Madeleine (1950)

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Directed by David Lean
Written by Nicholas Phipps and Stanley Haynes
1950/UK
Cineguild
First viewing/Amazon Instant

I find dialogue a bore, for the most part. I think that if you look back on any film you’ve seen, you don’t remember lines of dialogue, you remember pictures. — David Lean

Another David Lean movie chock full of beautiful pictures and combining mystery and romance in a moderately intriguing way.

Madeleine (Ann Todd) is the daughter of a proper Victorian household headed by an iron-willed father, James Smith (Leslie Banks).  Madeleine has been resisting her family’s desire for her to marry nice, steady gentleman William Minoch in favor of carrying on a secret affair with penniless Frenchman Emile L’Angier.  She is reckless in her abandon, bringing Emile into her home after hours, having assignations with him in the maid’s room, and writing him letter after letter promising to marry him and declaring herself already his wife.

Madeleine just cannot bring herself to introduce Emile to her father.  Finally, he gives her an ultimatum.  Instead, she appears in his room and begs him to elope.  Marrying Madeleine without her money or social standing does not fit in with the Frenchman’s plans and he makes this clear.  Madeleine, alerted to his fortune-hunting, tells him the affair is over.

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Madeleine then softens toward Minoch and agrees to marry him.  The couple seem genuinely happy and her family is over the moon with excitement.  Now Emile reappears and tells Madeleine she is still his fiancée and he will reveal her letters if he does not introduce her to the family as such.  Madeleine agrees but asks for more time.  Emile gets very ill after this meeting.

Then Emile goes away for a short holiday.  Somehow he does not receive Madeleine’s letters inviting him to meet her family and does not show up at the specified times.  He finally returns.  He gets extremely ill and dies, of what is found to be arsenic poisoning.  Madeleine’s letters are found in his lodgings after his death.

The rest of the movie consists of Madeleine’s trial for Emile’s murder.  I will not reveal the many wrinkles of the murder case.

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According to the IMDb trivia, this was Lean’s least favorite film.  While I might agree, that does not mean that the film is without merit.  It’s worth seeing just for the below seduction scene and has many other pleasures.  I find Ann Todd to be slightly off in a lot of ways but the story is fairly interesting, if a bit confusing.

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