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Monday, January 30, 2012

MADAME CURIE (1943)

Greer Garson’s didn’t just accumulate mannerisms, she hoarded them. No surprise then that the modulated tones & gracious-lady grandeur, the fits of sparkling laughter & light-catching head poses soon grew insufferable. (And it still echoes in the cultivated tones of Margaret Thatcher, Meryl Streep & Diane Sawyer.) But in a few early pics (like GOODBYE, MR. CHIPS/39; RANDOM HARVEST/’42; and this one), the effect is less practiced and much easier to take. Mervyn LeRoy, who (unintentionally?) brought a triumphant all-of-a-piece italicized style to RANDOM HARVEST, falls back on his usual plush megging in this studio-bound bio-pic. But, with a sharper than expected script from Paul Osborn, it’s still effective. Osborn sticks closer to the facts than normal in these things, and he doesn’t push our buttons too hard at the big emotional moments. As you’d expect from the author of MORNING’S AT SEVEN, some of the family scenes are particularly lively, and the chemical reaction of science & romance often charming. Herbert Stothart phones in a typically unimpressive music score, but lenser Joseph Ruttenberg got an atypically dark & expressive look for M-G-M. And check out that whopping bit of studio artifice for the Science Academy right at the end. Margaret O’Brien, Robert Walker & Van Johnson turn up in small roles and there’s a pip of a pep-talk from wise old Albert Bassermann that might have come straight out of A STAR IS BORN/’54. No doubt, there’s a better film in the Curies (a fine new bio appeared in the ‘90s), but this old-fashioned piece holds up rather well.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: German refugee Albert Bassermann barely spoke English and had to learn all his lines phonetically from his wife. That’s her, playing his wife at a party. Guess who had the stronger accent? Yep, the missus.

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