Based on a 1907 play by Victorien Sardou and Émile Moreau, much ado was made of Madame Sans-Gêne when it was being filmed because it was a joint effort between the United States and France. The French government allowed the movie to be shot at various historical locations, including the Palace of Fontainebleau and the Palace of Compiegne. This historical comedy focuses on the title character (Gloria Swanson), a vivacious young washerwoman during the tumultuous times of the French Revolution. One of her clients happens to be a lieutenant by the name of Napoléon (Emile Drain). The lieutenant becomes emperor; meanwhile, the laundress becomes a duchess, and her coarse ways scandalize those around her. But she gets away with quite a lot -- after all, Napoléon still owes on his laundry bills! The release of Madame Sans-Gêne seemed to symbolize the glamour and spectacle of the '20s; while shooting the movie in France, Swanson had picked up a titled husband (the Marquis de la Falaise de la Coudraye), and the couple made a triumphant return to the States. At the time, she was making a thousand dollars a day -- an incredible amount for that era -- and not long afterwards she would turn down a contract for a million a year. Nevertheless, Madame Sans-Gêne is not one of her best vehicles. It was overlong, self-conscious about its historical significance, and the acting by the French players did not impress American critics. Like many epic costume movies, it most likely would have fallen flat without the drawing card of a superstar name.
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