Madeleine (David Lean / United Kingdom, 1950):
(The Strange Case of Madeleine)

What happens to Celia Johnson after she goes back to her husband in Brief Encounter? David Lean posits murder underneath patrician façades in a closely related work, sovereign reparations from an alternate slant. The strange case is Madeleine Smith's (Ann Todd), Lean tells it in three low-angled shots from the heroine's viewpoint: The outside street spotted through the barred window of the young socialite's new Victorian home, into which a rendezvous invitation is surreptitiously dropped; the same view midway through, with the exhilaration having turned sinister; and finally the staircase to be climbed into the Glasgow High Court to face her jury. Madeleine plays the piano and sings in French as a suitor (Norman Wooland) visits her prominent family in 1857 yet something "keeps her from acting naturally," says the glowering patriarch (Leslie Banks, a holy terror in close-up) -- repressed passion, namely, a steamer's whistle disrupting her tasteful reading or a storm pushing against the wooden door, but principally the brooding Gallic lover (Ivan Desny) waiting outside with phallic walking stick. Rain hits the pavement to commemorate their illicit kiss; the couple later meets in the moors and stiffly tries to mimic the prole dancing in the village down below, Lean dissolves from the plebeian vigor to her shawl discarded in the woods, and closes with a shooting star. Madeleine's romantic illusion is curtained, her beloved's society-climbing intentions are revealed, poisoning comes as the solution to impending scandal -- she stirs arsenic while her little sister hums "Who Killed Cock Robin," a Hitchcock nod further elaborated by Lean's positioning in the frame of a possibly spiked china cup foregrounded in the heroine's mind (Notorious, Suspicion, et al). All of it comes to rest in the last courtroom sequences, where the engraving imagery of Lean's adaptations of Dickens contemplates the frigid mask of a woman who, unable to pierce through like her sisters in Madame de... or Senso, settles for a furtive, rebellious smile, caught only by the camera in the back of a chariot. With Barbara Everest, Elizabeth Sellars, Eugene Deckers, André Morell, and Barry Jones. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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