Tonight I returned to UCLA for another evening in the ongoing Cecil B. DeMille series, a wonderful MGM pre-Code double bill consisting of MADAM SATAN (1930) and DYNAMITE (1929).
I first heard of MADAM SATAN a while back from Raquel at Out of the Past. Although I picked up the remastered DVD from the Warner Archive, I hadn't watched it yet, and I jumped at the chance to see this Cecil B. DeMille film on a big screen.
MADAM SATAN is one of the most deliriously crazy things I've ever seen, and I loved every minute. I watched much of it with my jaw dropped and all of it with a smile on my face.
HISTORY IS MADE AT NIGHT (1937).
Our heroine is Angela (Kay Johnson) -- note her name has "Angel" in it, the opposite of the film's title. The reserved Angela is dismayed to realize her husband Bob (Reginald Denny) is not being true to her; Bob seems to be bored with marriage and feels Angela is less of a "pal" and more of a "wife" since their marriage.
Angela eventually figures out Bob is seeing the very un-genteel Trixie (Lillian Roth), though Bob's best friend Jimmy (Roland Young) tries to pass Trixie off to Angela as his own wife. This leads to some very funny moments with doors opening and closing when all four people end up at Trixie's apartment. Angela vows to Trixie that she's going to win back her husband.
Next comes the centerpiece of the film, a wild masked ball Jimmy throws aboard a zeppelin! The exterior and interior shots of the zeppelin are mind-blowing; the art directors were Cedric Gibbons and future director Mitchell Leisen, who also served as DeMille's assistant director. The fantastic designs are up there with the sets of FEMALE (1933) and FOOTLIGHT PARADE (1933) for sheer awesomeness.
And the Adrian costumes! Some of the actresses are billed by their costumes: "Fish Girl," "Miss Conning Tower," "Call of the Wild," and "Spider Girl." Mary Carlisle was "Little Bo Peep"; I wish I'd seen her appearance at this film at the Egyptian Theatre last year. She had just turned 100 years old, and a friend Tweets that Mary stayed to watch the entire 126-minute movie!
Into this wild gathering comes the dazzling, French-accented Madam Satan, who immediately lures Bob away from Trixie. Bob is enthralled by Madam Satan and promptly manages to be alone with her; things are getting white hot indeed when they're interrupted by Jimmy. Little does Bob know this seductive woman is his own previously very demure wife!
Act 3 comes when a violent storm causes the dirigible to become unmoored and the revelers must abandon ship; the design for the emergency parachute system for the guests is, once more, something else! I couldn't help thinking how cold it must have been for the party-goers to fly through the air in such flimsy costumes. The special effects here are pretty good even though some of it is a bit primitive.
An interesting side note, leading lady Kay Johnson was married to director John Cromwell and was the mother of Oscar-nominated actor James Cromwell.
MADAM SATAN was beautifully shot in black and white by Harold Rosson. (I read at one site that the costume party was originally filmed in early color and hope to learn more about that.) Like other notable DeMille films, it must be seen to be believed, and if possible on a giant screen!
I enjoyed this film tremendously, and although it's only January, I suspect this film may end up on my "Favorite Discoveries of 2015" list.
Previous DeMille films seen on a big screen: CLEOPATRA (1934), THE CRUSADES (1935), THE BUCCANEER (1938), and THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (1956).