Monday, June 7, 2010

The Secret Of Madame Blanche

publicity for "The Secret Of Madame Blanche"

Release date 02.03.1933

“You won´t let me see you again?”
“What´s the use? You are only wasting your time…”
“Alright, that´s to be on my terms this time!”
“I know, a ham sandwich!”

American chorus girl Sally Saunders (Irene) on tour in Europe meets English aristocrat Leonard St. John (Philips Holmes) who at first tries to practice his common routine on her, which means to install her as his mistress in a nice apartment. However, of course Sally is the most decent of girls and they end up being married. Turns up the nasty father-in-law (Lionel Atwill), who not only having educated his offspring as a good-for-nothing fellow fiercely objects to the marriage now. Though his son hasn’t done much more in his life than spending money, gambling and chasing women, his father has great plans for the lad including an adequate marriage and going into politics - the only fitting profession for that kind of education. Sweet Sally has spoiled all those plans and the result is the cut off of Leonard’s monthly cheque.

Leonard twisted between his father and Sally...

For some time Leonard succeeds in making a living with gambling but soon the couple is broke. Not able to take pressure of any kind Leonard decides to turn back to his father and leaves for London before Sally gets the chance to tell him that she is pregnant. If Leonard had the hope for a reconciliation with his father, this hope is soon shattered by his father’s callousness. He forces his son to write a farewell letter to Sally, thus making him betray the only truthful emotion in his life - his love for Sally - and consequently driving him to suicide. After the birth of her son, the only available job for Sally is one as a singer in a rather dubious “café” - a fact that her father-in-law utilizes to get custody of his grandson Leonard Jr.. Without any mercy for Sally, he takes the baby away without even allowing her to see her son for the last time.The years go by - Leonard Jr. is a grown-up man now and as soldier in WW1 stationed in France. One evening he takes his girl-friend Eloise (Jean Parker) - a nice, slightly naïve French girl - to a café and bordello run by Madame Blanche who is no one else but Sally. Furious because his plans with Eloise don’t develop how he has been hoping, Leonard gets involved in a drunken brawl. Sally recognizes her son and tries to calm down the situation without identifying herself. She almost succeeds but then Eloise’s father turns up and Leonard shoots him in self-defense. Sally gives him an alibi and is determined to protect her son no matter what it takes…

Madame Blanche and her son...

Does this story sound familiar? Something you have already seen or read? Something like “Madame X” for instance? Yes, of course, we know those kind of stories about sacrificing mothers, decent chorus girls getting pregnant by playboys, vicious fathers or mothers-in-law spoiling their children’s happiness and not recognizing a heart of gold when they see one …but sometimes it’s pleasant to watch a well-known story especially if it offers so many "Dunnish" pleasures like this one.

...ain´t she beautiful?

This movie really grew on me by rewatching it, because watching Irene’s films in chronologically order and being at that point of her career, I appreciate more things about “The Secret Of Madame Blanche” than I did when I first had a look on it. And this film really has some assets which make it worthwhile watching: it’s a lush MGM production with a beautifully in Adrian creations dressed and well photographed Irene - something we haven´t had the chance to see too such extent till now.The folks at MGM certainly knew how to present female stars!

at last - singing again!

Once again - like in “The Great Lover” - it took a loan-out to MGM to take advantage of Irene’s abilities as a singer - and she really gets the chance to show her voice. There are three numbers: a grand finale with chorus - makes you a little wonder about her status in the company, but I won’t be too petty-minded when I get such a treat - a song with piano solo, and a wonderful, ambiguous number for young Sally working at the café. The score is by Dr. William Axt, a name I´d never heard before, but he has written quite an amount of scores for well-known MGM films and I certainly love that following number called "Jimmy":

This trio presents Irene’s singing voice in a nice range - and me like that!
Well, that’s Irene as singer and Irene the actress gets a show too. She liked playing characters who aged and that’s no wonder looking at how good she was at that. Madame Blanche´s voice, her body language, which tells a lot about Sally’s fate without saying a word, that´s perfectly done. Moreover, out of young Sally Irene creates some moments that are really touching …once again Miss Dunne refines a film with her presence.

Madame Blanche

What about her peers? There is not much to tell - I’m still waiting for a leading man who is the same league as Irene, but I know he will come!Certainly not in the person of Philip Holms who gives a wooden performance but at least, he and Irene make a handsome couple. Lionel Atwill is a sure bet in one of his  performances as villain and proves why he had to play such characters so often. If there is anybody who leaves an impression in this Irene centered film, it’s Douglas Walton as Leonard Jr..
Okay, that’s not a great, high quality film and don’t ask me about that corny end…but “The Secret Of Madame Blanche” definitely grew on me.


  1. I cried sooo much when I saw this movie for the first time! Irene is so great that she really touched my heart during the last scenes, I could really feel her sorrow and her concern!! Aaa it's one of my FAVORITE movies of her, I recommend it to everybody!!! And I love her, I love her so much when she sings JIMMY =)

    1. Renata - This is also one of my favorite 'Dunne' films. The scene of her with the baby and the hair brush is just delightful! They showed this 2 months ago on TCM - and, since it is not yet available on DVD, I put in a 'request' that they show it again soon. Thank you for this excellent site.

  2. I love how she sings "Jimmy" because it shows another facet as performer of Irene - certainly one of my favorite scenes of the film! "The Secret Of Madame Blanche" gives Irene the opportunity to show a range as actress AND as singer! Quite a treat...
    I hope you noticed that I added the youtube link to your upload. Thank you again, for sharing those films, Renata! That´s quite a treat, too! :) Susanne

  3. You're welcome! Let me know if you want me to upload another one!!!

  4. Very nice review, Susanne! I'd always thoughtlessly assumed this was just one of those unbearable Madame X remakes that always drives me nuts-I'm glad to read that they made the most of the material!
    Re: " The folks at MGM certainly knew how to present female stars!", isn't it funny that it took being loaned out to show Irene off to her best advantage? I'm guessing RKO learned something about how to present Irene in the process!

  5. Thanks, Rob! Don´t tell me you don´t even like Lana´s Madame X?! This delightful piece of schmaltz? Funnily enough Irene was offered the role of the nasty mother-in-law in this version - the part which in the end was played by Constance Bennett. Too small a role for Miss Dunne, I assume, but I´d have liked to see her once again at that time...and in color!
    In the next films is not much room for glamour, but looking at how Irene is presented in Stingaree and in The Age Of Innocence I´d say they folks at RKO were teachable.

  6. New poster here. First I just need to say what a wonderful job you have done in putting together this terrific site dedicated to the wonderful Irene Dunne. Kudos all around! I am so thrilled to have discovered this terrific website. What a lot of work you have put into this dedication!

    I have not seen this film in many years, but loved every minute of it, and also want to thank Rena for uploading the "Jimmy" video on youtube. Such a fantastic Irene moment! Thank you thank you!

    I still have some Irene movies yet to see(Invitation To Happiness, Unfinished Business, a few others,) and am kind of dreading the day when I will have no more to see.

    Thanks again for making this Irene Dunne fan very very happy! She was the greatest from that time in movie history!


  7. Thanks for the kind words! It's always good to know that the site is appreciated like that. "The Secret Of Madame Blanche" is really a film that grew on me. And don't worry, Irene's films are worthwhile rewatching many times, there is always something to discover!

  8. I saw it on TCM this week and tried to find it in the DVDs for sale as a present, but no luck. Still, enjoyed your blog and comments. Most impressive was the courtroom scene in France with a jury of men (?) and a smart prosecutor. I agree, she really looked in her 40s and body movements were from at least 50s, huh?