-of-gold – Beery offers to raise a slew of orphaned or abandoned babies. The catch is that, when they grow up, the kids would cause all sorts of trouble for him: two are in love but another claims the girl (Laraine Day) for himself and, while the latter (Alan Curtis in the kind of role John Garfield would come to specialize in) follows in father's footsteps, his impatience for promotion sees him antagonize a notorious gangster (Marc Lawrence) who had learned to respect Beery and eventually turn criminal in his own right! The latter aspect links the film with his earlier (UNDERWORLD [1927], THUNDERBOLT [1929]) and later (MACAO [1952]) phases and, while MGM was best-known for producing wholesome, entertainment-oriented fare, they did churn out the occasional hard-hitting picture over the years. Beery, too, could be serious and schmaltzy and here he mixes the two to reasonable satisfaction.

Though, as I said, Sternberg was unable to invest the proceedings with his trademark style, the film does incorporate an effective montage sequence (courtesy of Peter Ballbusch, who had worked for the director on his masterpiece i.e. THE SCARLET EMPRESS [1934]) depicting Curtis' 'road-to-ruin'.

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