Madam Satan

Last updated

Madam Satan
Madam Satan film poster.jpeg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Cecil B. DeMille
Written byDialogue: [1]
Gladys Unger
Elsie Janis
Screenplay by Jeanie MacPherson
Produced byCecil B. DeMille
Starring Kay Johnson
Reginald Denny
Lillian Roth
Roland Young
Cinematography Harold Rosson
Edited by Anne Bauchens
Music by(see "Music" below)
Distributed by Loew's Inc.
Release date
  • September 20, 1930 (1930-09-20)(US)
Running time
116 minutes
CountryUnited States

Madam Satan or Madame Satan is a 1930 American pre-Code musical comedy film in black and white with Multicolor sequences. It was produced and directed by Cecil B. DeMille and starred 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 Hollywood's "golden age". [2] 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]


Angela (Kay Johnson) in her zeppelin party costume as Madam Satan. Madam Satan 1930.jpg
Angela (Kay Johnson) in her zeppelin party costume as Madam Satan.

Socialite Angela Brooks (Kay Johnson) reads in a newspaper that her husband Bob (Reginald Denny) and "Mrs. Brooks" were in night court together along with Bob's best friend Jimmy Wade (Roland Young). The woman is actually Trixie (Lillian Roth), a showgirl Bob has been seeing, but Bob tries to pretend that she is Jimmy's wife.

Angela is more amused than angered by the clumsy lies, but it soon becomes clear that Bob has lost interest in their marriage, as he feels Angela has become staid and cold. They each declare that they are moving out and leaving the other, but Angela instantly repents. Her maid encourages her to fight for her happiness.

Angela tells Jimmy that she will spend the night with him and Trixie. Thinking she believes they are married, Jimmy rushes to Trixie's apartment to warn her, but Angela arrives and they reluctantly pretend to be married. The scene becomes more farcical when Bob arrives as well, while Trixie is hiding; Jimmy conceals Angela under a blanket and says she is his girlfriend, a married woman whose name he will not reveal. Trixie reenters so that Bob will know the woman is not her.

After the men leave, Trixie observes that Angela was caught in her own trap. She says that the difference between them is that Trixie understands the things that a man wants in a woman, and as long as she gives them to Bob, he will stay with her. Angela takes that as a challenge and says she can outdo whatever Trixie is capable of doing.

An elaborate masquerade ball is to be held by Jimmy aboard a moored rigid airship, the Zeppelin CB-P-55. To win back her husband's affections, Angela decides to attend the soiree as a mysterious devil woman, "Madame Satan", to "vamp" him. Now hidden behind her mask and wrapped in an alluring gown that reveals more than it covers, Angela finds her errant husband and begins teaching him a lesson.

To Trixie's dismay, Bob is indeed bewitched by Angela in her devil woman persona, nothing like the demure spouse he left at home. During the ball, several exotic musical numbers are performed. A severe thunderstorm quickly moves in, and the airship is damaged and breaks free and now in danger of breaking apart. Everyone begins to panic as they are told to abandon ship and parachute to the ground.

By that time Angela has unmasked and made herself known to Bob, who quickly resents her deception, he gives her his parachute harness and goes to find another harness for Trixie after she is unable to find one; Angela extorts a promise from Trixie to leave Bob alone in return for her own parachute harness. When Bob returns, he gives Angela his, and she parachutes safely into the open jump seat of a convertible car in which a couple are making out. Bob rides down a portion of the now broken apart zeppelin, diving at the last minute into the city reservoir just before impact. Jimmy ends up in a tree in the middle of the lion enclosure at the city zoo. Trixie parachutes through the roof of a Turkish bath full of toweled men who immediately 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.


Theatrical release lobby card Madam Satan lobby card.jpg
Theatrical release 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]

Cecil B. DeMille voices an uncredited Radio Newscaster



Abe Lyman, who can be seen in Madam Satan, was hired to play the music. 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. Regal label in Australia also released a version of "Live And Love To-Day" by the Rhythmic Troubadours, record number G20999, in 1930.

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 Multicolor. [6] The color sequences were praised by reviewers for their richness and beauty. [7] These color sequences survive only in a black and white copy today.

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 also was 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 still was trying to salvage her disastrous venture in Queen Kelly (1929) and was advised to appear in films only 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 superabundance 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] The Film Daily, a trade paper widely read by theater owners in 1930, also highlighted in its review the production's alleged excesses, including its extravagant production values and the frequent use of "risque lines" in its dialogue. [17] The paper in its October 5 issue summarizes the film in all-capital letters as a "TYPICAL DE MILLE ORGY OF SPECTACULAR SETTINGS AND COSTUMES WITH 'HOT' LINES THAT KILL IT FOR FAMILY TRADE." [17]

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." [18]


The current print of Madam Satan has all of the color sequences in black-and-white and 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. [19]

Home video

The original Multicolor sequences of Madam Satan exist only in black-and-white. The film was released for home viewing on VHS [18] and, as of November 9, 2010, was released on DVD via the Warner Archive Collection made-to-order process. [20] The film is televised by Turner Classic Movies as part of the channel's standard programming rotation. [21]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cecil B. DeMille</span> American filmmaker (1881–1959)

Cecil Blount DeMille was an American film director, producer and actor. Between 1914 and 1958, he made 70 features, both silent and sound films. He is acknowledged as a founding father of the American cinema and the most commercially successful producer-director in film history. His films were distinguished by their epic scale and by his cinematic showmanship. His silent films included social dramas, comedies, Westerns, farces, morality plays, and historical pageants. He was an active Freemason and member of Prince of Orange Lodge #16 in New York City.

<i>Samson and Delilah</i> (1949 film) Film by Cecil B. DeMille

Samson and Delilah is a 1949 American romantic biblical drama film produced and directed by Cecil B. DeMille and released by Paramount Pictures. It depicts the biblical story of Samson, a strongman whose secret lies in his uncut hair, and his love for Delilah, the woman who seduces him, discovers his secret, and then betrays him to the Philistines. It stars Victor Mature and Hedy Lamarr in the title roles, George Sanders as the Saran, Angela Lansbury as Semadar, and Henry Wilcoxon as Prince Ahtur.

<i>The King of Kings</i> (1927 film) 1927 silent film

The King of Kings is a 1927 American silent epic film produced and directed by Cecil B. DeMille. It depicts the last weeks of Jesus before his crucifixion and stars H. B. Warner in the lead role.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lillian Roth</span> American actress, singer

Lillian Roth was an American singer and actress.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Betty Francisco</span> American actress

Betty Francisco was an American silent-film actress, appearing primarily in supporting roles. Her sisters Evelyn and Margaret were also actresses.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Theodore Kosloff</span> Russian-American ballet dancer, choreographer, and actor

Theodore Kosloff was a Russian-born ballet dancer, choreographer, and film and stage actor. He was occasionally credited as Theodor Kosloff.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Anne Bauchens</span> American film editor (1882–1967)

Anne Bauchens was an American film editor who is remembered for her collaboration over 40 years with the director Cecil B. DeMille. In 1940, she won the Academy Award for film editing.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kay Johnson</span> American actress (1904–1975)

Catherine Townsend Johnson was an American stage and film actress.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jeanie MacPherson</span> American actress

Abbie Jean MacPherson was an American silent actress, writer and director. MacPherson worked as a theater and film actress before becoming a screenwriter for Cecil B. DeMille. She was a pioneer for women in the film industry. She worked with D. W. Griffith and Cecil B. DeMille, two of the foremost filmmakers of the time.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ella Hall</span> American actress

Ella Augusta Hall was an American actress. She appeared in more than 90 films between 1912 and 1933.

<i>Dynamite</i> (1929 film) 1929 film

Dynamite is a 1929 American pre-Code drama film produced and directed by Cecil B. DeMille and starring Conrad Nagel, Kay Johnson, Charles Bickford, and Julia Faye. Written by Jeanie MacPherson, John Howard Lawson, and Gladys Unger, the film is about a convicted murderer scheduled to be executed, whom a socialite marries simply to satisfy a condition of her grandfather's will. Mitchell Leisen was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Art Direction.

<i>Carmen</i> (1915 Cecil B. DeMille film) 1915 film

Carmen is a 1915 American silent drama film directed by Cecil B. DeMille. The film is based on the novella Carmen by Prosper Mérimée. The existing versions of this film appear to be from the re-edited 1918 re-release.

<i>Why Change Your Wife?</i> 1920 film

Why Change Your Wife? is a 1920 American silent comedy film directed by Cecil B. DeMille and starring Gloria Swanson.

<i>Something to Think About</i> 1920 film

Something to Think About is a 1920 American silent drama film directed by Cecil B. DeMille. The film stars Elliott Dexter and Gloria Swanson. Prints of the film exist at the George Eastman Museum in Rochester, New York, and at the Filmmuseum in Amsterdam.

<i>The Affairs of Anatol</i> 1921 film by Cecil B. DeMille

The Affairs of Anatol is a 1921 American silent comedy-drama film directed by Cecil B. DeMille, starring Wallace Reid and Gloria Swanson. The film is based on the 1893 play Anatol by Arthur Schnitzler.

<i>Fools Paradise</i> (1921 film) 1921 film

Fool's Paradise is a 1921 American silent romance film directed by Cecil B. DeMille. The film stars Dorothy Dalton and Conrad Nagel and was based on the short story "Laurels and the Lady" by Leonard Merrick. Prints of Fool's Paradise are preserved at the George Eastman House, the Library of Congress, and the UCLA Film and Television Archive.

Feet of Clay is a 1924 American silent drama film directed and produced by Cecil B. DeMille, starring Vera Reynolds and Rod La Rocque, and with set design by Norman Bel Geddes. The film is based on the 1923 novel by Margaretta Tuttle, and Beulah Marie Dix's one-act 1915 play Across the Border.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Maria Frau</span> Italian actress

Maria Frau is a retired Italian film actress. She made her debut in 1950 when she played the title role in Margaret of Cortona. After appearing in eighteen films she retired from acting in 1957, following her marriage.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Beatrice deMille</span>

Matilda Beatrice deMille was an English-American play broker, screenwriter, playwright, theater actress and entrepreneur. She had a part in founding Paramount Pictures. Her sons were pioneering filmmakers Cecil B. DeMille and William C. deMille.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">From the Pinnacle to the Pit</span> 2015 single by Ghost

"From the Pinnacle to the Pit" is a song by the Swedish rock band Ghost. The track was released as the second single from the group's third studio album Meliora.



  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. Variety , March 12, 1930, p. 6
  7. Toowoomba Chronicle and Darling Downs Gazette , December 6, 1933, p. 5
  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 "'Madam Satan'", review, The Film Daily (New York, N.Y.), October 5, 1930, p. 10. Internet Archive, San Francisco, California. Retrieved March 15, 2020.
  18. 1 2 Nordin, Jonas (November 20, 2008) "Madam Satan (1930)." All Talking! All Singing! All Dancing!. Retrieved: May 18, 2015.
  19. "Reg Denny, Loew's in 'Madam Satan'." Reading Eagle, September 27, 1930, p.24
  20. "Madam Satan." Retrieved: May 18, 2015.
  21. Miller, Frank. "Madame Satan." Retrieved: May 18, 2015.