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A precode/post-code film comparison in this double feature
on July 17, 2010
I bought this Warner Archive double feature primarily to get the 1929 version, which is very rare, so that is what my review focuses on.
Watch the 1929 version for its performances and understand that if the photography seems static and uninspired it is because that at this point in early talking film the camera could not move. You had to cross cut between shots to get even the illusion of motion.
As for Ruth Chatterton and Lewis Stone, in my opinion these two never could give a bad performance and that is true here too. These two were pioneers in acting in the talkies and acquit themselves marvelously considering that actors were often directed to over-emote. Ruth Chatterton resists the common early talkie urge to chew scenery better than Stone, though, probably owing to the fact that until she was 35 she was a star of the stage and thus was familiar with handling dialogue. Stone had started acting in silent films, so in these early talking roles he was having to feel his way through it, although he quickly got the hang of it.
In this case the two play estranged couple Jacqueline and Louis Floriot. Unlike the other filmed versions of Madame X, this one starts several years after Jacqueline has abandoned her family and at a time of severe illness for her son. The man she left her husband for has died, and she asks for a fresh start with Louis, who still loves her, but rebuffs her anyway on account of his pride and turns her out into the street without even allowing her to see her son.
In this version there is no meddling mother-in-law thinking the wife is not good enough for her son. Instead it is Louis' coldness that apparently caused Jacqueline to look for affection elsewhere. The vast majority of the film belongs to Chatterton as we see her go from man to man and fall deeper into alcoholism and despair. The makeup job was quite good on this film too as we see Chatterton transform from a woman with delicate China doll features to a bloated used-up alcoholic that not even her ex-husband recognizes when she goes on trial for her life in a courtroom where he presides as judge. Raymond Hackett is excellent as Jacqueline's grown son who feels real compassion for this woman that he does not know is his mother when he is assigned to defend her.
As for the 1937 version, I watched it once and probably would not be inclined to watch it again. It was made in 1937 at the height of censorship after the production code started being enforced and it is interesting to compare the much raised production values and advances in technology versus the 1929 version, yet the presentation lacks the power of the earlier performance because Jacqueline's dissolute lifestyle is so sanitized here.
As for video and audio quality the 1929 version is unrestored. The audio can be poor at times although the video is in pretty good shape considering its age. The 1937 version looks just fine, but I think it is the lesser of the two movies.