Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Hollywood blonde - Lana and Madame X

Let's have a Lana Turner day: I have just, finally, watched MADAME X - and she is terrific in it. You too will be sobbing by the end as we are manipulated by Ross Hunter. Lana really emotes here. 

I remember Pauline Kael being hilariously mean about it in one of her books, referring to it as a cast of waxworks, particularly 1930's star Constance Bennett (BED OF ROSES, LADIES IN LOVE - 30s label) as John Forsyth's mother. Constance (15 years older than Lana) had a facelift for the role and died before it was released! 

I also liked Lana in THE RAINS OF RACHIPUR, 1955, another seen for the first time this week where she is ideal as the faithless wife finding romance with Richard Burton as an Indian, in a nice selection of turbans and a good tan.
Old hand Jean Negulesco orchestrates this nicely (rather too much of the Fred McMurray subplot though) as the earthquake and rains arrive in the midst of Lana/Edwina's realisation that she is finally in love with the noble Indian doctor - but he has been meant for higher things by the Maharani; Lana/Edwina gets a good pay-off final scene with the Maharani before leaving to resume her playgirl life, but somehow ennobled by her pure love for the doctor.
Husband Michael Rennie (he married her money, she married his title) calls her "greedy, selfish, decadent, and corrupt", and her unsatisfied Edwina is probably the most determined femme fatale she has essayed on the screen. .

Lana also romanced 2 James Bonds: young Roger Moore in DIANE in 1955 - and Sean Connery in ANOTHER TIME ANOTHER PLACE, another terrific WWII sudser from 1958 - shot in black and white and in England (Sid James is her taxi driver) as Lana turns up in picturesque Cornwall to see where her dead lover Connery lived, with his trusting wife Glynis Johns and little boy - Martin Stephens (later with Deborah Kerr in COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS and THE INNOCENTS).  I have not seen DIANE since at a Sunday matinee as a kid, but remember it vividly - I loved those MGM costumers then, Lana here in Diane De Poitiers, mistress of the King of France. Then she was German in that odd THE SEA CHASE, a perfect mid-50s war drama with John Wayne, also German - I can remember my father taking me to that; and I certainly love THE PRODIGAL (below), that other mid-50s MGM biblical with Lana as the pagan high priestess Samara with that daring - for the time - outfit, before she topples into the flames when the mob storm the temple ....
For a '40s star Lana certainly had a good run in the '50s, what with Minnelli's THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL lifting her out of B-films.

Then of course there was that sensational court case when her lover, gangster Johnny Stompanato was stabbled, and Lana was bigger than ever in PEYTON PLACE and in Sirk's classic  IMITATION OF LIFE where she emotes all over the place as actress Lora Meredith. I have already done my reviews on favourites PORTRAIT IN BLACK in 1960, and 1966's delirious LOVE HAS MANY FACES (Lana, Trash labels). There is still 1961's BY LOVE POSSESSED to watch, along with another '58 drama, THE LADY TAKES A FLYER with she is teamed with Jeff Chandler.  She also did the obligatory inconsequential comedies in the early 60s with Bob Hope and Dean Martin. Lana ended up in tv series like FALCON CREST and THE SURVIVORS, there was also a dreadful one THE BIG CUBE ... Lana: 1921-1995.

Back though to MADAME XA woman married to a wealthy socialite, is compromised by the accidental death of a man who had been romantically pursuing her, and is forced by her mother-in-law to assume a new identity to save the reputation of her husband and infant son. She wanders the world, trying to forget her heartbreak with the aid of alcohol and unsavory men, eventually returning to the city of her downfall, where she murders a blackmailer who threatens to expose her past. Amazingly, she is represented at her murder trial by her now adult son, who is a public defender. Hoping to continue to protect her son, she refuses to give her real name and is known to the court as the defendant, "Madame X." 

This hoary old melodrama (to think this was 1966, the year of BLOW-UP and the new Hollywood emerging and the height of European arthouse) had been done several times before, and again Ross Hunter decks Lana out in Jean Louis outfits with furs and jewels. Before too long though her Holly is on the downward spiral after being railroaded out of the family by pure evil Constance Bennett ... young Keir Dullea is the son she had to abandon, now defending his mother on a murder charge - he of course does not know that, but Holly soon realises as does the new aged Constance and son Forsyth, in court to see his son's first defence case. She had shot seedy Burgess Meredith who was going to profit by revealing her real identity, in order to protect her son, who of course is now defending her. This builds to a deliciously satisfying climax as Madame X takes the stand and one reaches for the tissues, ably directed by David Lowell Rich. Sorry Pauline, but I simply loved every delicious moment of it.


  1. While Madame X is no Imitation of Life it does have it's bright spots and I think the second part of the film contains some of Lana's best work. Oh and does she suffer so!!
    By Love Possessed is not that great with Lana secondary but the suds are pretty thick throughout and it has that expensive studio sheen that is sorely lacking nowadays.
    The Big Cube is just sad. A truly dreadful piece of tripe with Lana looking thin and pinched with awful two tone hair! Even with all that against her she's still by far the best thing in that terrible film.
    Adore Lana but aside from Imitation of Life, my favorite of her films, I've always preferred her earlier films where she's softer and more kittenish. In Johnny Eager, Honky Tonk and especially Ziegfeld Girl she bursts through the screen with a saucy sexiness that eventually was lost to a more brittle allure. She was still a fierce star presence but much more remote.

  2. Thanks for that - yes the '40s Lana has a lot going for her as well, I have not seen too many of them but liked Ziegfield Girl and of course The Postman Always Rings Twice ...

  3. Lana certainly fared better in the '50s than her contemporary that other '40s love goddess Rita Hayworth. Poor Rita had no Ross Hunter to gild her, though PAL JOEY and SEPARATE TABLES were Rita highlights then ...