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Biopic of the famed scientist and the work she did with her husband Pierre in the discovery of radium. Marie was a student at the Sorbonne studying for her Master's degree in physics when they first met. She received permission to use space in Professor Pierre Curie's laboratory. They soon fall in love and are married, working together on trying to isolate a radioactive substance Marie has identified as radium. Years of painstaking research and experimentation led to success and Marie and Pierre Curie shared the Nobel Prize in Physics. Sadly, Pierre was killed crossing the street in the rain when he was run over by a horse and wagon. Marie continued to work and make major contributions to science. Written by
This picture illustrates everything wonderful about the confidence, expertise and narrative power of Hollywood films near the end of the classic period: it is entertaining, intelligent and carefully made in every department. A smooth celebration of scientific theory and of the romantic partnership of two scientists.
The first third of the film is in many ways the best: a very funny and sensitive depiction of the courtship of two gauche scientists. Often filmed in long-shot on beautifully detailed, cavernous sets, we see Garson and Pigeon sometimes isolated in space, sometimes haltingly moving through crowds, tentatively finding their way to each other. Though Mervyn Leroy could be a stolid director, here he shows great delicacy and judgment and he perfectly sets a mood of gentle comic romance.
The middle third deals with the engrossing scientific mystery that led to the discovery of radium. The lightness of touch and the humor of the first third are not entirely abandoned here, but there is a greater seriousness and a kind of reverence for knowledge and scientific endeavor that is virtually absent from films today (the exception would be A BEAUTIFUL MIND, which I kind of hated). There are some striking visuals, including a tracking shot across hundreds of bowls of evaporating chemicals and a haunting image of a glowing dish of radium in a large, dark shed.
The last third is the dullest and most conventional portion of the film: fame and celebration for the Curies and a renewal of their love just before Pierre died prematurely in a traffic accident. The high point here is what surely won Pigeon his Oscar nomination for Best Actor: the speech to a jeweler in which he describes the beauty of his wife just before his untimely death. There is also the evocative image of a wet umbrella broken under a wagon wheel.
Of course, what you think of this idealistic, creamy and sure-footed vehicle (which must have packed 'em in at Radio City Music Hall) depends entirely on what you think of Greer Garson, as well as your opinion of the popular Garson-Pigeon screen team. Their looks and personalities were perfect matches, templates of feminine and masculine 'virtues'. There was nothing sexy about them but they suggested a platonic ideal of what every child would wish their parents to be. They were the last stars to make middle age look glamorous and desirable.
As for me, I like her. Her mannerisms are kept to a minimum in this restrained performance. The famous tinkling laugh, the arched eyebrow, the flaring nostrils -- so overused in some other films -- are not much in evidence here. But her best qualities are: the sense of intelligence, of quiet watchfulness, self-possession, dignity and tact are all here. The source of her screen personality has always seemed sane and tranquil, relaxing to watch and finally, to me, admirable. I can understand why some people (like critic Pauline Kael) felt that Hollywood's ladylike stars presented an outdated, oppressive ideal for women. But from this distance, Garson's confidence and ease, her capability, her self-containment all strike me as civilized and even sophisticated traits. She played grownups, and we have never had enough of those on screen . . .
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