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Sunday, June 28, 2015

MADAM SATAN (1930)

When his independent production company collapsed in the late ‘20s, Cecil B. DeMille took a 3-pic deal @ M-G-M and only made things worse. DYNAMITE/’29 proved an acceptable early Talkie beginning, but he soon had to bow out with a half-hearted re-remake of his own THE SQUAW MAN/’31 after he turned in this bizarre near-operetta, the biggest bomb of his career.* By 1930, even M-G-M had moved past this sort of boulevard farce in aspic; see what director George W. Hill & writer Francis Marion managed that year in THE BIG HOUSE and MIN AND BILL. By comparison, DeMille looks technically and thematically dead in the water, revamping his old silent marital comedies with snail-paced pseudo-sophisticated banter replacing inter-titles, but still the familiar wandering husband, unappreciated wife, tippling bachelor pal, and flirty maid or mistress. Fortunately, after an hour of talky torture, DeMille sends everyone off to a costumed masked ball in a Zeppelin and goes into operetta mode. (Heck, the plot isn’t so far removed from DIE FLEDERMAUS.) For bad taste and OTT production values, this lunacy takes some beating, especially when a storm blows up and everyone has to parachute to safety & marital happiness. DeMille’s lost all control: spectacularly silly effects; huge obstacles as sets; a tone that wavers from romantic to corny comic. It’s not just a bad movie, it’s a disgrace. Only the costumes from Adrian, wild to wildly sexy, know what’s up. 

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *To his credit, DeMille knew the light had gone out, and took a long travel break in Europe & Soviet Russia before humbling himself with a return to Paramount, his old home studio . . . and renewed glory.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: This is the sort of thing the Marx Brothers were sending up in their early Talkies, THE COCOANUTS/’29 and especially ANIMAL CRACKERS/’30 which shares the adorable Lillian Roth with this film.

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