miliosr

The Films of Greta Garbo

214 posts in this topic

Cukor was right in that respect when he defended Taylor's performance saying that he made Armand very appealing by his youth and beauty and impetuous manners.

The thing that kills Taylor's performance for me is his voice -- he speaks like he just stepped off of a set on the Warner Brothers lot. And Warner Brothers was a completely different studio (and aesthetic) than M-G-M.

Track down Olivier and offer him a second chance, or borrow Tyrone Power. The timing really is off for Power, since he didn't make his mark as a star until this year (1936) but he was a somewhat better actor than Taylor at this time (and with Garbo he would have been better still, I expect), with a superior speaking voice and a stronger presence.

With his theater training, Power would have been ideal but, as you correctly note, the timing was off by about one year.

Garbo often had bad luck in that regard -- the right person wasn't always available at the right time. Certainly, we saw that with Queen Christina -- Gilbert, Novarro and Olivier weren't ideal (albeit for various reasons) for the part of the Spanish ambassador.

Share this post


Link to post

Gary Cooper was also too old by 1936, but it would not have been a bad part for him in his salad days. Hopelessly American, but an actor of much greater sensitivity.

http://en.wikipedia....own_trailer.JPG

There's Coop in 1936 with Jean Arthur, but man, this guy had IT...I always see him and Garbo together and they never were; I'm sure I could figure a way to see him as Armand, even if he later told Ingrid Bergman 'why can't you just talk American?' My father and I had such a blast watching that movie together (I think it's 'Saratoga Trunk'). 'Hopelessly

American' is great :clapping:, because he was one of the ultimate all-Americans--looks like transplanting from Kent and Bedfordshire to Montana 'took'; even though his mom sent him back there for three years when about 10, I think. I can't believe I didn't know he was Selznick's first choice for Rhett Butler, and rejected it. Of course, I can imagine him being even better than Gable, but maybe not.

Maybe he would have been esp. good in the early 'Anna Christie' with Garbo. I think that's about the time he did 'Farewell to Arms' with Helen Hayes.

Speaking of "hopelessly American." There's this great scene in "Desire" where a sniffy European is sneering something like, "Zis America, et ees a beeg country," and Cooper looms over him and says "Six foot three." I think I actually started to whimper.

He surely did have IT and I think he and Garbo might have made a good, if unexpected, team. Cooper and Dietrich were great together, and it's the very contrast in backgrounds and styles that works for them.

Share this post


Link to post

It was interesting that Olivier was mentioned as a potential Armand. He could have been ideal, naturally. I have always regretted that these two great artists, Garbo and Olivier never performed together, although in Queen Christina Olivier was not yet sufficiently mature for the part (and I am also glad Garbo gave Gilbert a second chance, they fit together and it just makes a wonderful, generous gesture on Garbo's part since Gilbert was so helpful to her in the past). For Camille he would have been ideal, it was the time he made As you like it with Elizabeth Bergner I believe.

Not certain about Tyrone Power, though incredibly handsome like Taylor, he would be at least as American as Taylor if not more. Remember him as Fernsen in Marie Antoinette opposite Norma Shearer?

I love Gary Cooper too and I think he would have been an ideal film partner for Garbo, although not for Camille. I think it was Lubitsch who said that these two were born to play together in films.

I am glad Arletty was mentioned in Les enfants du paradis, one of the great French films of all times. You know that Arletty as well worshiped Garbo as an actress. She met her in the US, in New York around 1947, I believe a couple of times. Arletty was sitting near Garbo at a party and told her that she was just going to spend the evening staring at her and Garbo just laughed and laughed. Arletty said that she never saw anyone in her life as beautiful as Garbo.

Share this post


Link to post

Yiannis, thank you for telling me about Lubitsch's feeing about Coop and Garbo. I like all your stories you tell about these various luminsaries, and who better to get it from a 'worshiipper'. I can't say I suffer from this particular malady, but I certainly don't disapprove of it: our own

Farrell Fan has written that he worships the toe shoes he keeps of Suzanne Farrell. I've heard various talk about Garbo and Arletty, who would perhap be THE high-toned movie divas to 'worship'. I just don't know how to do that particular 'fanhood', even thought I've published things about obscure fanhoods...tney had more to do with me and my childhood moviegoing than beimg objective, in most cases. It would easily follow that Arletty would, because of her immensity, be able to express her feeling about Garbo's beauty, and it's hardy any secret thet you'd think she was the most beautiful. I like that attitude, and it reminds me of a guy I met at a party who said his apt. was a 'shrine to Claudette Colbert'. For me, I haven't this aptitude, although Garbo is definitely in the top 10.

Garbo is sublime in 'Camille'. we're all agreed on that, and I think it comes out out in the beginning of the film, this gramdeur of which she became ore and more able to embody: That is not sometning Katharine Hepburn couid have done (there's a bigness and grandeur she could have never captured), any more than Garbo could have done 'Long Day's Journey Into Night' (I think Vanessa has the range to do some of what both Garbo and Kate do, but probably not 'Camille'). Nobody can do everything, and they probably don't want to. I DO think k. Hepburn may have been able to do 'Two-Faced Woman', it seemed very American to me, but Garbo was fine in it, although it 's not a great film.

I do agree with dirac that Coop was marvelous with Dietrich, who has such a marvelous sense of humour, on top of everything else. There's nothing I'd rather see that her scenes, in furious German, with Fritz Lang, during the filming of 'rancho Notorious'. She was formidable enough without that, but I bet nothing surpassed it.

Share this post


Link to post
Garbo is sublime in 'Camille'. we're all agreed on that, and I think it comes out out in the beginning of the film, this gramdeur of which she became ore and more able to embody: That is not sometning Katharine Hepburn couid have done (there's a bigness and grandeur she could have never captured), any more than Garbo could have done 'Long Day's Journey Into Night' (I think Vanessa has the range to do some of what both Garbo and Kate do, but probably not 'Camille'). Nobody can do everything, and they probably don't want to.

No star can do everything and I would agree they wouldn't want to - or they would probably not be stars. I would not have said before watching Long Day's Journey that Hepburn could make herself into lace curtain Irish. She couldn't do that, but she could work the magic that the great actor/stars can. But I love that movie, one of the great ensemble pieces, and one of the pleasures of it is watching actors of the caliber of Hepburn and Richardson adapt to roles for which they aren't ideal.

Redgrave did play Mary opposite Brian Dennehy with Philip Seymour Hoffman and she reportedly dominated the production (although I'd guess it was not least because she was playing opposite Dennehy and Hoffman). But we are wandering afield of our topic.Redgrave is too big and too hearty for Marguerite. She'd eat any Armand for breakfast, even Nureyev.

Yes, we all love Garbo in "Camille"! Conventional wisdom rules!

Share this post


Link to post

I love Gary Cooper too and I think he would have been an ideal film partner for Garbo, although not for Camille. I think it was Lubitsch who said that these two were born to play together in films.

Thanks, yiannisfrance. I didn't know that. I'm flattered to think that Lubitsch and I are on the same page. :)

Share this post


Link to post

Redgrave did play Mary opposite Brian Dennehy with Philip Seymour Hoffman and she reportedly dominated the production (although I'd guess it was not least because she was playing opposite Dennehy and Hoffman). But we are wandering afield of our topic.Redgrave is too big and too hearty for Marguerite. She'd eat any Armand for breakfast, even Nureyev.

To go off topic again, I saw that "Journey", the same weekend I saw "Movin' On." (Not a good weekend.) She played Mary like a sloppy drunk with a borderline personality, and she did dominate the production with the inappropriateness of her characterization and how it grated. Given that, I can't imagine her as Camille. There's nothing soft about her. Dennehy was great: everything was personal. I wasn't as taken with Hoffman, but I was impressed with Robert Sean Leonard, who played Edmund. I'd never seen him onstage, only in film, and I was surprised at how natural and three-dimensional he was, which isn't always the case with film actors, especially contemporary young(ish) romantic lead types.

Share this post


Link to post

Thank you all for your kind remarks and most interesting thoughts on this subject.

To go a bit further on the Lubitsch story about Garbo and Cooper he also said that there was never anyone more beautiful than Cooper in Hollywood (man ro woman), with one exception, Garbo.

Of all the possible potential film partners for Garbo, Cooper is in my opinion one of the most regrettable losses, more I would say than another movie great Cary Grant (there was a lot of talk of reuniting Garbo and Grant at the time of "Ninotschka"). Cooper like Garbo ahs that extreme sensitive beauty, not just a physical one, but a most quiet, sensitive beautiful way of acting in front of the camera. Their faces literally fill the screen with beauty and poetry.

Since I am a Garbo worshipper (surprise!), I can see no other actress achieving the incredible depths of her performance in "Camille". I would have loved to see Callas in "La Traviata", although this is just a fantasy. Although I like Ashton’s ballet “Marguerite and Armand” it is not utterly satisfying to me on a dramatic level (too short perhaps). I even saw my adored Sylvie Guillem in this ballet in London and although she was wonderful, I did not feel as many critics felt at the time that this was the part of a lifetime. On the other hand, I did get that feeling when I saw her as MacMillan’s Manon’s ( a character who sort of announces the character of Marguerite in “La Dame aux Camélias”. To me Sylvie remains the definitive Manon. I have seen her in this part three times and hopefully I will go and see her again in La Scala in Milan at the end of January 2011 when she will reprise her sublime Manon.

To go back to the part of Marguerite I even saw Isabelle Adjani on stage in Paris a few years ago as “La Dame aux Camélias” and was disappointed. Although you could feel that Adjani has the makings of a great stage actress (the voice, stage presence), she did not succeed in giving us a multi-dimensional Marguerite. This is part of the problem with such a tricky character like that of Marguerite. Many opera singers or actresses have a hard time giving meaning to this part and often end up being either too obvious as the demi-mondaine of the beginning of the story, becoming too obviously in love and too obviously self-sacrificing and melodramatic towards the end. There is no such risk with Garbo since she managed to give such complexity, grandeur and subtlety to the part that each scene becomes a fascinating emotional journeyinto the very soul of Marguerite and Garbo the artist and woman.

Regarding Vanessa, an actress I worship especially on stage, unfortunately I did not have the chance to see her as Mary Tyrone when she performed the part on Broadway but I did see her on stage in other parts as Isadora Duncan (unforgettable) in “When she danced”, or in “Orpheus Descending” (shattering with emotion and absolutely fascinating despite the fake Italian accent), “John Gabriel Borgman” and she is indeed an extraordinary and magical figure on stage. But honestly, I cannot see her as “Camille”, perhaps the Romanesque side is not there for me. As for Katharine Hepburn I do feel that she did give her greatest performance in “Long Day’s journey into night”.

Share this post


Link to post

To go off topic again, I saw that "Journey", the same weekend I saw "Movin' On." (Not a good weekend.) She played Mary like a sloppy drunk with a borderline personality, and she did dominate the production with the inappropriateness of her characterization and how it grated. Given that, I can't imagine her as Camille. There's nothing soft about her.

I had a friend who said it was the best stage performance he ever saw, and I always regretted missing it. But don't agree that 'there's nothing soft about her', and I think it is very apparent as far back as her Guinevere, and in many, many things like 'Morgan', even in 'Julia', and certainly in 'Yanks' and 'Isadora' (the film--I hadn't been aware that she did Isadora on stage), where she is very touching as are the rest, and even in more schlocky things like 'A Month by the Lake'. I think she's probably the greatest film actress alive (or definitely one of the three or four, and not quite my favourite, Deneuve is, of course), but I also wouldn't see her as 'Camille', I only mentioned that because of the grandeur that she is capable of quite like Garbo; but I just don't see her as a courtesan very easily. A monarch yes, and without effort, which is part of her uniqueness as a great actress. dirac says 'too big and too hearty'. I think Garbo is very big as Marguerite, but not 'too'--I guess I just meant 'in the grand manner'. I think other things are wrong about Redgrave for that. I can think of films I don't like her in, they are more often when they are humorless, although they're usually minor, as her tiresome part in 'Oh What a lovely War!' which seems to be reflecting her on personal politics too much (but Susannah York and Dirk Bogarde are great in that, despite it's an overblown production of a good show), but then so does 'Julia' and I like her there. She was magnificent as 'Hecuba' the one time I saw her onstage in 2005 at BAM--born for Euripides and really hard things. Agree with yiannis about her performance in 'Orpheus Descending', which I saw as a filmed version of the same production you saw. I guess I think of British film actresses of the same period, I find Julie Christie colder (but mainly just good for that kind of part as in 'Return of the Soldier' and Maggie Smith in lots of pictures, just to name a couple)

I also liked it that Lubitsch said what I'd always imagined about Cooper (although I think he is more beautiful than Garbo personally :angel_not: ). I also like Lubitsch for the one movie I've seen with Theda Bara (although I can't remember the name of it)--that's another whole hobby-realm for movie fans, the slightly obscure diva: Bara, Pola Negri, Clara Bow, Nita Naldi. I'm even into overly-plump Vilma Banky. It's interesting to see when these more fleshy types were the rage, of which Mae west is maybe the last (although she's certainly not obscure to anybody.)

Cary Grant would have been superb in 'Ninotchka', but I do like Melvyn Douglas quite a bit in it, which greatly surprised me; I usually don't pay much attention to him. But 'Ninotchka' really is to me just silly, even if well-made.

Share this post


Link to post

I had a friend who said it was the best stage performance he ever saw, and I always regretted missing it. But don't agree that 'there's nothing soft about her', and I think it is very apparent as far back as her Guinevere, and in many, many things like 'Morgan', even in 'Julia', and certainly in 'Yanks' and 'Isadora' (the film--I hadn't been aware that she did Isadora on stage), where she is very touching as are the rest, and even in more schlocky things like 'A Month by the Lake'. I think she's probably the greatest film actress alive (or definitely one of the three or four, and not quite my favourite, Deneuve is, of course), but I also wouldn't see her as 'Camille', I only mentioned that because of the grandeur that she is capable of quite like Garbo; but I just don't see her as a courtesan very easily. A monarch yes, and without effort, which is part of her uniqueness as a great actress. dirac says 'too big and too hearty'.

Cary Grant would have been superb in 'Ninotchka', but I do like Melvyn Douglas quite a bit in it, which greatly surprised me; I usually don't pay much attention to him. But 'Ninotchka' really is to me just silly, even if well-made.

I did not know that you were a Deneuve admirer. I saw her most recent film "Potiche" directed by François Ozon based on a play by Barillet and Grédy (who have written "Cactus flower" as well) and where she appears opposite Gérard Depardieu. It is quite a hit and Deneve and Depardieu are wonderful in it. I also love her too, especially her personality and style. As for Redgrave I do consider her as the greatest actress of our times. What I especially love about her is that "absence" of "obvious technique" in her acting and that radiant, glowing humanity she has, which is something that Garbo had as well.

Joseph Losey who directed Vanessa once referred to Glenda Jackson whom he directed in "The Romanctic Englmish woman" and sais something like that. He felt that Glenda Jackson, although post strong and powerful as an actress lacked that capacity of Vanessa to go deep into her parts and explore their utmost depths. He also added that Vanessa was like Garbo in that respect, they both had the capacity to go deep into their characters and explore them. I do not have the exact quote and it is around these lines, I remember reading it in a Joseph Losey biography a long time ago.

To go back to "Camille" I am glad that we all love it, especially Garbo's performance and I think it would be just to praise Cukor's direction as well. True, without Garbo this would not have been the great film it is but Cukor also manages to skilfully accompagny this performance a create quite a convencing visual universe around her. Just to mention a few of the scenes which illustrate this. The opening scene at the carriage, with Marguerite's appearance with the camelias lovingly framing her exquisite face; The scene at the theatre where she mistakes Armand with the Baron de Varville (a scene which was copied at the film "Moulin Rouge" with Nicole Kidman!); the scene where Marguerite starts to cough when she dances and she is cruelly abandonned by everybody except Armand etc.

Share this post


Link to post

I did not know that you were a Deneuve admirer. I saw her most recent film "Potiche" directed by François Ozon based on a play by Barillet and Grédy (who have written "Cactus flower" as well) and where she appears opposite Gérard Depardieu. It is quite a hit and Deneve and Depardieu are wonderful in it. I also love her too, especially her personality and style. As for Redgrave I do consider her as the greatest actress of our times. What I especially love about her is that "absence" of "obvious technique" in her acting and that radiant, glowing humanity she has, which is something that Garbo had as well.

Joseph Losey who directed Vanessa once referred to Glenda Jackson whom he directed in "The Romanctic Englmish woman" and sais something like that. He felt that Glenda Jackson, although post strong and powerful as an actress lacked that capacity of Vanessa to go deep into her parts and explore their utmost depths. He also added that Vanessa was like Garbo in that respect, they both had the capacity to go deep into their characters and explore them. I do not have the exact quote and it is around these lines, I remember reading it in a Joseph Losey biography a long time ago.

To go back to "Camille" I am glad that we all love it, especially Garbo's performance and I think it would be just to praise Cukor's direction as well. True, without Garbo this would not have been the great film it is but Cukor also manages to skilfully accompagny this performance a create quite a convencing visual universe around her. Just to mention a few of the scenes which illustrate this. The opening scene at the carriage, with Marguerite's appearance with the camelias lovingly framing her exquisite face; The scene at the theatre where she mistakes Armand with the Baron de Varville (a scene which was copied at the film "Moulin Rouge" with Nicole Kidman!); the scene where Marguerite starts to cough when she dances and she is cruelly abandonned by everybody except Armand etc.

Agree with everything except what Losey said about Jackson. He knows more than I do, god knows, but she had something which really does go deep too. You see it in the dowd (Julie Christie keeps calling the character that) in 'Return of the Soldier', where despite her plainness, she is the only one who can comfort Alan Bates in shell shock. And you can feel very strongly why he could be comforted only by her; I've rarely been more touched by their first scene together. Similarly, in Ken Russell's version of D.H. Lawrence's 'The Rainbow', there is a scene when she and Chris Gable are at the banquet table after their daughter's wedding. He keeps bothering with his nose while trying to make a proper wedding speech, and at some point says some about 'an angel he knew'. Glenda, sitting at the table, sees him in his obvious irritation while trying to ignore that he's bothered with his own person, and says, uncannily and all of a sudden 'Well, I had an angel went up me nose one time'. Gable gets very tickled, and then there's a look of understanding and love between them that makes it like it's their own wedding again. And who could be more lovable than Chris Gable? He was the perfect 'Boyfriend' with Twiggy. Of course, there's her stereotyped English gruffness, and her range isn't that wide, but whatever Losey may have been dissatisfied in her, it projects to some of us as very moving--not unlike the final scene in 'Les Temps Qui

Changent' when Deneuve smiles at Depardieu upon his awakening (Techine is my favourite director currently working.) And since this came up about warmth, it's true that in that scene and only in recent years that Deneuve has begun to show her own warmth more, and play down her vanity. She was already phenomenal by 'Place Vendome', gambling and cussing like crazy.

But, let's face it, actors all do a lot of trash material. Vanessa will do 'Mission Impossible' and that atrocious thing full of everybody doing cameos starring Nicholson 'The Pledge', just godawful, including Vanessa and Mirren.

Thanks for mentioning the new Deneuve/Depardieu film, i will certainly want to see it; they always have a special relationship onscreen due to their friendship and many films.

I'm way off-topic, but these are related issues about acting and projection;. But I'll get back ON TOPIC! The thing that primarily sets Garbo apart from all other actresses is, I believe, an otherworldliness, and she was so comfortable with this that she lived it the rest of her life (in the films, it's perhaps most obvious in 'Grand Hotel' and 'Susan Lennox') Arletty was equally, if not more sophisticated in some ways (and TOO sophisticated in some ways, although I doubt I'd have been above it either :P ), but is precisely the paragon of the worldly. Marlon Brando adored her and met her, she was very dismissive, and he called her a 'tough article'. She coudn't be fooled with. Equally, with canbelto, I'd have to say I find both Audrey Hepburn and Delphine Seyrig somewhat more to my own taste in feminine beauty (although Garbo in Anna Karenina and 'Queen Christina' esp. is breathtaking) But Quiggin once said that Garbo gave that mysterious persona in a very unique way, and sustained it throughout her life. This doesn't mean I think she's the greatest actress who ever lived, but that her contribution was one of those at the very pinnacle of greatness, because of its singularity (and professionalism.)

I won't say much about about the Kidman 'Moulin Rouge', except copying 'Camille' went unnoticed by me in my total abhorrence of the entire proceedings. btw, that scene in 'Welcome to LA' with G. Chaplin with the 'Garbo Complex' is not a parody of Garbo, but rather of a specifically los angeles sort of neurotic, living a Hollywood-subculture life--it is actually very affectionate to Garbo, and when Keith Carradine first meets crazy Karen Hood (Geraldine's character), she's sitting on the curb in Century City, and immediately starts talking about how she's just seen 'Camille'. She says, in this weirdly defiant way 'I love Greta Garbo', to which, as that mid-70s affluent young person would know to 'Yeah, she's nice when ya by ya-self'. I thought that was very profound a thought about Garbo. This film is mostly forgotten, although I've written extensively about it, it includes a number of the Altman stable of the time and is Alan Rudolph's first film. I had to pay a substantial amount to get it on eBay, although I had seen it at the time of release. It was, at the time, thought to be a kind of sequel to 'Nashville', but not as spectacular, although to me it means much more, and directly caused my several-decades love affair with Los Angeles. It is out of print, though, although may be on DVD by now. Oh yes, there is a final still of Carradine at the end which is also a kind of homage to Garbo, the final shot of 'Queen Christina'. Carradine was stunning at the time (and a hot property for a very brief time in the 70s), and for final close-ups of faces in movies, those are the two best I know.

Share this post


Link to post

I also like Glenda Jackson very much as an actress and I would not necessarily agree with Losey although he was quite right about Garbo and Vanessa.

I am glad you mentionned "Les temps qui changent" by Techiné with Deneuve and Depardieu, I think this is my favorite of his films mostly due to the tender and touching partnership of Depardieu and Deneuve, these two are marvellous together.

I have mixed feelings about "Moulin Rouge" but I think they did try to copy "Camille" (not successfully since the dramatic element was not convincing in the Kidman film).

It is hard to say what makes someone considered as great and a true legend apart from others like Garbo was. I think you hit a point about the mystery and wordly element of Garbo and I think there are so many things that are hard to explain. Some people simply hold a greater fascination than others, call it charisma, mystery, charm, genius etc.

What is certain is that regarding Garbo one can talk about her for hours as we do here and very interestingly so. We can talk about her acting achievements, her beauty, her mystery, her charisma, her special relationship to the camera, her film partners (the good ones and even the awful ones or the ones who never made it opposite her) etc. We can talk about Garbo and also talk about Arletty, or Vanessa or Deneuve or Michèle Morgan or Callas, ballet, opera, since she was such a huge cultural influence in films, fashion and popular culture in general. Not everyone loves her equally (par exemple like I do) which is understandable, but at least and I am glad that on this forum people respect her and have a true curiosity about her and about other people's opinion which is most welcoming.

Share this post


Link to post

Earlier in this thread, we had a discussion about how Garbo (and M-G-M contemporaries like Marie Dressler) ranked at the US box office during the 1930s. Here is a very interesting link from a Joan Crawford-centric fan site (you have to scroll down the page to get to the relevant two charts):

http://www.joancrawfordbest.com/boxoffice.htm

Garbo drops off the list after her last banner economic year -- 1932 (the year of the popular -- if inane -- Mata Hari and the all-star Grand Hotel.)

Share this post


Link to post

The Motion Picture Herald rankings seem to be an odd mix to judge an actor's box office effectiveness by, what with Wallace Beery, Will Rodgers, Shirley Temple and Rin Tin Tin also in the running. (Like the Judy Holiday song in "Bells are Ringing.")

Regarding the chemistry of Marlene Dietrich and Gary Cooper - and many other screen pairings - it should be noted that in "Morocco" they were often not on the soundstage at the same time. In his memoir Josef von Sternberg says:

... they rarely played in the same scene. Though the film shows a close realtionship between the legionnarie and the woman in love with him, which is carried to a climax when the woman abandons civilization to follow her soldiers into the Sahara, the principals of the story met but a few times on my stage. And when they were together, in order to provoke an occasional smile I was forced to replace her with some of my assistants, who clowned and made comic grimaces to induce Cooper to overcome his shyness.

Share this post


Link to post

This one was interesting, and then I googled a bunch of others, which were substantially the same. It puts box-office in a perspective I'd have never imagined: you'd never know from any of these (and they're all about the same as this one) that K. Hepburn, Garbo, and Dietrich were even major stars if you just look at the ones for the whole decade. Even in the one miliosr put up, you don't see Dietrich or Hepburn a single time. Gary Cooper finally makes his way in, and is in the Top 10 for the 40s and 50s, but you also don't see Turner, Gardner, Hayworth, or many of the stars we think exemplify those periods most. Gable is an exception, as is Cooper later. Greer Garson is in the 40s list. I like the way this has turned out, so that the money means somewhat less if you take the long view. Marilyn Monroe is not even in the Top 10 for the 50s, nor Robert Mitchum. Fortunately, there were big enough spaces to get all this 'minor movers and shakers' some business. One of the decades has no top female stars, that must have been the 50s, yes. interesting. How nice to be able to think of this factor as negligible in some important ways.

Share this post


Link to post
The Motion Picture Herald rankings seem to be an odd mix to judge an actor's box office effectiveness by, what with Wallace Beery, Will Rodgers, Shirley Temple and Rin Tin Tin also in the running. (Like the Judy Holiday song in "Bells are Ringing.")

Beery was certainly an actor, and I'd not call Temple or Rogers exactly freak shows. And Maximilian Schell has praised Rin Tin Tin. :)

It is hard to say what makes someone considered as great and a true legend apart from others like Garbo was. I think you hit a point about the mystery and wordly element of Garbo and I think there are so many things that are hard to explain. Some people simply hold a greater fascination than others, call it charisma, mystery, charm, genius etc.

In Garbo's case (like Monroe's later), it's the camera. Not that either lady wasn't beautiful offstage, but it's what happens when a very few individuals - and in this sense the great movie stars are all freaks - get in camera range. Which is not to discount all the other factors involved.

Share this post


Link to post
It is hard to say what makes someone considered as great and a true legend apart from others like Garbo was. I think you hit a point about the mystery and wordly element of Garbo and I think there are so many things that are hard to explain. Some people simply hold a greater fascination than others, call it charisma, mystery, charm, genius etc.

In Garbo's case (like Monroe's later), it's the camera. Not that either lady wasn't beautiful offstage, but it's what happens when a very few individuals - and in this sense the great movie stars are all freaks - get in camera range. Which is not to discount all the other factors involved.

Agree mostly with dirac about the camera, and the inclusion of the other factors. There really are camera-loving faces, and beauties who are not photogenic.

Yiannis, just a minor point, as I believe that's your quote about. I said 'otherworldly' about Garbo, which is not to say she wasn't 'worldly' (how could she not have been in many ways?), but emphasized 'worldly' for Arletty, because her persona has an 'experienced' and not especially innocent quality to it--even though, god knows, she was thoroughly commanding and magnificent. And, as we know, she had been quite a bit more than just 'around the block'. 'Otherworldly' is the rarer term, and it's usually something we think of (at least I do) in less world-famous figures. There's something otherworldly about lots of ballet figures, for example, perhaps more than movie stars. But even these formulations and characterizations are subject to individual perception and subjectivity. Many find Suzanne Farrell otherworldly, others find Martha Graham otherworldly, and some Nureyev. But among movie stars, Garbo has that particular quality. I don't think that in itself makes her personally more nor less admirable, it is rather an essential part of her unique artistry.

Share this post


Link to post
In Garbo's case (like Monroe's later), it's the camera. Not that either lady wasn't beautiful offstage, but it's what happens when a very few individuals - and in this sense the great movie stars are all freaks - get in camera range. Which is not to discount all the other factors involved.

Exactly. I've seen Tom Cruise up close and I thought he was ho-hum looking. But then you see him on the big screen and the camera has captured something the naked eye couldn't.

Share this post


Link to post

Moving on . . . by moving back in time

The Camille disc contains a bonus -- the 1921 version starring Alla Nazimova as Marguerite and Rudolph Valentino as Armand. This version is only 70 minutes in length so it moves along at a brisk clip.

It is almost impossible to compare the 1921 and 1937 versions, so much did filmmaking and film acting change in the intervening 16 years. I will say that the Nazimova version makes a disastrous mistake from the get-go -- it takes place in the then-contemporary 1920s. Thus, from the start, the story of a love doomed by strict social mores is undercut by the modern setting. Natacha Rambova's Art Deco sets, 1920s fashions, proto-flapper parties, jazz musicians and mild lesbian overtones make the storyline appear silly and implausible. Given all the fun the movie's participants are having with the new freedoms that emerged after World War I, who would care if Armand married a whore?

Nazimova is interesting as Marguerite, although her Marge Simpson-style hair is distracting in the extreme. Impossible as it is to believe, Valentino is even more wooden than Robert Taylor as Armand. Probably the best performance comes from the actor who played Prudence. In this version, Prudence is a much more malevolent figure that the one played by Laura Hope Crews in the Garbo version.

The best scene comes at the end when the agents representing Marguerite's creditors actually come into her bedroom as she is dying and start assigning prices to her belongings!

The print transfer is excellent and, perversely, is in better shape than the transfers from many of the later Garbo films. Go figure.

Fun fact: Nazimova was Nancy Reagan's godmother!!!

Share this post


Link to post

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the silent « Camille » with Nazimova and Valentino. This is a strange film indeed, interesting, though never wholly satisfying, especially given the inevitable comparisons with the Garbo masterpiece included on the same DVD. As you say, surprisingly the print transfer of the silent “Camille” is clearer than the Garbo (which proves unfortunately that Warner Bros did a hasty job for many of the DVD transfers of classic films which is a big shame).

I remember showing the Nazimova film to a friend who loves the Garbo version and his reaction was like:” How could you do this to me?”, although he laughed a lot with the extravagant, somehow exaggerated style of Nazimova’s acting and her fancy hairstyyle.

There are a couple of things which are interesting about this film though. First, the 1920s art-deco style which give it some original touch. Second, this follows more closely the novel “La Dame aux Camelias” whereas the Garbo film, like the opera “La Traviata”, follows more closely the play. Dumas fils first created his novel “La Dame aux Camelias” where Marguerite dies alone without her reunion at the final scene with Armand. After the huge success of the novel he did a theatre play where at the end Marguerite is reunited with her lover. This is the best known version for all the grandes dames of the theatre and film, although the stage version I saw in Paris with Isabelle Adjani was more closely based to the novel, so we see Marguerite die alone on stage.

To go back to Nazimova’s “Camille”, it is indeed interesting to see the huge difference in acting styles between the two films and Nazimova, more than other film actresses of her era tends to really overact, contrary to, let us say, Lillian Gish. There is also another bizarre though interesting film with Nazimova of that era “Salome” which shows the avant-garde style which Nazimova loves (she was actively involved in the production of these films).

I believe Nazimova must have been more at ease on stage, she was considered one of the greatest stage actresses of the first quarter of the 20th century and she was best known for her portrayals in Ibsen’s plays like “Nora. A Doll’s house” or “Hedda Gabler”. Also worth noticing one of her last screen role in the 1941 film directed by Rouben Mamoulian “Blood and sand” where she portrays Tyrone Power’s mother, also starring Linda Darnell and the explosive and sensual Rita Hayworth. Nazimova is very moving and wonderful in that part.

Just to mention a couple of things about some of the previous posts with regards to Garbo’s box office appeal. It is interesting to notice that Garbo’s films were in general profitable whether her silents or talkies. “The Temptress” lost some money but not a lot but also earned a lot (the reason it lost money was mostly due to the production schedule. Mauritz Stiller, Garbo’s friend and mentor who was initially cast as the director could not keep up to the production schedule and was replaced by Fred Niblo was re-shot all the scenes that stiller filmed). Among her talkies, only “Conquest” best known in Europe as “Marie Walewska” lost an important amount of money (it would be interesting to talk about this film as well, which is available on DVD on the Warner Bros archives) as it is the film which follows “Camille”. Even her last film “Two Faced Woman” despite the loss of the European market due to Second World War, only lost a small amount of money which was mostly due to the silly retakes they did to satisfy the censors.

And one final thought, since we mentioned other artists like Maria Callas and her admiration for Garbo. This is the video where she is interviewed in French (with English subtitles) along Luchino Visconti and she expresses some of her thoughts and admiration on Garbo and Laurence Olivier.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=26Be9Ql4DHM

Share this post


Link to post

Among her talkies, only Conquest best known in Europe as Marie Walewska lost an important amount of money (it would be interesting to talk about this film as well, which is available on DVD on the Warner Bros archives) as it is the film which follows Camille. Even her last film Two Faced Woman despite the loss of the European market due to Second World War, only lost a small amount of money which was mostly due to the silly retakes they did to satisfy the censors.

The trouble Garbo ran into (starting around the time of Queen Christina) was that American audiences grew less and less enchanted with the historical and literary heroines she was portraying. Given the often walloping European box office, this wouldn't have mattered so much IF the costs of her films had not escalated -- but they did. As you say, very few of her films ever lost money but the margins grew slimmer and slimmer as the 30s progressed. Once the European market disappeared due to World War II, she found herself at an odd juncture. She hadn't become unpopular in the way M-G-M contemporaries like Gilbert, Haines and Novarro had but the margin for financial error was gone.

We can look back now and marvel at the resources M-G-M brought to bear on Garbo's films. But, by the end of the 1930s, they had to have been sweating the cost of her pictures.

Share this post


Link to post

True, but yiannisfrance makes a good point. Nobody initially thought of her retirement as permanent, and she was never box office poison. Haines, Novarro, and Gilbert were all about five plus years older than Garbo - a long time in movie star terms, but as you note she had been a star for a long time. She had an excellent run, especially for a female star. Thirty five was the danger age for women and Garbo had reached it. She and her fellow Queens of the Lot Crawford and Shearer were all gone from MGM within a few years of each other.

Share this post


Link to post

This is true. "Two Faced Woman" was not a success but her previous film "Ninotschka" was a big hit. Garbo could easily have stayed with MGM or she could have chosen another studio (I am certain all the other studios would be more than pleased to engage her). But the context of the time was difficult.

For "Two Faced Woman" it was more the attacks directed towards Garbo than the relative commercial failure of the film which affected her and gradually alienated her from the movie sets. It was the first time that she saw really unkind things from religious groups, the censors and critics especially directed against her. She was not used to it and was deeply hurt. Unlike other actresses of her ear like Crawford, or Davis Garbo did not have that fighting spirit within her to go on unless things were perfectly arranged for her. This is what Callas says at the end of the above interview and I think she hits a good point.

We know of course that she could easily continue but she was un uncompromising artist (which si part of ehr charm). With ehr it was all or nothing, no compromises. If she would return to the screen it had to be a perfect come back. Not an ordinary one, something like Dorian Gray, Hamlet or La Duchesse de Langeais of Balzac.

Plus, she did not have a financial problem so there was no need to continue working unless she found something that really appealed to her.

I am personally glad that she kept her legend intact (although I would have loved to see her in other parts as well) and especially knowing that she simply enjoyed her life as a woman far from the movie sets and their ups and downs.

Share this post


Link to post

Even though M-G-M was interested in keeping Garbo, I'm not so sure M-G-M would have been a particularly hospitable place for Garbo in the post-World War II years. I think M-G-M changed after Irving Thalberg died and the studio became much more reflective of L.B. Mayer's tastes. In that changed world, I'm not sure what Garbo would have done at post-War Metro. I suppose she could have elbowed Greer Garson aside to perform some of the Garson repertory but, in a world geared toward Judy Garland and June Allyson and Jane Powell, Garbo may have starved from a lack of repertory. And also, by the late 1940s, M-G-M was starting to experience real financial difficulties -- its costs were way out of line with its revenues. Even if Garbo had had the fighting spirit of a Crawford or a Davis, she may have been too expensive to flourish in the rapidly declining world of the late-1940s studio system.

Just throwing a counter-hypothesis out there!

Share this post


Link to post

This is a valid hypothesis. The war years would have been "difficult" for Garbo to flourish in MGM or in other studios as well. This was the time for pin-ups and sex symbols like Bette Grable or Rita Hayworth or warm-hearted, kindly figures like Greer Garson and Ingrid Bergman. Garbo represented a much more sophisticated and complex personality not necessarily easy to grasp for the average American audience.

It is hard to imagine Garbo in "patriotic" feautures of the era, although she could have easily have picked some of Greer Garson's vehicles.

Also true that Thalberg's death was a menace for most of MGM stars like Garbo or Shearer (both women ended their careers just a few years after his death). Thalberg assured some artistic protection for most of the main stars of MGM and I think his death brought a sense of fatality for most of the grandes dames of the MGM.

I have read that Albert Lewin who did "The portrait of Dorian Gray" was interested in having Garbo for the main part (Dorian Gray was the part wanted to portray the most), but he could not go ahead with this, given the particular context of the times (in the 1940s) since audiences would accept with difficulty Garbo in a male part). Interestingly enough Lewin also conceived his later film "Pandora and the Flying Dutschman" with Garbo in the Ava Gardner part.

The first serious attempts to bring Garbo back to the screen actually occur near the end of the forties and it is interesting enough to see that Garbo accepted to return to the screen for another costume drama "La Duchesse de Langeais" under the direction of a truly great director Max Ophuls. Since the project collapsed I think she lost her courage to continue fighting with producers.

This was possibly the time where she could have started a second career, through the fifties and even sixties, but more probably orientated towards European cinema than American cinema (film directors like Ophuls, or Visconti and later Igmar Bergman would have been ideal for her).

But hese are just more "ifs" that we add to this tantadlising and fascinating legendary puzzle that is Garbo. One of the secrets of the fascination she continues to hold on us is that she still has the power to make us dream. One always says about her. "Can you imagine what she would be like in the part of Dorian Gray, Cleopatra, Masha, Hedda Gabler etc? Or in a film of David Lean, Ohuls or Visconti?". But after all the movies are the ideal place for our wildest dreams to come true even if this remains a magical illusion.

Share this post


Link to post