Madame Satan

  • 1930
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Musical

The appeal of this bizarre and nearly incomprehensible film, the only musical ever attempted by showman DeMille, is rooted in the macabre sense of humor on the part of certain viewers. For the humorless, this one is simply for the cuckoos. Johnson is a socialite who realizes she is losing her husband, Denny, who is paying too much attention to a fetching...read more

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The appeal of this bizarre and nearly incomprehensible film, the only musical ever attempted by showman DeMille, is rooted in the macabre sense of humor on the part of certain viewers. For the humorless, this one is simply for the cuckoos. Johnson is a socialite who realizes she is losing

her husband, Denny, who is paying too much attention to a fetching young Roth. To win back her husband's affections, Johnson turns herself into the mysterious "Madame Satan." Johnson changes from boring wife to sultry French tramp, wearing exaggerated costumes and makeup that disguise her

appearance. She entices her husband Denny at a wild, elaborate costume party held inside a floating dirigible. Johnson's costume, with skull mask, is a cleverly revealing creation in the DeMille tradition; it's hardly there at all, a few strips of sequined cloth barely covering her breasts with

the entire middle cut out. The catlike costume is reprised by a host of other females in chorus lines, wearing cat suits with long black furry tails. These and other girls perform numerous exotic dance routines which, under LeRoy Prinz's direction, are nothing less than fantastic. During the

dirigible's party flight a storm breaks loose and the airliner is struck by lightning and begins to burn, crashing earthward over New York City. Denny gives Johnson his own parachute and she jumps to safety, as do all the other strange party-goers. One girl, dressed as a Burmese idol with many

arms, floats down upon a group of drunks, and Roth, dressed as a golden pheasant, swinging on a weather vane, lands on a church steeple. Denny rides the flaming dirigible to earth, jumping at the last second before impact, so that he dives into the Central Park reservoir. Young's escape is the

most sensational as he parachutes into a zoo, landing in the lion's cages just as they're being fed, causing him to frantically take refuge in a tree until being rescued. Leisen's set of the dirigible is spectacular, as are the climactic scenes then in vogue with offbeat musicals. DeMille's famous

temperament was in evidence during the producion. In one scene Natalie Visart, a bit player and friend of DeMille's adopted daughter Katherine, who debuted in this film, was standing near a shortcircuiting fuse box and her costume caught fire, the flames eating away one layer after another of her

thick taffeta gown. Visart did not move, being petrified with fear, and her lack of action probably saved her life. Dance director Prinz dove forward and doused the blaze just as it began to burn through the last layer. One dancer stood for hours on a high perch while DeMille took his time with an

elaborate setup. The girl was about to faint and certainly fall to her death when Prinz called a halt to the scene and had the girl lowered to safety. DeMille exploded, saying that Prinz had ruined his scene. "The girl might have fallen and been killed," said Prinz. "Nonsense--" yelled DeMille

before ordering the scene to proceed. The film amused DeMille, who produced it at the strong suggestion of MGM boss Louis B. Mayer but it failed to amuse the public and it lost money, unlike most of DeMille's films. (Between 1913 and 1931 DeMille's productions cost about $12 million overall but

they returned a total gross of $28 million.) Songs include: "The Cat Walks," "We're Going Somewhere," "This Is Love" (Herbert Sothart, Clifford Grey), "Low Down," "All I Know Is You Are in My Arms," "Satan's Song," "Live and Love Today," "Auction Number" (Elsie Janis, Jack King).

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  • Rating: NR
  • Review: The appeal of this bizarre and nearly incomprehensible film, the only musical ever attempted by showman DeMille, is rooted in the macabre sense of humor on the part of certain viewers. For the humorless, this one is simply for the cuckoos. Johnson is a soc… (more)

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