Madame Curie - The Story

MGM Production Notes 1943

Marie Sklodovska (Greer Garson), brilliant Polish student, faints while attending the class of Professor Perot (Albert Basserman) at the Sorbonne, Paris. The professor sends her home, to her tiny nook under a roof, which has no heat, light, or water. Checking up on her there, he discovers she is hungry. At a cozy café, he learns her ambition: to return to Poland and teach.

In Poland, she tells him, she was a governess, and became engaged to her employer’s son but, because of their differences in station, his parents cancelled the wedding. Now, science is her only love.

Professor Perot gets her an assignment to study the magnetic properties of steel for the Society of National Industry. To have a workshop she is assigned to the laboratory of Pierre Curie (Walter Pidgeon), a brilliant, unworldly scientist who is shocked to find that his colleague is a woman.

One day, Marie and Pierre are invited by Dr. Henri Bacquerel (Reginald Owen) to observe a strange phenomenon in his laboratory. Some pitchblende, left on a photographic plate with a key under it, has, in some way, left the key’s imprint on the plate. (This becomes the key to the discovery of radium.)

Pierre, meanwhile, has found his admiration for the girl growing out of bounds, despite his cynicism toward women scientists. Almost unaware, he has become deeply enamored of her. He isn’t doing anything about it, however, and is shocked one day to learn she plans to return to Poland. Distraught, he invites her to his parents’ country home. That night, Pierre is pacing the floor. At 4a.m., oblivious to the impropriety but urged on by his tormented heart, he walks down the hall, knocks on her door and barges in. He tells her it is impossible for her to leave Paris; he cannot allow it; that they are “like the elements of a compound,” and made for each other. Will she marry him? She accepts – and that’s that.

Eventually, being scientists, they discuss the pitchblende key phenomenon. They conclude they are on the track of a new element. But they can’t prove it. However, the University reluctantly gives them a place in which to work, an old, cold, drafty, leaky shed. For forty-five months they work here, finally to startle the world with the discovery of radium. To achieve this, Marie, growing gaunt and weary and even taking scant time off to give birth to their first child, boils down tons and tons of pitchblende, reducing it to a final mere dark stain, the first speck of radium ever isolated.

But they don’t realize what they’ve done. Exhausted, they fall asleep. A bluish, eerie light awakens them. It is the stain in the dish! It flares into a bright unearthly radiance. Radium! They have “caught a star on their fingertips!” Their love, devotion and faith in each other have won out against great odds.

Honors are heaped upon them. They want only each other.

Later Pierre goes to purchase a gift for Marie. Returning, he is run down by a heavy draft team and killed.

But he lives on in Maries’ heart. Alone, but sustained by his memory, she goes on, enriching the world with her genius. Finally, on July 4, 1934, a tired, but famous old woman, she joins Pierre…somewhere beyond the veil whose secrets they pierced together.

Madame Curie