Wonderland · WeWork · Madeleine
It’s time for more Noirvember! As we discussed last week, this month, Best Evidence contributor Margaret Howie is serving up a weekly review of a noir classic inspired by real-life events. It’s our own little nod to Noirvember, the month-long celebration of film noir launched by Marya E. Gates in 2010.
Today’s installment focuses on Madeleine, David Lean’s take on the Madeleine Smith homicide case. Does the 1950 film live up to the famous crime’s legacy? There’s only one way to find out…
In February of 1857, Madeleine Hamilton Smith, the daughter of a wealthy Scottish architect, begged her former lover for the return of letters she’d sent him during their affair. Smith was newly engaged to a man her family had selected for her, and was terrified that her previous relationship with Pierre Emile L’Angelier would be revealed. L’Angelier was a packing clerk, socially far below Smith’s family, ten years older than she, and threatening to have the contents of her letters published. By March, he was dead of arsenic poisoning. Smith’s trial for his murder remains one of the most notorious cases in Scottish history.
After marrying David Lean, Ann Todd convinced him to direct her as the lead in 1950’s Madeleine as a “wedding present.” Lean later said it was his worst film, but that could be residual sour grapes from that particular marriage (he married six times; Todd was #3). Madeleine has a corker of a final courtroom scene, and while it takes its time getting to it, it’s never boring.