Madame X

Monday, August 25, 2008

They don't make them like this any more! Thank Christ...

Anyone who is moved by this movie is either a huge Lana Turner fan or they've spent far too much of their life comatose in front of their television, dribbling from their mouth as they watch ridiculous soap operas. For that is what this film is. It's a hysterical, nonsensical soap opera; a film so removed from reality that it generates laughs rather than tears.

The most entertaining section has to be the first part. Lana Turner marries a rich diplomat and then is promptly left alone in their huge house with her mother-in-law as her husband gallivants across the world. For a while the needy Turner pines for her spouse, but she quickly hooks up with a suave bachelor (played by Ricardo Montalban), the sort of bachelor who can play the piano in such a way that the instrument plays a different tune to the one he's playing with his fingers. He's also the sort of bachelor who loafs around his apartment in a blazer and cravat and who has a glass of cognac surgically attached to his hand. In other words: he's a smooth operator. But although Turner starts to develop feelings for him, she turns him down once her husband arrives back home. Hubby is puzzled at the change in her. From a distance in a gloomy room he says, "I want to kiss you but you seem so far away." I imagine the writer thought he was making an awfully clever observation about her emotional state, but I could only think that if she's so far away he should just walk over to her.

But one of the funniest scenes is when Turner goes back to the bachelor's apartment to tell him that the affair is over. He won't take no for an answer and spouts hilarious dialogue like, "The music plays for us and the champagne sparkles." But Turner isn't won over and tries to leave. However, the bachelor tries to grab her and falls headfirst down the stairs, killing himself. Really, is there a more hilarious accidental death than falling headfirst down the stairs? The only way it could have been funnier was if he'd accidentally caught fire and then fell down the stairs.

But the film's on a comedic roll now. Turner checks the body and then goes for the phone. Only it starts ringing, which would implicate her if she answered it. And then, would you believe it, someone starts banging on the door. How unlucky can one person get? But Turner somehow gets away and runs to her mother-in-law for help. But then she finds out that the mother-in-law knows about the accidental death because she's paid someone to follow Turner. "So you killed your lover, my dear." Dear Lord, episodes of Dallas are more plausible. But the silliness only increases. The mother-in-law hisses (literally) some bitchy dialogue ("You're still a shop girl from San Francisco. You should have stayed on the other side of the counter.") and then makes a deal with Turner. She won't turn her daughter-in-law in if she agrees to disappear. She'll give her money, a new life in Switzerland and a new identity. But she must agree to never have anything more to do with her husband or her son. She agrees. And of course, when she makes her final call to her husband he spouts some heartbreaking stuff about finding their family a perfect home and when she last talks to her son the ridiculously cute moppet says he misses her, even though he has no idea that she's about to fake her own death. Dear, oh, dear.

However, it's after Turner fakes her own death and is alone in Switzerland that the comedy peaks. Boozehound Mommy sits alone on trains, drinking and crying while looking at photos and as dialogue echoes in her frazzled mind; "Mommy, what's die?...I've got a surprise, I think I've found the house...Mommy, I miss you." And then she wanders aimlessly around Swiss towns, grabbing rouge children as more dialogue echoes around her fevered brain; "Mommy, don't leave...Mommy, I'm scared...Mommy, I miss you." At this point I was helpless with laughter.

Of course the only fate for a person with such demons is booze...and lots of it. Although to be fair there is a dull section where she has a brief relationship with a wealthy Swiss musician who saves her after he finds her lying face down in the snow. But she leaves him and goes to Mexico and drinks...a lot. And the scenes in Mexico are the only legitimately good ones. The syrup is momentarily put down and sleaze is pasted on the film instead. And Turner is good at acting drunk. But, in all fairness, Turner is pretty good in most of the film. It's just that the script is a ridiculous persecution fantasy (oh, how I've suffered!).

But after a flirtation with something more believable, the film goes off the deep end again. Turner kills Burgess Meredith, who takes her from Mexico to New York and who tries to blackmail her, and after destroying her identity, she's put on trial as 'Madame X'. But guess who her lawyer is? It's her grown-up son...only neither of them knows it. Bloody hell. How can anyone be the slightest bit moved by this laughable tripe?

And the final scenes are especially disappointing because they're not even funny. The film seems to be under the misguided delusion that the story of Madame Excrement is to be taken seriously and that we've invested in the conclusion, and therefore the courtroom scenes don't even have camp value. Instead they're mawkish sludge. Oh, isn't awful when you fake your own death and you find out that your son is defending you, only he doesn't know it. Isn't it a predicament we can all believe in and relate to?

No, it isn't.

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  1. Nice still from Fitzcarraldo. Astonishingly, I still haven't seen that. Muchos gracias, my friend, for reminding me that I need to...

  2. I love Lana Turner, and agree her performance is very good in most of this film. But it IS an absurd film, and your review had ME laughing my behind off (I actually had tears in my eyes roaring at your comment that John Forsythe should just WALK OVER TO HER if Turner's "so far away." Even Teddy Quinn doesn't escape your wrath ("the ridiculous mopppet", lol). Thanks for my laugh of the day. Such a funny, funny write-up.