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4.7 out of 5 stars
Madeleine [DVD]
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99 of 103 people found the following review helpful
"Madeleine" (1950) appears to have been the eighth film made, in his long career, by famed British director Sir David Lean, who won Oscars in 1958 for The Bridge On The River Kwai [DVD] [1957]; in 1963 for Lawrence Of Arabia [DVD]; and was nominated in 1966 for Doctor Zhivago [1965] [DVD], and in 1985 for A Passage To India [DVD] [1984]. The film was made at Pinewood Studios, initially released by the J. Arthur Rank Organisation: as a child, I just about squnched down in my movie seat with delight every time Rank's living logo of the bare-chested man banging the dinner gong came on; I was always that sure that I was in for a treat, and "Madeleine," in many ways, sure is. More recently, the film has been released on DVD by Granada Ventures, and ITV; and, thankfully, it has subtitles. It has been restored and remastered. It is a dark, sinister film, with a menacing, moody look from the opening shots, lots of Scots `weather,' a period, costumed `film noir,' made at a time, actually, when a number of strong movies focused on female psychological conflicts were being made.

As a film made early in Lean's work, it differs greatly from the latter work that made him so well-known and much-admired: it is in black and white, small-scale, shot almost entirely indoors, and, in fact, for much of its length, is a courtroom drama. It is based on a once very famous true crime case, brought to trial in Scotland in the summer of 1857 -during the lengthy reign of Britain's epoch-making Queen Victoria. A beautiful young Scottish socialite, Madeleine Smith, was charged with the murder of her French, Channel Islands-born lover, Emile l'Anglier. His death had occurred in Glasgow, but the case was so controversial, and the defendant so wildly unpopular, that the case was heard in Edinburgh. The trial lasted nine days; by the time the jury brought in a verdict unique to Scottish jurisprudence: Not Proven, (i.e., neither guilty nor not guilty, simply not proven), public opinion had become much more sympathetic to Smith. Apparently Smith's barrister, John Inglis, acclaimed the greatest of the day, had utilized an early version of the current highly-successful so-called "Texas defense:" as originated by Texan lawyer Richard (Racehorse) Haynes; the theory that the defendant was such a snake, he deserved killing.

The movie doesn't cover this material, but, as best we can tell at this late date, Smith and l'Anglier met in 1855, in a Glasgow park, when she was but 20; she stood trial for his murder at 22. She lived in a big house that still stands, # 7 Blythswood Square; she was beautiful, and spoilt, the granddaughter of David Hamilton, the best-loved of Scottish architects, and daughter of one of his ultimately extremely successful apprentices, James Smith. L'Anglier was actually a warehouseman employed by her father. They were miles apart in wealth and social standing. Apparently, she had a mind of her own; she might well have thought she was suffocating in her father's rigid, tedious, stultifying Victorian household, and might well have been very bored. At any rate, she was soon involved in a secret affair with the inappropriate warehouseman: something virtually unheard-of for a well-to-do, unmarried young woman of the time. And it gets better: she was entertaining him late at night, in her father's house, in the maid's room, right below her father's bedroom, next door to the bedroom she shared with her younger sister. Unheard-of, indeed. Then an associate of her father's proposed to her, which apparently came as a surprise to them all. It was a good offer. Yet she offered to elope with l'Anglier: he huffily refused: he wanted the acknowledgment of her father, a public marriage: he wished to ascend to her level, not bring her down to his, he said. A few days later, the warehouseman was dead, a painful death, arsenic poisoning. With, unfortunately, some 200 of her love letters still among his papers; and Smith had recently bought arsenic. But the state couldn't prove she'd administered it to her lover.

Well, the case generated a transcript, of course, and a tremendous amount of newspaper coverage; there's a lot of documentation, and I think we can assume that in 1950, when the movie was made, there were even still people alive who'd heard about it first hand from older relatives. At any rate, it's now been more than 150 years, and nobody has been able to come up with a convincing theory, though some have tried, as to who else would have, or could have, killed the victim. Most modern scholars of the case believe Madeleine was guilty. Many believe had she taken the stand, (she was then not allowed to); she would have been found guilty. And, when asked, Madeleine's barrister Inglis is said to have replied that he would sooner dance with his client than sup with her.

In the end, Madeleine left town, changed her name, never referred to the case --although she was still pretty universally identified - but made quite a reasonable marriage, had a couple of children, moved in haute Bloomsbury bohemian circles. Her husband was a friend/co-worker of the well-known artist/designer William Morris: she had a reputation as a good hostess, and an outspoken, amusing guest; as a beauty, she is supposed to have posed as Mary Magdalene for the famous artist of the time, the Pre-Raphaelite Dante Gabriel Rossetti. A woman of the time could, actually, ask for little more. And it's quite a story, yes?

However, Lean is supposed to have made the movie as a wedding present for his new wife, the beautiful British actress Ann Todd (The Passionate Friends [DVD] [1948];The Seventh Veil [DVD] [1945]): she had played the part on stage, and was supposedly anxious to get it on celluloid. Of course, she was 41 when she played the titular role in the movie, and loving husband though Lean may have been, his camera angles, frequently shot from below, with harsh lighting, were not kind to Todd. She often looks too old for her character. Still, the film is, from beginning to end, tense and suspenseful, though telling a well-known tale. Historically, it's been very difficult to find. But it's really worth seeing if you can get it.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
The unmarried daughter (Ann Todd, SEVENTH VEIL) of a wealthy family in 1850's Scotland is carrying on an illicit affair with her penniless French lover (Ivan Desny). But when she attempts to break off the affair, he threatens her with blackmail by revealing her compromising love letters to her father. When the lover dies of arsenic poisoning, she is arrested for his murder. Based on a true story and the sensational murder trial of Madeleine Smith, David Lean doesn't appear to have the talent for suspense or mystery. Perhaps that's not what he was interested in but the film doesn't remains vaguely unsatisfying. The Smith verdict was "not proven", apparently a verdict indigenous only to Scottish law, and Todd's enigmatic performance doesn't reveal anything regarding her guilt or innocence. Todd (who was Lean's wife at the time) at 40 is rather matronly to be playing the young Madeleine who was only 22 at the time of the murder trial. Guy Green did the cinematography, William Alwyn the score and Todd's handsome frocks by Margaret Furse. With Elizabeth Sellars, Norman Wooland, Leslie Banks, Barry Jones, Andre Morell and Anthony Newley.

The ITV DVD from Great Britain is a nicely rendered transfer in the appropraite 1.33 aspect ratio.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
Having seen this only once before on Turner Classic Movies over a year ago, I recall being impressed by the velvety black and white cinematography. Considered by many to be one of David Lean's lesser works no doubt, it still rises head and shoulders over most other films of similar ilk. Ann Todd's performance is one of her best, and while most might quibble over the pacing I still find this film highly engaging. Recommended without reservation.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 18 February 2011
A must for David Lean fans. Wonderfully atmospheric, perfectly detailed and beautifully acted. Ann Todd plays a strangely unsympathetic role but then when you looked at the manner in which she was brought up this was not so unusual. She is anxious for romance but when push comes to shove she is just as cold blooded and unemotional as her parents. I thoroughly enjoyed it though the ending left one looking for something more satisfactory.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on 21 February 2010
Having been brought up in Glasgow and worked around the corner from Madeleine Smith's home in Blythswood Square I found this movie of great interest.Made at the start of David Lean's illustrious career he has taken great care to create the atmosphere of the period, using the actual square and imposing house for his location.

Historically accurate and with a well drawn and worthy cast this makes absorbing viewing.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 29 March 2010
Probably one of the most 'mysterious' love stories ever brought to the screen - a 'David Lean' movie with lots of great cinematography which has been beautifully re-mastered.

A young Victorian woman (Ann Todd) is secretly meeting a handsome, mysterious and exciting young Frenchman who appears tapping at her Cellar window late at night when everyone else in the house has gone to bed. It's unclear as to how Todd's character ever met the man - and more surprisingly; how it all ends - but this only adds fascination to the very unusual plot.

The Frenchman (played marvellously by Ivan Desny) appears to be from a different class (though dressed affluently) but excepting this; there seems no obvious reason for any opposition coming into play from the girl's parents to disapprove of such a match.

With a 'sinister' undercurrent that's distinctly 'vague' in its presence - there are some wonderful scenes - including a close shot of Desny's character's 'masculine' prowess when seen stood in leather boots towering over the skirts of Ann Todd's character, after she's fallen to the ground at his feet imploring him not to expose their relationship to her father. There is also an interesting and 'obscure' scene when both characters are seen dancing to nearby music outside in the moonlight late at night.

One of the best stories involving any kind of romance I have seen - cleverly combined with an implied 'sinister' mystery that never really gets solved... In view of Desny's wonderful portrayal of the gentleman, one can only empathise and sympathise at how Todd's character 'hypnotically' would die for this small piece of illicit romance with such a fascinating and exciting man!

Also stars Barbara Everest.

Great Movie!
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on 14 January 2013
David Lean is associated with epic films such as 'Lawrence of Arabia' or 'Dr Zhivago', yet he was also a master of the film equivalent of chamber music. Some of his early films are just as good as anything he made later, and this is one of them. It is the story of one of the more unusual criminal cases of the nineteenth century - one which has not ever been satisfactorily solved.
This is a film noir, but set as a period piece; one might also say it is a period piece set as a film noir. Fine acting, wonderful camera work, and a gripping story make this one a classic. It stands in the tradition of 'The Lady Or The Tiger?', posing a tricky problem for us - I reveal no more. Lean manages to make the emotional part of the story just as gripping as the rest, which only adds to the effect.
The transfer is high quality, with crisp sound.
Highly recommended for all who like whodunnits, romances, crime stories, court dramas... well, for just about everybody.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 8 June 2014
i found this to be a very compelling film, very well acted by the whole cast but a very convincing role by Ann Todd, she left me thinking "did she or didnt she", it is a very good old fashion film i wish they could make more like it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 15 February 2012
A long forgotten film from the days when British Cinema was really riding high, such a pity that with the restoration of the pictures they did not pay as much trouble on the sound, very hard to hear at times, but well worth a buy.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 5 May 2011
Watching the movie is like opening a time capsule and discover David Lean left something inside. The best court room drama I have ever seen. The strict Victorian father of Ann Todd haunted me for days. Before he died David Lean said,'Nothing was true about my 'Lawrence of Arabia' except the camel and the desert.' I respect him so much for his honesty.
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