Cast & Crew
In 1898, popular American singer Sally Sanders performs in London and attracts the attention of Leonard St. John, a pampered English heir. After a brief courtship, in which Sally establishes herself as chaste and serious, the couple marry and set up housekeeping in a modest flat. When Leonard's ambitious father Aubrey discovers that his only son has married a former chorine, he denounces Sally and terminates Leonard's allowance. With his last £50, Leonard takes Sally to Monte Carlo to gamble, but soon loses all. After Leonard confesses that he is broke, Sally is unable to tell him about her impending motherhood, but gives him her own modest savings to return to England to plead his case to his father. While Sally waits for him in Monte Carlo, Leonard, who is not trained for any activity except being a "gentleman," tries to convince his father to renew his financial support. Aubrey, however, still refuses to accept Leonard's marriage and tells his son that, if he wants money to send to Sally, he must write her a letter declaring his desire for divorce. Thus trapped, Leonard writes the farewell letter, but is so overcome with shame that he shoots and kills himself. Soon after his son's death, Aubrey discovers a letter written by Sally to Leonard in which Sally reveals her pregnancy. During the next year, Aubrey has a private detective watch Sally, who is living in Paris with her son, Leonard, Jr., and report any questionable activities. When Aubrey hears that Sally has taken a singing job in a brothel, he and his lawyer rush to Paris to declare her an unfit mother and claim Leonard, Jr. In spite of Sally's motherly pleas, Aubrey refuses to allow her even to visit her son, and without money or position, Sally has no legal recourse to fight him. Twenty years later, as World War I nears its end, the now-grown Leonard is a soldier stationed in France. An irresponsible, drunken cad who believes that all women are dishonest, Leonard seduces Eloise Duval, a young country woman, into sneaking away from her parents' home and accompanying him to an inn twenty miles away. Unknown to him, the proprietress of the inn, who calls herself Madame Blanche, is his mother. When Sally refuses to rent him a room for the night, Leonard becomes abusive to Eloise and is knocked unconscious by the bartender. After Eloise reveals Leonard's identity to her, Sally brings him to her bedroom and tends to him with maternal tenderness. Before a revived Leonard leaves the inn, still oblivious to his mother's presence, Eloise's father storms in and confronts Leonard. During the ensuing fight, Leonard shoots and kills Duval, but Sally helps him to escape before the police arrive and subsequently confesses to the deed. At her trial, Sally maintains that she killed Duval in self-defense, while Leonard follows his grandfather's advise and lies on the witness stand. However, after Leonard is re-questioned rigorously by the prosecutor, Sally is revealed to be Leonard's mother, and Leonard, the real killer. Defying Aubrey, Leonard tearfully reunites with his mother in the courtroom and later pledges to go with her to America upon his release from prison.
C. Henry Gordon
Dr. William Axt
Dr. William Axt
Merritt B. Gerstad
The Secret of Madame Blanche
The film was based on a play, The Lady (1923), which had been filmed as a 1925 silent starring Norma Talmadge. A story of self-sacrificing mother love with more than a passing resemblance to Madame X (1929) and The Sin of Madelon Claudet (1931), The Secret of Madame Blanche is the story of Sally, an American showgirl in turn-of-the-century London wooed by a rich playboy who defies his father to marry her. Their romance ends tragically, and Sally loses her infant son to her father-in-law. Years later, mother and son are dramatically reunited.
The Secret of Madame Blanche was the first screenplay of husband-and-wife writing team Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett. The couple had written several successful Broadway plays, and had first gone to Hollywood in 1931, when Hackett was hired to be dialogue director on the film version of their play Up Pops the Devil. It was not a good experience, and they returned to New York, but were wooed back two years later by MGM. The best scenes in The Secret of Madame Blanche are the early ones, thanks to the combination of Dunne's warmth and Goodrich and Hackett's wit. The scene of Dunne playing with her baby son is particularly poignant. The Hacketts would find their ideal vehicle the following year, in their sparkling adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's husband-and-wife detective story, The Thin Man (1934). Their friends believed the affectionate repartee between Nick and Nora Charles in that film mirrored the Hacketts' own relationship. Hackett and Goodrich earned four Oscar® nominations, including one for The Thin Man, and won a Pulitzer Prize for their play, The Diary of Anne Frank.
In spite of the efforts of Hackett, Goodrich, and Dunne, however, critics were lukewarm towards The Secret of Madame Blanche, heaping most of its faint praise on Dunne, who "gives quite an appealing and sincere performance," according to Mordaunt Hall of the New York Times. She "does a good deal to mitigate the banalities of the theme," noted the New York Evening Post. And she "plays the familiar and sometimes slightly embarrassing part with reticence and feeling," added the New York Herald Tribune.
Dunne continued to churn out tearjerkers for several more years, and finally got to reprise her stage success as Magnolia in the 1936 film version of Show Boat. That same year, she began a new phase of her career, as a screwball comedienne in Theodora Goes Wild, and later starred in two of the best of the genre, The Awful Truth (1937) and My Favorite Wife (1940). From the mid-1930s until she retired from films in the early 1950s, Dunne moved easily between drama, comedy and an occasional musical. Thereafter, she worked in television, and devoted herself to Republican politics and Catholic charity work. She died in 1990, at the age of 91.
Director: Charles Brabin
Screenplay: Frances Goodrich & Albert Hackett, from the play "The Lady" by Martin Brown
Cinematography: Merritt B. Gerstad
Editor: Blanche Sewell
Costume Design: Adrian
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Music: William Axt
Principal Cast: Irene Dunne (Sally Sanders St. John), Lionel Atwill (Aubrey St. John), Phillips Holmes (Leonard St. John), Una Merkel (Ellen), Douglas Walton (Leonard St. John, Jr.), C. Henry Gordon (State's Attorney), Jean Parker (Eloise Duval), Mitchell Lewis (Duval).
BW-84m. Closed captioning.
by Margarita Landazuri
The Secret of Madame Blanche
The play originally opened in New York City, New York, USA on 4 December 1923 and ran for 85 performances.
The working title of this film was The Lady. Hollywood Reporter and Film Daily news items include William Bakewell and Jed Prouty as cast members, but their participation in the final film has not been confirmed. According to a Film Daily news item, Irene Dunne's aging in the picture was accomplished not only by makeup techniques, but also by changing the colors of the lights on the set. In 1925, Frank Borzage directed Norma Talmadge in The Lady, a First National production of Brown's play (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30; F2.2928).