Madam Satan

Madam Satan

theatrical release lobby card
Directed by Cecil B. DeMille
Produced by Cecil B. DeMille
Written by Dialogue:[1]
Gladys Unger
Elsie Janis
Screenplay by Jeanie Macpherson
Starring Kay Johnson
Reginald Denny
Lillian Roth
Roland Young
Music by (see "Music" below)
Cinematography Harold Rosson
Edited by Anne Bauchens
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release dates
  • September 20, 1930 (1930-09-20) ((US))
Running time
116 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Madam Satan or Madame Satan is a 1930 American Pre-Code musical comedy film produced and directed by Cecil B. DeMille, starring Kay Johnson, Reginald Denny, Lillian Roth and Roland Young

Madam Satan has been called one of the oddest films DeMille made and certainly one of the oddest MGM made during its "golden age."[2] 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.[3]


Socialite Angela Brooks (Kay Johnson) discovers that her husband Bob (Reginald Denny) is cheating on her with Trixie (Lillian Roth), occasioned by the staid coldness Bob finds Angela to have developed after their marriage.

Encouraged by her maid to fight for her happiness, Angela, after a farcical encounter at Trixie's apartment, conceives a plan to win back her husband's affections. An elaborate masquerade ball is to be held by her husband's best friend Jimmy Wade (Roland Young) in aboard the a moored dirigible named the Zeppelin CB-P-55. Angela will attend, disguised as a mysterious devil woman—"Madam Satan"—to "vamp" her husband. Hidden behind her mask and wrapped in an alluring gown that reveals more than it covers, Angela will find her errant husband at the ball and teach him a lesson.

Bob becomes bewitched by Angela in her disguise, nothing like the demure spouse he left at home. During the ball, several exotic musical numbers are performed. In the course of the frivolities, a thunderstorm causes the dirigible to break apart and everyone is forced to parachute. Angela, who by this time has unmasked and made herself known to the still-entranced Bob, gives Trixie her parachute, making her promise to leave Bob alone. Bob gives Angela his parachute, and she descends safely into—the back seat of a car in which a couple are necking. Bob rides a piece of the broken dirigible down, diving off before impact into "the city reservoir." Jimmy ends up in a tree in the middle of the lion enclosure at the zoo, while Trixie breaks through the roof of a turkish bath full of toweled men who scramble to cover themselves.

The next day, Angela, who is unharmed, and Bob, who has his arm in a sling, reconcile after a visit from a heavily bandaged Jimmy.


Lobby card

The cast of Madam Satan is listed by the American Film Institute.[1]

Katherine DeMille, DeMille's daughter, was an uncredited "Zeppelin Reveler".[4]



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.

Theodore 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.[5]


The Zeppelin sequences were originally filmed in Technicolor.[6][7] 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.[8] 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.[9]

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.[10] The collaboration ended up being agreeable to both men. The notoriously finicky Ohio censor board passed the film without cuts.[11]

Thomas Meighan was sought for the lead role of Bob Brooks before Reginald Denny was cast on January 9, 1930.[8] 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.[9] 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.[8][12] Madam Satan was the most expensive film made by Metro in 1930, and would remain its most expensive musical until The Merry Widow (1934).[13]


Madam Satan was released at a time when American theaters had become saturated with musicals, and as a result, it was a financial failure,[8][13][14] eventually resulting in a net loss of $390,000.[12]

In his review for The New York Times, film critic Mordaunt 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."[15]

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."[16]

Today, a reassessment is taking place; though some only regard the film as an amusing oddity and an exercise in DeMille using "too much of everything just because he can."[17]


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.[18]

The original Technicolor sequences of Madam Satan exist only in black-and-white. The film is available on VHS[17] and, as of November 9, 2010, on DVD via the Warner Archive Collection made-to-order process.[19]

See also



  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Madam Satan at the American Film Institute Catalog
  2. Osborne, Robert. "Introduction to the telecast." Turner Classic Movies, 2003.
  3. Black 1994, p.57.
  4. Ringgold and Bodeen 1969, p.270.
  5. Ringgold and Bodeen 1969, p.268.
  6. Los Angeles Times, February 21, 1930, p.A-10.
  7. Miller, Frank. "Madame Satan." Retrieved: May 18, 2015.
  8. 1 2 3 4 Birchard 2004, p.246.
  9. 1 2 Birchard 2004, p.243.
  10. Black 1994, pp.57–58.
  11. Black 1994, p.58.
  12. 1 2 Birchard 2004, p.241.
  13. 1 2 Barrios 1995, p.260.
  14. Higashi 1994, p.200.
  15. Hall, Mordaunt (October 6, 1930) "Movie Review: 'Madame Satan' (1930); The screen; A DeMillean air feature; on a sinking liner." The New York Times
  16. Ringgold and Bodeen 1969, p.269.
  17. 1 2 Nordin, Jonas (November 20, 2008) "Madam Satan (1930)."All Talking! All Singing! All Dancing!. Retrieved: May 18, 2015.
  18. "Reg Denny, Loew's in 'Madam Satan'."Reading Eagle, September 27, 1930, p.24
  19. "Madam Satan." Retrieved: May 18, 2015.


  • Barrios, Richard (1995) A Song in the Dark: The Birth of the Musical Film. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-516729-5.
  • Birchard, Robert S. (2004) Cecil B. DeMille's Hollywood. Lexington, Kentucky: University of Kentucky Press. ISBN 978-0-8131-2324-0.
  • Black, Gregory D. (1994) Hollywood Censored: Morality Codes, Catholics, and the Movies. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-5215-6592-9.
  • Higashi, Sumiko (1994) Cecil B. DeMille and American Culture: The Silent Era. Berkeley, California: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-08557-4.
  • Ringgold, Gene and Bodeen (1969) The Films of Cecil D. DeMille. Secaucus, New Jersey: Citadel Press, ISBN 978-0-8065-0216-8.

External links

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