Madeleine (1950)

MADELEINE (aka: The Strange Case of Madeleine)

(director: David Lean; screenwriters: Stanley Haynes/Nicholas Phipps; cinematographer: Guy Green; editors: Clive Donner/Geoffrey Foot; music: William Alwyn; cast: Ann Todd (Madeleine Smith), Ivan Desny (Emile L’Anglier), Norman Wooland (William Minnoch), Leslie Banks (James Smith), Barbara Everest (Mrs. Smith), Susan Stranks (Janet), Patricia Raine (Bessie Smith), Elizabeth Sellars (Christina), Edward Chapman (Dr. Thompson), Jean Cadell (Mrs. Jenkins); Runtime: 101; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Stanley Haynes; Universal-International; 1950-UK)
“Well-made courtroom drama.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Based on the true story of the wealthy upper-class Madeleine Smith (Ann Todd), that’s set in 1857 during the Victorian age in Glasgow. She was accused of murdering her French lover (Ivan Desny), by poisoning him, after he threatens to blackmail her if they don’t continue the affair when she marries the handsome English gentleman William Minnoch (Norman Wooland). At the trial, she’s acquitted in a controversial verdict even though she is tried by a great Scottish prosecutor (Barry Jones). Madeleine, as a result of the well publicized trial (labeled “the trial of the century”), became a cause célèbre. The film is seen through her eyes and highlights her vulnerability as a sensuous woman living in such an uptight age, faced with her bullying patriarchal father (Leslie Banks) and domineering lover, she nevertheless refuses to become a vic as she lives for her pleasures without bowing to the rigid rules of the age.

David Lean (“The Passionate Friends”/”Oliver Twist”/”Brief Encounter”) directs this well-made courtroom drama that stars his then wife Ann Todd (this would be one of the three films he made for her). The taut screenplay is by Stanley Haynes and Nicholas Phipps. It serves best in exposing the hypocrisy of the age. The film’s fault is that her story didn’t reach the heart, but seemed too coldly delivered.