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Madeleine (1949)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment

Main image of Madeleine (1949)
35mm. black and white, 114 mins
DirectorDavid Lean
Production CompanyCineguild
 Pinewood Films
ProducerStanley Haynes
ScriptNicholas Phipps
 Stanley Haynes
PhotographyGuy Green

Cast: Ann Todd (Madeleine Smith); Ivan Desny (Emile L' Angelier); Norman Wooland (Mr. Minnoch); Leslie Banks (Mr. Smith)

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The story of Madeleine Smith, accused of poisoning her French lover upon discovering that he only wanted her for her money and position.

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David Lean's accomplished treatment of the famous Scottish Madeleine Smith case was not favourably received, and indeed is often considered to be his least typical film. The too objective script leaves audiences not knowing whether Madeleine was a murderess or not, and this fact contributed to the film's failure on release.

Ann Todd had played the role of Madeleine in a West End theatre version of the story, and she persuaded Lean to make a film of the subject, which she found fascinating. Some sequences remind one of later Lean films, notably Ryan's Daughter (1970), as when Emile (Ivan Desny) and Madeleine dance on the hilltop while the village dance below them grows more and more frenzied, underlying the sexual intensity of the scene. The jeering spectators who follow Madeleine to court reappear to torment Adela Quested, when she gives evidence in A Passage to India (1984).

Lean introduced some Freudian imagery into the film - the rain-soaked street where the lovers embrace, the shot of Madeleine on the floor with only Emile's cane in the frame. There are many impressive sequences, including the trial scene itself - Madeleine looks up the tall flight of stairs which lead to the courtroom, the trapdoor opens and the spectators peer down at her. It is a nightmare scene worthy of Hogarth.

Of the supporting players, only Leslie Banks as the authoritarian father registers strongly. Ultimately, the remoteness of Ann Todd's performance and appearance, coupled with the objective script, results in a film which is cold and uninvolving, despite the authenticity of its settings, the beauty of its photography and its technical mastery.

Janet Moat

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Video Clips
1. Secret rendez-vous (4:31)
2. 'You will not fail me' (2:24)
3. 'Emile is dead' (3:28)
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Dance With a Stranger (1984)
Pink String and Sealing Wax (1945)
Yield to the Night (1956)
Banks, Leslie (1890-1952)
Bryan, John (1911-1969)
Edwards, Henry (1883-1952)
Green, Guy (1913-2005)
Laurie, John (1897-1980)
Lean, David (1908-1991)
Morell, André (1909-1978)
Todd, Ann (1909-1993)
Cineguild Productions