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teaser Madeleine (1950)

The case of Madeleine Smith had been the scandal of the day in 1857 Glasgow, Scotland. Twenty-one year old Smith was accused of killing her lover for not returning her love letters when she became engaged to another man. While there was no actual evidence of her crime and her guilt was not proven in the courtroom, it was widely believed that she was indeed guilty.

Both the film Madeleine (1950) and the real-life events on which it was based were surrounded in scandal. Smith left her lover to marry another man, the actress playing her, Ann Todd, had just divorced her husband to marry her lover, Madeleine director David Lean.

The Smith case had been made into the play Dishonored Lady by Edward Sheldon and Margaret Ayer Barnes in which Katharine Cornell had starred on Broadway in 1928. The film adaptation of the play had been filmed only three years before in 1947 starring Hedy Lamarr. Todd had played Madeleine Smith on stage in The Rest Is Silence and desperately wanted to make a film. Lean was less enthusiastic, "I had just married Ann Todd and she begged me to direct it. It was a miserable film, one of the most difficult I've ever made. Something didn't fit. I don't know what," Lean later recalled. As Gene D. Phillips wrote in his book, Beyond the Epic: The Life & Films of David Lean, the problem might have been personal. "While Lean was filming a beach scene for Madeleine, as the movie was to be called, a small plane interrupted a shot by swooping down on the terrified cast and crew and flying very low along the shore. Lean angrily shook his fist and shouted imprecations at the pilot, whom he did not recognize. But Todd did; it was [Nigel] Tangye [her recently divorced husband], whom Lean had never met. She never told Lean since he had said that he was going to report the pilot to the local flying club if he learned his identity. This nasty prank was, presumably, Tangye's parting shot. But Todd told me that she did not hold it against him. Nigel was an absolute saint, she said, and he just was not himself for some time after the ordeal of the divorce."Madeleine was shot at Pinewood Studios in the summer of 1949, shortly after the Lean-Todd marriage and locations were in Cornwall and Scotland. It was not an idyllic honeymoon, as Phillips wrote, "Todd fell into the same pattern of behavior with Lean that had driven Ronald Neame to distraction when he was briefly directing The Passionate Friends [1949]. That is, she incessantly attempted to second-guess the director about how each scene should be played. She engaged Lean in lengthy discussions during rehearsals in which she endeavored to psychoanalyze her character, and these endless squabbles put the movie behind schedule. To make matters worse, there was an electricians' strike at the studio in August, which caused further delays."

Todd's obsession with the Smith case led to her owning some letters that Smith had written to her lover Emile L'Angelier, and an ivory-handled parasol that Smith brought to her trial, and which Todd herself had used in a courtroom scene in The Rest Is Silence. Lean would add to the verisimilitude of the film by shooting on location at Smith's own house at 7 Blythswood Square in Glasgow; and by using court transcripts in the trial scenes in the last third of the movie', including the final summation by Smith's attorney.

Madeleine was not successful when it was released in London in February 1950. Noel Coward summed up the problem that audiences had with it, "I don't think you can end the film not knowing whether she did or didn't kill him. Somehow you've got to tip the scales one way or the other."

Producer: Stanley Haynes
Director: David Lean
Screenplay: Stanley Haynes, Nicholas Phipps
Cinematography: Guy Green
Music: William Alwyn
Film Editing: Clive Donner, Geoffrey Foot
Cast: Ann Todd (Madeleine Smith), Norman Wooland (William Minnoch), Ivan Desny (Emile L'Anglier), Leslie Banks (James Smith), Barbara Everest (Mrs. Smith), Elizabeth Sellars (Christina Hackett), Patricia Raine (Bessie Smith), Eugene Deckers (Thuau), Andre Morell (Defending Counsel), Barry Jones (Prosecuting Counsel), Susan Stranks (Janet Smith).

by Lorraine LoBianco

Beyond the Epic: The Life & Films of David Lean by Gene D. Phillips
Camera Journal: Films and Filmmakers by Paul Sutton, September 14, 2007
The Internet Movie Database

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