Helen Hayes won the Oscar for playing Madelon Claudet in The Sin Of Madelon Claudet.
The Sin Of Madelon Claudet is a very dated, yet entertaining old film about a woman who leads one tortured life. A woman who falls for a man who leaves her before he knows she became pregnant by him - she must find some way to support herself, so she takes up with a jewel thief, which leads he to being arrested. Eventually, she becomes a prostitute in order to provide college for her son, who doesn't even know her. It sounds like a heartbreaking story, and with Hayes performance it enters different territory.
The fact is the performance could have went purely melodramatic and became cliched, but with Helen Hayes we get a great portrayal that is free of very stagy acting. Every turn of the story is perfectly handled by Hayes, who knows not to overplay the character because the story itself is already over handed. She is a tragic figure, and Helen Hayes almost asks the audience for their sympathy, but it's hard to not pity her.
She has many believable, realistic scenes especially the one when she is released from prison and feels the exhaustion of her life. Hayes is so magnificent while doing so much, yet so little with her character. It's easy to see why someone could accuse it of just being melodramatic, but I take alot more away from her performance then that. She is terrific at underplaying most of the pain of Madelon, and she is able to overcome of all of the cliches that could have been ridden within her performance. A natural, even heartbreaking performance.