MGM, in 1944, put forth their movie tribute to the life of one of the most famous female scientists to have ever lived, Marie Curie, or as she was known during her times, Madame Curie. I saw that Turner Classic was going to feature this movie on their chosen day in August to celebrate the […]
MGM, in 1944, put forth their movie tribute to the life of one of the most famous female scientists to have ever lived, Marie Curie, or as she was known during her times, Madame Curie. I saw that Turner Classic was going to feature this movie on their chosen day in August to celebrate the career of actress Greer Garson, so I was sure to dvr the film. I had viewed the movie quite a while ago, so it was good to view it again, with my eye tuned in to new observations for this new blogathon, looking at Scientists in Classic Films. My part is a contribution to the “good scientists.”
If you don't know who Madame Curie was, here is a link to explain all of that, as well as her husband and co-scientist, Pierre, ably portrayed by Walter Pidgeon, who was often cast as Garson's husband in quite a few movies.(Warning! The link contains spoilers about the Curies' lives.)
In the beginning of the film, we see Marie(Greer Garson) sitting in a lecture hall and it's pretty obvious she is the only female in the class. She is listening intently to the professor but faints due to hunger. Her male classmates and the professor show genuine concern for her and the professor insists on treating her to lunch. At the lunch we find out that Marie is from Poland, and once she has her degrees from the Sorbonne, she plans on returning to Poland to help her father with his teaching and probably becoming a mathematics or physics teacher herself. The professor, Dr. Perot(Alfred Basserman) realizes Marie needs money to continue her studies so he asks if she would be willing to do some research for the French steel industry? He had been approached recently by this group, asking that experiments be done on the magnetism of differing types of steel and he asks Marie if she'd be willing to do these experiments for a stipend? Marie agrees and Dr. Perot tells her he will find a lab for her to conduct the experiments. He invites her to his home for a tea party for the following Sunday afternoon. It is at this tea party where she meets Pierre Curie, and it is at this tea party that Dr. Perot asks Pierre if a student can use space in his lab to conduct some experiments for the steel industry. Pierre politely agrees to Dr. Perot's request, but when he is then told that the student is a female? Pierre's reaction is one of shock!
It is now Monday, and Pierre tells his lab assistant David(Robert Walker) that a calamity will soon be hitting their lab. A woman scientist will be invading their territory to conduct experiments! Women and science don't mix, protests Pierre loudly! Women scientists, David adds, are usually ugly!! Let's hope she's not noisy, talkative, or whistles, declares Pierre! You'd think a monster was about to enter their realm from all of their silly comments about women scientists!! When Marie arrives, they are both struck speechless at her beauty, her politeness, and her quiet ways. David almost knocks over some lab equipment in his eagerness to assist this new colleague and Pierre likes her presence so much, he begins to whistle as he works!
After several months of working in the same lab, David, Pierre, and Marie have become friends. Pierre is truly horrified when Marie informs him that her experiments are finished, and that when she graduates in May, she will be returning to Poland to be a teacher, working with her father. Pierre is adamant that Marie, with her keen scientific mind, must not be a teacher but stay on at the Sorbonne and work as a scientist. Pidgeon does a wonderful job at conveying the complex mind and behavior of a man who had dedicated his life to science to suddenly discovering that he is in love. We sense Pierre's fears, sadness, and watch his weird way of proposing to Marie to be his bride, his lab partner for life, as it were! Happily, Marie can overlook Pierre's quirks and admits she loves him too and they are soon married. Dame May Whitty has a small part as Pierre's mother, but she does a lot with that part. Henry Travers is loud and opinionated as Pierre's father, not at all like Clarence the Angel, in It's a Wonderful Life, his most famous role. It is at the Curie's home in the country where Pierre tells Marie he can't live without her. I must add that Van Johnson had his first role in a film, in a tiny part as a journalist trying to interview the famous Madame Curie. Great character actor C. Aubrey Smith has a fun part as British scientist, Lord Kelvin, asking to meet the Curies while he is in Paris.
After the courtship and marriage have occurred, the film gets down to the nitty gritty of just what a great scientific discovery the Curies' made, in isolating radium from pitchblende. It took them several years for their discovery to happen and to prove their theory, that there was a new element in the pitchblende that exuded radioactivity. They were able to find radium and another new element, polonium, both elements giving off radiation. For this contribution to the world, they and Dr. Henri Becquerel(who first discovered radioactivity) were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1903.
I don't want to go into anymore of the plot of this great film so let me say that Garson and Pidgeon give wonderful performances as two dedicated scientists who wanted to better mankind via their discoveries. Their steadfastness, despite being so very tired at times, is awe-inspiring.
This post has been for the blogathon look at scientists in classic movies. Be sure to visit the hostesses sites in order to read more posts by other bloggers on this topic: Ruth at Silver Screenings