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Strange and Fantastic Tales of the 20th Century: ‘Madam Satan’

Who wants to go to Hell with Madam Satan?

Strange and Fantastic Tales of the 20th Century is a look back at the weirdest, most memorable, and most off center movies of the 20th century. From head turning horror to oddball science fiction, this column examines the films that will leave a lasting impression for centuries to come.

Cecil B. DeMille’s1930 screwball comedy, Madam Satan, is many things. It’s a musical, disaster movie, and a searing  commentary on marriage and gender roles.  What’s a woman to do when her husband cheats? What’s a husband to do when he can’t sexualize his wife? What’s a single hot lady going to do when a rich man comes calling? All the answers are revealed in this week’s strange and fantastic tale Madam Satan.

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Angela (Kay Johnson), the wife of a rich man about town, spends most of her time alone waiting for her husband to come home. After discovering he is very openly and publicly cheating on her, she becomes determined to win him back. Angela gets a lot of singing advice from her maid Martha who chants about the importance of being sexy at home. Then, to add insult to injury, her husband’s mistress Trixie, sings the same thing. A bunch of silly mishaps ensue which contribute to the screwball hilarity, but there are some serious sinister forces at hand. 

Strange and Fantastic Tales of the 20th Century: 'Madam Satan'

Bob Brooks (Reginald Denny) is a sociopathic gaslighter. It’s played for laughs, but Bob‘s lies about his whereabouts are insulting to Angela’s intelligence. When Angela refuses to believe his lies, he blames her for his infidelities. Reader, I wish I could tell you she leaves him, but then the movie would be over. 

Angela hatches a plan that takes place at a fabulous masquerade aboard a dirigible. Wearing a revealing iconic black gown and a hood with horns, Angela descends a staircase and blows Trixie and every other dame out of the water. In a fake French accent she sings a song that turns her into the most popular woman at the ball. Bob forgets about Trixie and falls instantly In love with Madam Satan, Angela’s mysterious alter ego.

Strange and Fantastic Tales of the 20th Century: 'Madam Satan'

Madam Satan succeeds in making Bob look like a fool. He loses his temper when he realizes that Madam Satan is not as easy as her outfit implies. As the truth is revealed, Bob’s true insecurities are revealed as Angela becomes more aware of her sexuality. Madam Satan examines the nature of men and women during a time where marriage was seen as mandatory for survival. I won’t give away the ending, but really it’s up to the audience whether or not they want to call it a happy ending. I hesitate to do so. Watch this while wearing a devil dress and ignoring your spouse. 

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