Madame X (1929)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Courtroom Drama, Melodrama  |   Run Time - 90 min.  |   Countries - USA  |  
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One of the most revered character stars of his day, Lionel Barrymore's "Royal family of Broadway" connection apparently guaranteed him a promotion to director in the early days of talkies. A box-office smash, Madame X, starring Broadway import Ruth Chatterton and filmed on new sound stages in New York City, proved a highly auspicious debut and Barrymore probably assumed that this change in career direction would become permanent. Of course, audiences were willing to sit through almost anything in 1929, provided they could actually hear the actor talk, and talk they do in Madame X. Even a legitimate stage actress such as Miss Chatterton could not quite overcome Mr. Barrymore's lack of directorial prowess. Barrymore generally placed his camera center stage and let the actors do what came natural: talk. Early sound films, of course, have become notorious for their inertia, but few are as guilty as Madame X. Although Barrymore later claimed that he invented the boom mike during filming, the surviving copy of Madame X seems to contradict him. In fact, every time an actor moves, Barrymore blithely cuts to a two-shot. The reviewers at the time, however, were gracious to a fault and Barrymore earned a best Director Academy Award nomination for his efforts -- eventually losing to Frank Lloyd, who won for no less than three films. Riding high from this generous reception, Barrymore fell flat on his face with his next assignment, the even more leaden operetta The Rogue Song (1929), and wisely returned to acting for the remainder of his long and distinguished screen career.