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Angela and Bob Brooks are an upper class couple. Unfortunately, Bob is an unfaithful husband. But Angela has a plan to win back her husband's affections. An elaborate masquerade ball is to be held aboard a magnificent dirigible. Angela will attend and disguise herself as a mysterious devil woman. Hidden behind her mask, and wrapped in an alluring gown, Angela as the devil woman will to try to seduce her unknowing husband and teach him a lesson.Written by
Thomas McWilliams <firstname.lastname@example.org>
MADAM Satan (MGM, 1930), directed by Cecil B. DeMille, marked the famed director's second of three features under the MGM banner, and one of his most unusual, or in the most common terms, bizarre. In spite of it not becoming a box office success in its initial release, MADAM Satan needs to be seen a few times in order to get the full concept of the continuity. Once getting through some dull stretches taking place during its initial 50 minutes, the movie delivers during its final portion to this 115 minute production with its one of the most oddest costume parties and inane production numbers ever captured on film.
The plot, which could very well be THE GUARDSMAN (1931, with Alfred Lunt and Lynne Fontanne) or THE CHOCOLATE SOLDIER (1941, with Nelson Eddy and Rise Stevens, which in turn is based on "The Guardsman") in reverse, focuses on Angela (Kay Johnson), a boring but cultured New York City society woman married to the prominent but fun loving Bob Brooks (Reginald Denny). Her casual evening at home stirs some excitement after reading in a newspaper that she, along with Bob and his best friend, Jim Wade (Roland Young) were taken to night court for speeding. Wanting to learn more about what her husband has been doing, and who the woman masquerading as her husband's wife is, Angela's suspicions are soon realized when she finds a calling card in Bob's pocket signed by a Trixie. Feeling her marriage dissolved because of Bob's lack of interest in her, Angela decides to follow the advice of Martha, her maid (Elsa Peterson) to go out and recapture her own husband by fascinating him. During Jim Wade's elaborate costume party, which takes place in a gigantic airship, Angela enters the social scene disguised as the masked woman who calls herself "Madam Satan."
Categorized as a musical, the production numbers set during the masquerade party are of more interest than the songs that accompany them. With the music and lyrics credited to Clifford Grey, Herbert Stothart, Elsie Janis and Jack Grey, the songs featured include: "Live and Love Today" (sung by Elsa Peterson); "Low Down" (sung by Lillian Roth); "We're Going Somewhere" (sung by party guests as they enter dirigible); "The Cat Walk" (performed by guests); "Ballet Electrique" (performed by Theodore Kosloff as Electricity, surrounded by costumed dancers in an electrical ballet stimulating everything from spark plugs to lightning bolts); "What Am I Bid?/Auction Number" (recited by Roland Young); "Madame" (sung by Kay Johnson); "All I Know is You Are in My Arms" (sung and danced by Reginald Denny and Kay Johnson); "Low Down" (reprise by Lillian Roth, later sung by Kay Johnson); and "Madame" (reprise by Kay Johnson).
Not the usual Cecil B. DeMillion dollar spectacle for which he is most famous, but like his better known Biblical epics, this modern-day story has enough costumes to go around, especially the ones worn at the masquerade party. After repeated viewing, MADAM Satan comes across like a typical Norma Shearer and Robert Montgomery drawing room comedy or something directed by George Cukor. At other times it leaves to the imagination of an Ernst Lubitsch sex comedy, but nearly fails on all counts. What saves this from becoming a total disaster is the oddball costume party. Without seeing his name on the credits, it would be hard to imagine MADAM Satan directed by DeMille, best known for religious epics, but it should be known that DeMille did specialized in this sort of comedy in the silent era with those starring Gloria Swanson, some years before director Ernst Lubitsch set the standard.
MADAM Satan might have succeeded had the story been shortened and vocalizing dubbed for Kay Johnson. Because Johnson at times resembles or plays like a slightly mature Irene Dunne, a movie like MADAM SATIN would have called for the likeness of Dunne, both actress and singer, then under contract to RKO Radio. Lillian Roth's performance as the fun-loving other woman does spark some life into her character, which is no different from the roles she performed at her home lot of Paramount at the time. On the whole, the one who comes off best and memorably in MADAM Satan is Roland Young as Jim, who assumes some of the film's witty one liners (Tyler Brooke: "I've never repented a sin," Young: "I've never repeated one,") and funnier actions. First to try to pass off Trixie (Roth) as his wife to Angela, who knows her husband's friend is only making the pretense to cover up for her husband's infidelity. The pretense reaches an amusing climax when Jim has to undress and get in bed with "his wife," with Angela's constant intrusions. Following the airship disaster where all the party guests must parachute from the dirigible, all landing around Central Park ranging from inside a convertible with another couple smooching in the front seat to the reservoir. As for Young's character, he lands on a tree branch inside a lion's cage in the zoo. Below he watches the lions roaring up at him. He then observes a sign that reads when the next feeding time is for the lions will be. He then slowly looks at his watch. Regardless of slow pacing, the redeeming quality goes to Young, who even has the final closing rather than the leading players.
MADAM Satan was distributed on video cassette in the 1990s, and can be seen occasionally during the late night hours on Turner Classic Movies. Movies dealing with wives putting their unsuspecting husbands to the test are usually fun to see, but while MADAM Satan might be categorized as one of the weakest of the lot, it does propose some redeeming qualities that make this one of the most unusual production by either or both DeMille and MGM. (**)
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