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Film / Madame Curie

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Madame Curie is a 1943 drama film directed by Mervyn Le Roy, starring Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon.

It's a biopic about the life of, yes, Marie Curie (1867-1934), born Marie Sklodowska in Poland. The film starts with Mademoiselle Sklodowska (Garson) studying at the Sorbonne in Paris. Marie has hardly any money for food and spends almost all her waking moments studying anyway, which is why she faints one day from hunger in the middle of class. A friendly teacher invites her to a party where she meets Pierre Curie, a well-known physicist.

Pierre invites Marie to use his lab for her studies. Eventually they fall in love and get married. While raising a family, they do pioneering work in the field of radioactivity, finally discovering a new element, radium. However, tragedy spoils their happiness.

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Fourth of nine films to pair Garson and Pidgeon. Robert Walker, soon to become a major star, has a small part as Pierre's lab assistant. Ditto Van Johnson, who has an even smaller part as a reporter that interviews Marie.


Tropes:

  • Absentminded Professor: Both of them, really, but especially Pierre. A lot of what you see in this picture is very true to life.
  • Adorkable: Pierre is shy and socially awkward, and is quite nervous at the prospect of a woman working in his lab. When he's asking Marie to go on a ride into the country with him, he stammers and fumbles with his hat. An emotional speech about chemistry and logic turns out to be his marriage proposal.
  • Arc Words: "To catch a star on your fingertips..." Prof. Jean Perot says this in the film. There really was a Prof. Perot, but that kind of language was more apt to come from Paul Appel as he explained classical mechanics, not being romantic.
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  • Artistic License – History: Less of this than most biopics of the studio era. But the film does suggest that Pierre and Marie isolated radium, when in Real Life they only isolated the compound radium chloride. Marie Curie did eventually succeed in producing radium in its pure elemental form, but not until after Pierre's death.
  • As You Know:
    • The professor quizzing Marie after she faints in his class gets across some basic info, like her maiden name and what she's studying.
    • Some pretty basic talk between Pierre and Marie about what elements are, to get across to the viewer the importance of their new discovery.
  • Biopic: Somewhat more faithful to history than other biopics of the day, which were usually heavily fictionalized. Annoyingly enough, it does leave out Marie's family in Paris, particularly her sister Bronislawa, an ob-gyn who delivered her children and with whom she was very close. It also leaves out her passionate dedication to La Résistance back in Poland for independence from Russia.
  • Distant Finale: The last scene has Marie giving a speech to a convention of scientists 25 years after she discovered radium, and 21 years after Pierre's death in the next-to-last scene.
  • Face Framed in Shadow: A lot of this in the dramatic scene where Pierre and Marie go over her findings and realize, through logical deduction, that there is a third, unknown element in the pitchblende emitting radiation.
  • Foreshadowing: Pierre and Marie's first walk home ends with Pierre bidding Marie goodnight, then absentmindedly walking out into the street and almost getting hit by a coach. Later, this is exactly how Pierre is killed.
  • Forgets to Eat: To the point where she faints from hunger during class. Apparently this happened to the real Curie as well, but between classes.
  • Happily Married: A true love match between Pierre and Marie, who never even have an argument.
  • Hard-Work Montage: About halfway through the movie there's a long montage, accompanied by narration, in which Pierre and Marie work their asses off melting down pitchblende, painstakingly removing all the known components from the ore, and finally isolating the mysterious substance Marie named "radium".
  • Have a Gay Old Time: "My mother is quite gay."
  • Sleeping Single: Maybe Pierre and Marie conceived that kid by osmosis.
  • Starving Student: Marie is fainting from hunger in class and living in some tiny garret with a leaky skylight. Absolutely Truth in Television.
  • Technicolor Science: A rare example that is both realistic and actually drawn from Real Life. The Curies finally discover that they have successfully isolated radium when they come back to their lab at night and find the radium in their bowl, which they'd thought to be merely a stain, glowing in the dark.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: Averted with Marie and Pierre's first-date discussion on symmetry math and all that Lq, 2Lq, K-finite stuff. It's not expected that viewers understand it, but that you get a sense of their shared interests and similarity of minds.
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