No one could say that it’s a good movie, but it certainly is an outrageous one. Cecil B. DeMille’s Madam Satan (1930) starts out as a fairly standard bedroom farce and ends with an hour-long orgy aboard a zeppelin that starts out being tethered at a New York airport, and ends up being destroyed in a sudden electrical storm. Oh, and by the way, it’s a musical.
I first saw the film when it was screened by the Dartmouth Film Society in the mid 1960s. More than half a century later, I was still amazed by the film, which was screened tonight by Turner Classic Movies (TCM).
The zeppelin sequence begins with a song and dance number which, no doubt, was considered very advanced for the time:
Cecil B. DeMille was famous for, on one hand publicly adhering to Puritan morality, and on the other pushing the “sin” routines for all they’re worth. The film was released well before the Motion Picture Code was adopted in 1934. Between the advent of sound and the censorship of the Hays Office, Hollywood produced some pretty racy films such as Red Dust (1932) with Jean Harlow, Baby Face (1933) with Barbara Stanwyck, and King Kong (1933) with Fay Wray.
I remember seeing a racy outtakes reel from the latter film in which Kong exposes Fay Wray’s breasts and crushes a black native underfoot as if he were a cockroach.
The pre-code talkies produced by Hollywood tried to walk a straight and narrow path of Protestant morality, but had a little hypocritical fun doing it. The result is at times curiously sexy.