Friday, April 12, 2013

Movie review: Madame Curie (1943)

As part of my 3rd 101 Things in 1001 Days, I'm going to watch the AFI's 100 Years 100 Cheers - a list of the 100 "best" inspiring movies.

Madame Curie is #97 on the list, and tells the story of Maria Skladowska of Poland, a lovely young woman with a bright and curious mind, especially when it comes to science and mathematics. Unable to study in Poland because of she is female, she attends the Sorbonne in Paris, often going hungry as she ekes out a living while dedicating herself to her studies.

She meets Pierre Curie through her professor, who arranges for her to do research in Curie's lab. Eventually the two fall in love and marry, which keeps her in Paris, rather than returning to Warsaw as she had intended.

Together the young couple struggles to identify and isolate a curious new item in pitchblende which Maria (now called Marie) names Radium. In the meantime, they have two daughters (one played by a very young Margaret O'Brien).

Eventually, Madame Curie is recognized for her contributions to science.

This is a typical 1940's biopic, focusing primarily on the romance and the single defining struggle, and then ending happily. Greer Garson is luminous and driven as Marie, and Walter Pidgeon is oddly charming as Pierre, who is absentminded and certain that women have no place in science, until his mind and heart are changed by Marie. There's occasional comic relief/exposition provided by Pierre's father Eugene (played by Henry Travers, or Clarence from It's a Wonderful Life). And a kind and supporting presence from Pierre's mother May Witty, another familiar face from MGM's troupe of character actors.

Naturally, the attitude toward women in science, while probably considered quite progressive at the time, is embarrassingly ridiculous from today's perspective. "Mme. Curie should be allowed to be a scientist in spite of the fact that she's a woman, because she's an unusual woman." And this argument on her "behalf" is from her own husband.

I think I remember seeing this movie in grade school, but it doesn't leave a lasting impression. Still, it has a satisfying, feel-good ending.

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