Madame X (1966)


(director: David Lowell Rich; screenwriters: Jean Holloway/from the play La Femme X… by Alexandre Bisson; cinematographer: Russell Metty; editor: Milton Carruth; music: Frank Skinner; cast: Lana Turner (Holly Parker), John Forsythe (Clayton Anderson), Ricardo Montalban (Phil Benton), Burgess Meredith (Dan Sullivan), John Van Dreelen (Christian Torben), Virginia Grey (Mimsy), Keir Dullea (Clay Anderson, Jr.), Constance Bennett (Estelle Anderson), Carl Benton Reid (the judge), Warren Stevens (the prosecutor), Frank Maxwell (the doctor); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Ross Hunter; Universal Pictures; 1966)
“Director David Lowell Rich, a television director, helms it as if to make it as archaic, sudsy and corny as humanly possible.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This is the seventh film version of Alexandre Bisson’s 1909 French play of mother love and overwrought emotions, which was first filmed as a silent in 1916. You got me why so many versions, but without seeing the other versions I’m led to believe by other critics that this one might be the best–it certainly has the highest productions values and star Lana Turner might give her best performance ever (I preferred her in Imitation of Life). Producer Ross Hunter changed the locale from Paris to New England. Director David Lowell Rich, a television director, helms it as if to make it as archaic, sudsy and corny as humanly possible. Writer Jean Holloway offers trite dialogue and piles it on as a melodrama of a wronged woman who sinks into a life of utter despair.

Holly Parker (Lana Turner) is a beautiful woman from the wrong side of the tracks with a “dark past” who marries a wealthy and ambitious up-and-coming politician, Clayton Anderson (John Forsythe). The always busy Clay is traveling to far-off lands as part of his government job and leaves poor Holly alone in their Fairfield, Connecticut, mansion with her cold untrusting mother-in-law Estelle Anderson (Constance Bennett, her first film in twelve years and her last film ever; she died of a cerebral hemorrhage shortly after finishing the movie). The neglect leads to an affair with grasping footloose bachelor playboy Phil Benton (Ricardo Montalban), who doesn’t respect her decision to ditch him when hubby returns from his travels and he accidentally falls down the stairs running after her as she exits and dies. Poor Holly was last seen in his apartment and would be implicated in his death, except her mother-in-law had her followed by a private detective who removed any evidence But the mother-in-law also insists that Holly give up her young son and husband, and arranges for her to receive regular payments of support as she lives under an alias in another country. Holly soon degenerates into a life of alcoholism and drug addiction, and becomes a prostitute. Many years later while spending Christmas in a cheap hotel in Mexico, she runs into Dan Sullivan (Burgess Meredith) while drunk and blabs of her marriage to the now governor of the state. Sullivan attempts to blackmail her former hubby and she murders him when they return together to the States rather than have a scandal. While in a daze, she signs a confession with only an X. Unable to afford a lawyer she’s assigned a public defender, whom she recognizes as her son Clay Jr. (Keir Dullea). But he’s unaware that he’s defending mom, but during the trial in New York the mother-in-law and Governor realize who she is despite being tried as Madame X so her son won’t know her.

The 45-year-old Lana was asked to age from 30 to 50 during the course of the film, and all reports indicated she had trouble with the idea of looking older and became a problem on the set. The old-fashioned weepie melodrama never registered as anything but a pass√© retrograde work, a classic “women’s pic” that didn’t do a good box office but remained one of Lana’s favorites.