Madame Curie was an inspiring figure, and her life became the basis for an inspiring MGM film in 1943. I consider it the best Hollywood film of the year. It was nominated in seven major categories, including Best Picture, and was totally shut out. A real injustice. The winner in ’43 was CASABLANCA, which had been released in 1942. For some unknown reason, forces were conspiring against Metro’s classy biopic. Perhaps spotlighting it here can bring some long overdue praise its way.
In addition to the nomination for best picture, both leads (Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon) were nominated. Additional noms were garnered for Cedric Gibbons’ fantastic art direction; Joe Ruttenberg’s striking cinematography; Herb Stothart’s music; and Doug Shearer’s sound. Again, it amazes me they didn’t win in any one of these categories; all were deserving. I’d even say May Whitty should have had a supporting actress nomination. She’s wonderful as Marie Curie’s mother-in-law, providing just the right touch of maternal devotion and encouragement, even if she and her husband (Henry Travers) haven’t the first clue about radioactive experiments.
It comes as a surprise the film is not scheduled this year as part of TCM’s 31 Days of Oscar. Not sure how often it’s been broadcast in previous years, but it should have a guaranteed slot each February. Perhaps the accomplishments of Garson and Pidgeon in this film are overshadowed by their previous hit, MRS. MINIVER. And perhaps the director, who worked with Garson in RANDOM HARVEST, is associated with his other prestigious efforts at Metro. Whatever the reason, it is MADAME CURIE that should receive a newer appreciation.
I won’t cover the plot, except to say the studio does play up the romantic elements of the relationship in the first third of the movie. However, after they are married and Whitty’s character dies, the focus switches from domestic goings on to the more professional goals the couple had, as well as their many tribulations. In particular, they spent many years isolating certain elements in their experiments to prove the existence of radium.
The Warner home video I watched includes the original 124-minute print, which is what TCM usually shows. Some of the more scientific scenes were cut when the studio re-released the film. It benefits from having the science material included, because what’s occurring in their experiments is highly symbolic of the kind of relationship that Marie and Pierre had. Seeing them work in the shed they converted into their laboratory gives us a vivid sense of who they are as people, where they are determined to prove theories and help ensure the curative powers of radium can benefit society. So in that regard, they are very heroic.
The Warner DVD includes a nifty bonus feature called ‘Romance of Radium.’ This is a 1937 short film the studio about the Curies. It was directed by Jacques Tourneur and runs about ten minutes. It uses lesser known actors, and it focuses more on the science; as well as the dangerous aspects of working directly with radium. As a companion piece to the feature film made six years later, it is invaluable. ‘Romance of Radium’ was also nominated for an Oscar, for Best Short Subject Film the year it was released. And for some inexplicable reason, it is not airing this year on TCM either.
MADAME CURIE is directed by Mervyn LeRoy.