|Directed by||Cecil B. DeMille|
|Produced by||Cecil B. DeMille|
|Written by||Jeanie Macpherson
|Music by||Clifford Grey
("Ballet Mecanique", uncredited)
|Edited by||Anne Bauchens|
Madam Satan has been called one of the oddest films DeMille made and certainly one of the oddest MGM made during its "golden age." The film originally featured Technicolor sequences that are now lost. Thematically, this marked an attempt by DeMille to return to the boudoir comedies genre that had brought him financial success about 10 years earlier.
Assisted by her maid, Angela conceives a plan to win back her husband's affections. An elaborate masquerade ball is to be held in New York City aboard the magnificent moored dirigible named the Zeppelin CB-P-55. Angela will attend, disguised as a mysterious devil woman to "vamp" her husband. Hidden behind her mask and wrapped in an alluring gown, Angela will try to find her errant husband and teach him a lesson. She finds him with his pal, Jimmy Wade (Roland Young).
Bob becomes bewitched by the mysterious Madam Satan, nothing like the demure spouse he left at home. During the ball, there are a number of exotic musical numbers. Then a thunderstorm causes the dirigible to break apart and everyone is forced to parachute into the reservoir in Central Park. Angela gives Trixie her parachute, while Jimmy jumps, but survives, ending up in a tree.
Finally unmasked, Angela seeks out Bob, who gives up his parachute to her. The two make their way to safety with Angela using the parachute and her husband successfully diving into the reservoir, and saving himself.
The Zeppelin sequences were originally filmed in Technicolor. The film, however, was released in black-and-white due to the backlash against musicals which made the extra expense of color superfluous. The same thing occurred with another MGM musical, Children of Pleasure (1930), whose color sequences were similarly released in black-and-white. The original color sequences of Madame Satan no longer exist.
DeMille originally wanted writer Dorothy Parker to augment Jeanie MacPherson's original script. Learning that Parker was living in France, and that this would make collaboration too difficult, DeMille then sought vaudeville writer Elsie Janis. She agreed to work on the project, but left amicably on March 24, 1930, due to creative differences. Janis reportedly did not like the direction the script was going.
Hollywood censor Jason Joy worked with DeMille to minimize censorable elements in the potentially objectionable script. "They agreed to put less revealing costumes on the girls at the masquerade party. Body stockings, larger fig leaves and translucent fishnets took care of most of the nudity. The drinking scenes were toned down ...", Angela's 'Madam Satan' costume was also made less revealing. An entire scene in which Angela confronts Trixie, and Trixie is shown wearing a sheer nightgown because she "has nothing to hide" was deleted. The collaboration ended up being agreeable to both men. The notoriously finicky Ohio censor board passed the film without cuts.
Thomas Meighan was sought for the lead role of Bob Brooks before Reginald Denny was cast on January 9, 1930. DeMille wanted Gloria Swanson for the role of Angela, but her lover and business partner, Joseph P. Kennedy, reportedly persuaded her not to accept the role. Swanson was still trying to salvage her disastrous venture in Queen Kelly (1929) and was advised not to appear in films not made by her own production company. Although originally scheduled to be shot in 70 days, it took 59, with principal photography commencing on March 3 and ending on May 2, 1930. Madam Satan was the most expensive film made by Metro in 1930, and would remain its most expensive musical until The Merry Widow (1934).
Madam Satan was released at a time when American theaters had become saturated with musicals, and as a result, it was a financial failure, eventually resulting a net loss of $390,000. Today, the film is regarded as an amusing oddity and an exercise in DeMille using "too much of everything just because he can."
Abe Lyman, who can be seen in Madam Satan, was hired to play the music in this film. He recorded two numbers from the film for Brunswick Records. "Live And Love Today" and "This Is Love" were released on Brunswick's popular 10-inch series as record number 4804.
- "Live and Love Today," sung by Elsa Petersen and Kay Johnson
- "All I Know Is You're in My Arms," sung by Reginald Denny and Kay Johnson
- "This Is Love," sung by Reginald Denny and Kay Johnson (Missing from extant prints; see below)
- "Meet Madam," sung by Kay Johnson
- "Low Down," sung by Lillian Roth
- "The Cat Walk," sung by Wallace MacDonald
In his review for The New York Times, film critic Mourdant Hall described Madam Satan as "an inept story with touches of comedy that are more tedious than laughable." He further noted the film "is a strange conglomeration of unreal incidents that are sometimes set forth with no little technical skill. It begins with the flash of a bird bath and closes with the parachuting of passengers from a giant dirigible that is struck by lightning. This production, in which occasional songs are rendered, boasts of no fewer than 46 listed characters, besides Abe Lyman and his band."
A similar review by Edwin Schallert in The Los Angeles TImes noted: "The general impression of the DeMille picture is that it is too much in one key. The superabundaance of sound palls, and leaves one weary. Besides, there is a staginess about the whole result that casts anything approaching convictions to one side.
The original black-and-white release print of Madam Satan still survives, but is missing at least one musical number. According to film reviews of 1930, Kay Johnson and Reginald Denny originally sang "This Is Love," but in the currently circulating print, this song is only heard playing in the background during a scene in which Johnson is speaking to her maid.
The original Technicolor sequences of Madam Satan exist only in black-and-white. The film is available on VHS and, as of November 9, 2010, on DVD via the Warner Archive Collection made-to-order process.
- DeMille's daughter, Katherine DeMille was an uncredited "Zeppelin Reveler".
- Kosloff, a DeMille regular who was better known as a dance director, was originally hired by DeMille to do the film's choreography, but MGM insisted on Leroy Prinz. However, some dance experts believe that Kosloff did choreograph the "Ballet Mechanicique", as it seems more representative of his work than that of Prinz.
- Osborne, Robert. "Introduction to the telecast." Turner Classic Movies, 2003.
- Black 1994, p. 57.
- Ringgold and Bodeen 1969, p. 270.
- Ringgold and Bodeen 1969, p. 268.
- Los Angeles Times, February 21, 1930, p. A-10.
- Miller, Frank. "Madame Satan." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: May 18, 2015.
- Birchard 2004, p. 246.
- Birchard 2004, p. 243.
- Black 1994, pp. 57–58.
- Black 1994, p. 58.
- Birchard 2004, p. 241.
- Barrios 1995, p. 260.
- Higashi 1994, p. 200.
- Nordin, Jonas. "Madam Satan (1930)."All Talking! All Singing! All Dancing!, November 20, 2008. Retrieved: May 18, 2015.
- Hall, Mourdant. "Movie Review: 'Madame Satan' (1930); The screen; A DeMillean air feature. On a sinking liner." The New York Times, October 6, 1930.
- Ringgold and Bodeen 1969, p. 269.
- "Reg Denny, Loew's in 'Madam Satan'."Reading Eagle, September 27, 1930, p. 24.
- "Madam Satan." wbshop.com. Retrieved: May 18, 2015.
- Barrios, Richard. A Song in the Dark: The Birth of the Musical Film. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. ISBN 0-19-516729-5.
- Birchard, Robert S. Cecil B. DeMille's Hollywood. Lexington, Kentucky: University of Kentucky Press, 2004. ISBN 978-0-8131-2324-0.
- Black, Gregory D. Hollywood Censored: Morality Codes, Catholics, and the Movies. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994. ISBN 978-0-5215-6592-9.
- Higashi, Sumiko. Cecil B. DeMille and American Culture: The Silent Era. Berkely and Los Angeles, California: University of California Press, 1994. ISBN 0-520-08557-4.
- Ringgold Gene and DeWitt Bodeen. The Films of Cecil D. DeMille. Secaucus, New Jersey: Citadel Press, 1969. ISBN 978-0-8065-0216-8.
- Madam Satan at the TCM Movie Database
- Madam Satan at the Internet Movie Database
- Madam Satan at AllMovie
- KPCC, Southern California Public Radio story