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Saturday, April 26, 2014

THE SIN OF MADELON CLAUDET (1931)

Famed stage actress Helen Hayes was going down for the count on her first Hollywood pic, a moldy MotherLove story of wrongful imprisonment & maternal devotion, when M-G-M’s production head Irving Thalberg saved the thing by reshooting about a third of the film, giving Hayes a motherly sacrifice in every reel. But it was the big, juicy climax where she’s a worn out hag who doesn’t let her doctor son (Robert Young) know who she really is, that probably got her the Best Actress Oscar®. Amazingly, it worked for audiences of the time nearly as well as M-G-M’s similar MADAME X/’29 and the old silent STELLA DALLAS/’25 had. (The latter pic has Jean Hersholt, who here plays a kindly mentor, as an uncouth suitor, a role taken in this one and in the official remake of DALLAS/’37 by Alan Hale.) Directed by Edgar Selwyn*, it’s pretty stiff and pretty terrible, but with so much story crammed in 73 minutes, not as slow as some other Talkie antiques. There’s even a neat story twist for gentleman-suitor Lewis Stone. And yet, the best perf in the thing comes from classic Depression kid, Frankie Darro as the teenaged son. But then, he’d just come over from Warners' THE PUBLIC ENEMY/’31 and a bit of James Cagney’s acting rhythm must have rubbed off.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Hayes was luckier on her next two pics, loan-outs to Goldwyn for John Ford’s adaptation of Sinclair Lewis’s ARROWSMITH/’31 (with Ronald Colman) and Paramount for Frank Borzage’s shot at Hemingway’s A FAREWELL TO ARMS/’32 (with Gary Cooper).

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Director Selwyn was the WYN in Samuel GoldWYN. Producing partners back in New York when Sam Goldwyn was still Sam Goldfish, the company’s name was GOLDWYN. The old gag is that Sam took the wrong half of each name, he should have been Samuel Selfish.

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