Madame X Marks The Spot

Categories: Theater

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A worn-out "gun-slinging hooker" is tried for murder and is nice enough to not tell her defense lawyer, "By the way, I'm your mother."

That's the tear-duct-tickling plot of Madame X, the Gerard Alessandrini and Robert Hetzel entry at the New York Musical Theatre Festival, which proves to be an affectionate rendition of the tale, with comic flourishes mixed into the compassion.

At the show, I asked Alessandrini how many Madame X movies there have been.

"Nine!" he responded.

"There was the Ruth Chatterton one, which strangely ended with her in Hawaii.

"And the Tuesday Weld version, where they changed the son to a daughter, and Eleanor Parker played Tuesday's mother-in-law."

Alessandrini's favorite of all is the 1937 one with Gladys George, but my personal fave is the Lana Turner version, which redefines plush '60s soaper for all time.

Lana's totally believable as a wanton woman -- no, I swear -- and she wrenches your heart with her self-sacrificing shtick at the end until you want to scream at Keir Dullea, "She's your mother!"

But then again, I never saw the Swedish porn version.

Oh, yeah, there was a Swedish porno version!


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8 comments
Southern Dave
Southern Dave

 "Madame X" is not the Ann Woodward story. It's been around for ages, first as a play by Alexander Bisson, then as several silent films (1916 and 1920). The first talkie was 1929, with Ruth Chatterton, when director Lionel Barrymore hung the mike on a fishing pole and invented the boom mike The second, with Gladys George (1937), had wildly improbable plot elements. Both are available from Amazon. Ross Hunter's 1966 remake invented the snooty mother-in-law, icily played by Constance Bennett (her last performance). Universal asked Lana to play the mother-in-law in the TV remake and she gave a most emphatic NO. Susan Blakely was cast in the TV version, but for some reason (Guess!) they couldn't get insurance on her. Tuesday Weld took the role to pay for a condo. Eleanor Parker played the mother-in-law and Jerry Stiller the lowlife she shoots. There have been many other foreign remakes and similar American films with a "Madame X" plot line ("The Sin of Madelon Claudet" won Helen Hayes her first Oscar.) It's true that the Tuesday version substituted a daughter  for the son, but Kay Francis did this decades before in "Confession" (1937).  When you see the Gladys George and Kay Francis films, it's clear that Lana incorporated elements of both into her performance. She would have been a teen-ager when both of them came out.

See a funny candid photo of Lana sliding down the "Madame X" grand stairway in the beautiful coffee table book, "Lana: The Memories, The Myths and the Movies." You'll also find photos of various "slutty" looks Lana tried out for the "sewers of Mexico" sequence, where Pauline Kael said she projected "a lewd, grinning depravity." Kael wrote that at the New York trade screening, there were laughs as well as weeping. In a letter to Marlene Dietrich, Leo Lerman ("Leo Lerman: The Grand Surprise: The Journals of Leo Lerman") said, "Oh yes - You must not miss "Madame X," with Lana Turner, produced by Ross Hunter, the funniest movie since "The Egyptian." I do not think that Universal will let me into its screening room again, but it's worth being banned. She has 46 changes of Jean Louis dress and David Webb jewels in the first 20 minutes ... Darling -- I laughed, I screamed,  I wept with joy, which is the only way I ever want to weep."

Musto
Musto

PS: For the plotline involving Madame X's mother-in-law, Alessandrini told me he and his partner borrowed from The Two Mrs. Grenvilles and the real-life story that inspired that. Since Capote was a player in all that, he pops up in this musical in the form of an agent (played by Michael West) with Capote's look and mannerisms.

"There's not an original idea in the whole show!" joked Alessandrini.

Jonster
Jonster

I remember the Woodward murder (on which the Two Mrs Grenvilles was based) and when I saw Madame X with Lana Turner, I couldn't help think it was ripped from the headlines and transformed into a tearjerker.  In real life, it was a tearjerker.  The real life Madame X, Ann Woodward, was completely cold to her children both of whom ended up jumping out of windows to their deaths.  When Ann read Capote's fictionalized account of the murder in Esquire, she killed herself too, thereby wiping out an entire branch of the Woodward family.  Her society dame mother-in-law, Elsie Cryder said something like:  "Well, Ann killed Billy, and now Truman's killed Ann, so I guess that's that." 

Barkley
Barkley

Constance Bennett to Lana:  "You've been an embarrassment to this family since the beginning!  You're just a shop girl who should've stayed on your side of the counter!"

Hwould
Hwould

Noi! I'd love to see the Chatterton one too.

mjm
mjm

it's the best one. Ruth Chatterton is such an underrated gay icon. She was Bette Davis's mentor! Her performances as the former madam on death row in 'Frisco Jenny' and as the butch female CEO in 'Female'

we need an underrated gay icons list!

btw, the '66 version w/ Lana is very campy. it was one of Divine's favorite films.

Musto
Musto

Anyone know how to get a copy of the Tuesday Weld version?

HelpfulGuy
HelpfulGuy

Check the message board on IMDB. It was a TV movie, btw.

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