Madame X (1965, Lana Turner, John Forsythe)

Madame X

Lana Turner takes the lead for her last major Hollywood role in Madame X, the seventh version of Alexandre Bisson’s play. She plays Holly Parker, a Cinderella-type figure who marries diplomat Clay Anderson (John Forsythe). But, despite the birth of a son, he is too wrapped up in his work and she, neglected, begins an affair with playboy Phil Benton (Ricardo Montalban). However, during a tryst at his apartment, he falls to his death from the balcony. Holly, devastated, sees advice from her mother-in-law Estelle (Constance Bennett) who coldly tells her that, to save her husband’s career, she must flee.

Years later, Holly is a fallen woman, an addict living in a cheap hotel in New Mexico where she turns tricks to support her habit. Then she is approached by Dan Sullivan (Burgess Meredith), a blackmailer who needs her help in his scheme to extort money from her now politically powerful husband. Rather than help him, Holly shoots him and is placed on trial for her life. Too poor to afford a lawyer, she is assigned a public defender on his first case: Clay Anderson Jnr (Keir Dullea), her son. Not wanting to reveal her background, she stands trial as the eponymous Madame X – but to prove her innocence, she must reveal her past…

Like many of the great 60s melodramas, the reliance on coincidence is paramount but Turner makes it believable as her ageing descent from ingénue wife to raddled whore is both a triumph of make-up and of her undoubted acting ability. The support cast are also excellent, particularly Constance Bennett as the cold matriarch (sadly, she died just after the film was completed) and Meredith as the creepy blackmailer. The film was shot by Russell Metty, responsible for many of Douglas Sirk’s films and his hand is again visible in the lush colours and use of light. Madame X had the misfortune of being released as interest in the melodrama genre waned but proved a fitting finale.

USA / 1965

Director: David Lowell Rich
Writer: Jean Holloway

Cast: Lana Turner, John Forsythe, Ricardo Montalban, Burgess Meredith, Constance Bennett, Keir Dullea

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