miliosr

The Films of Greta Garbo

214 posts in this topic

Garbo was good in 'Ninotchka', but I think Ina Claire steals the show in spades. I hadn't realized how good she is here, and she made few films (I just looked them up, and don't know if any are worthwhile, never heard of any except 'Stage Door Canteen', where she appears as 'Herself', but I can't remember that.) This, despite a hairstyle which I find unattractive in the extreme, even though the stylist (just hers, mind you) gets special billing. I thought Garbo's hair was often overly contrived as well, it looks better when it's very smooth. She does sometimes look magnificent in her Soviet attire, although there are a few shots in which she looks distinctly older (though not at all unattractive). I was surprised at how good I thought Melvyn Douglas was this time around, though. A friend told me he'd heard that the famous 'laughing scene' was dubbed, but I don't know about that. I think it comes across very badly by now (has sort of a Marx Brothers feel to it), but must have been thrilling at the time.

Primarily, I see Garbo as actually 'working with the other actors' when I watch this--esp. in her scenes alone with Claire, who is pitch-perfect as this totally fatuous Grand Duchess ('Swana' is a genius name-choice)--and doesn't dominate in the way she had in a certain way before. It works because of the actors and the sets and costumes are beautiful (this is very good with the volume turned all the way down, as some of Garbo's lines, in particular, sound ridiculous when spoken), and it's snappily paced.

Although none of this makes me like it, except for Ina Claire's moments (and there are many more than I'd remembered.) I do like 'Queen Christina' very much, whether it's objectively good or bad doesn't matter a whit to me, it's one of the 'pure Garbo-movies' as such, even if its greatness doesn't go beyond that. She's much better at

her facing down of the commoners on the palace steps
than she is at play-acting a socialist, or even enjoying just being more 'social' with her fellow-actors. As you say, miliosr, her feeling for Gilbert is important, and that may account for the sincerity one feels in some of the scenes in 'Queen Christina'.
Gilbert Roland. He certainly was virile enough, he could convincingly portray a Spaniard, and he had the kind of looks that would certainly tempt one to abdicate for him!

Anyone who has seen 'The Bullfighter and the Lady' will know what you mean, but Garbo was well-beyond not being able to resist this sort of thing. I think her feeling for John Gilbert was far more important than I'd realized, and your pointing out her insistence on him for the part is exactly right: She clearly still loved him, or she wouldn't have gone to such pains to secure the part for him; although she didn't want to go back to 'being lovers', I'm sure this affection for him plays a more vital role in what is best about 'queen christina' than even I had thought. In a sense, she does a sort of 'abdication' for John Gilbert in championing him (rather an extraordinary tribute, isn't it, when the only person in Hollywood that will go all the way to bat for you is also the biggest star?) Now 'loving Gilbert Roland' is another matter, Dietrich would have been the type to have seen why Gilbert Roland would have been just the one she'd abdicate for--at least for the run-of-the-picture.

edited to add:

"Garbo had a long memory."

That's marvelous and illuminating. I think it explains part of what her genius is. A 'long memory' is a truly aristocratic trait, I think, and doesn't have to do with bloodlines, etc., as hers were none too lofty, as we know.

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Garbo was good in 'Ninotchka', but I think Ina Claire steals the show in spades.

Irony of ironies -- the third Mrs. John Gilbert

Primarily, I see Garbo as actually 'working with the other actors' when I watch this--esp. in her scenes alone with Claire, who is pitch-perfect as this totally fatuous Grand Duchess ('Swana' is a genius name-choice)--and doesn't dominate in the way she had in a certain way before.

The interesting thing about Garbo is that her male co-stars never outclassed her. Even equals like Gilbert (in the silents) and John Barrymore matched her but never outpaced her. Sometimes she had trouble with female co-stars, though. Marie Dressler got the best of her in the English Anna Christie and much testimony exists to the effect that Ina Claire (in Ninotchka) and Constance Bennett (in Two-Faced Woman) stole many scenes from her. (Bennett so much so that many of her scenes were cut.)

As you say, miliosr, her feeling for Gilbert is important, and that may account for the sincerity one feels in some of the scenes in 'Queen Christina'.
I think her feeling for John Gilbert was far more important than I'd realized, and your pointing out her insistence on him for the part is exactly right: She clearly still loved him, or she wouldn't have gone to such pains to secure the part for him; although she didn't want to go back to 'being lovers', I'm sure this affection for him plays a more vital role in what is best about 'queen christina' than even I had thought.

In his book on Garbo, Mark Vieira relates an alternately heartbreaking and beautiful story about Garbo and Gilbert. When the hoped-for comeback didn't materialze after the release of Queen Christina, Gilbert retreated deeper and deeper into the bottle. Gilbert was friends with Ronald Colman, who, along with David Niven, would use Gilbert's pool even though Gilbert was often "indisposed". David Niven relates the following:

'Often [Gilbert] did not appear at all, and Colman and I would take a swim in his sad, leaf-filled pool. Once or twice I caught a glimpse of a beautiful face watching us from a window, and on one occasion, as we were climbing into Colman's car, a figure in a man's shirt, slacks, and a big floppy hat approached from the scrub-covered hills, and, with head down, hurried past us into the house. "When Jack's drinking, she goes walking," said Colman phlegmatically.'

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Moving on . . . by moving back.

Although Anna Karenina is next in the cue, I thought it would be interesting to take a step back in time and discuss Garbo's first two attempts at portraying this character (as a point of comparison to the later film.) In some sense, the character of Anna Karenina is the definitive Garbo part since M-G-M had her film it no less than three times.

In April of 1927, after a six month strike on Garbo's part, she returned to M-G-M and began filming Anna Karenina. M-G-M assigned Dmitri Buchowetski to direct and cast Ricardo Cortez as Vronsky and Lionel Barrymore as Karenin. Had Garbo completed the film, it would have been her fourth feature for M-G-M.

However, Garbo only completed about ten days worth of shooting before she took ill and disappeared from the studio. Buchowetski tried to shoot around her but, eventually, producer Irving Thalberg gave up and shuttered the production after six weeks of work and a cost of $100,000.

Try as I might, I could not find any indication that the footage with Garbo in it still exists. There are some surviving stills from the production that hint at what might have been. (Cortez, in particular, looks smashing as Vronsky.) But as for the remnants of the film itself, these are not readily available -- if at all.

M-G-M was not about to give up on Greta Garbo as Anna Karenina, though. In the summer of 1927, the studio launched a recast and reconstituted Anna -- which will be the next film to be discussed in this ongoing thread.

Coming up: Greta Garbo and John Gilbert in Love!

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Moving on . . .

Love (Premiere: November 29, 1927)

Cast: Garbo (Anna Karenina), John Gilbert (Vronsky), Brandon Hurst (Karenin)

Director: Edmund Goulding

Cinematographer: William Daniels

Production Cost: $488,000 Worldwide Gross: $1,677,000 Profit: $571,000

Love was Garbo's fourth picture for M-G-M and second picture with John Gilbert. (Note: This film is not included in the Garbo box set. I had to purchase it separately for comparison purposes.)

After the first attempt at filming Anna Karenina ground to a halt due to Garbo's illness, Irving Thalberg cancelled the production and prepared a new production with John Gilbert replacing Ricardo Cortez as Vronsky. Thalberg had every reason to want to reunite the two stars. Flesh and the Devil was a huge success for M-G-M and Thalberg had to have hoped that Garbo and Gilbert's chemistry from the first film would carry over to the second film.

(Fun fact: The original title for this production was supposed to be Heat until someone helpfully pointed out that a marquee which read 'John Gilbert and Greta Garbo in Heat' really wasn't the effect they were reaching for. So, the title became Love, which, after all, was a more clever way to capitalize on the Garbo-Gilbert romance.)

If you are looking for a faithful adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's novel, this isn't it. (The film is more Louis B. Mayer's Anna Karenina than Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, if you know what I mean.) Nevertheless, the bare bones of the story remain intact.

Garbo is inconsistent in Love. She is strong in her romantic scenes with Gilbert and her (somewhat incestuous) maternal scenes with the child actor playing her son. Elsewhere, though, she does not much give the impression of a woman who is a member of aristocratic circles in Imperial Russia. Also, she does not always appear as distraught as she should given the predicament she has gotten herself into. My suspicion is that both problems were a function of her age. She was only 21 during the making of Love, and her youth and relative inexperience may have prevented her from taking the full measure of the part.

Gilbert is very strong in this -- he captures the part of Vronsky perfectly. He is also ridiculously good-looking and his "male modelly" physique -- wide shoulders and a narrow waist -- allow him to wear a succession of Russian military uniforms with great style.

Garbo and Gilbert are dynamite together in their romantic scenes and these, really, are the highlight of the picture. Even at a remove of 83 years, one can see the chemistry that drove audiences into theaters.

In terms of capturing the flavor of Imperial Russia, the movie is all over the place. The men look impressive in their military uniforms but the women's dresses look wrong for the period -- too 'Imperial flapper' in style. Still, M-G-M obviously spent a lot of money on this production and that money can definitely be seen on-screen.

As was its custom, M-G-M prepared two endings to Love -- a happy ending for American audiences and a sad ending for European audiences. The European ending, of course, tracks with Tolstoy's ending -- Anna kills herself. The American ending (which is the only one contained on the disc) has Anna disappearing for three years. Vronsky searches for her during this time but only finds her when he realizes Karenin is dead and Anna is living in St. Petersburg again. Didn't believe a second of the happy ending as Karenin's death doesn't solve Anna's problem (she is still a known adultress.) But, Garbo and Gilbert get to be in a clinch as the movie fades out so that compensates in its way.

The disc contains no commentary track but does have a very nice score that was recorded live during the screening of this movie at UCLA. The print transfer is very good although the source material is a little rough in spots.

Film grade (as an adaptation): B-

Film grade (as a Garbo-Gilbert picture): A

Garbo grade: B- (Too young to be playing this part.)

Gilbert grade: A-

Coming up: The 1935 Anna Karenina with Garbo, Fredric March, Basil Rathbone and Freddie Bartholomew.

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Hello

I am new to this forum as you can see (I have been trying to register for some time now). I live in France and I love ballet (Sylvie Guillem is my favorite dancer) but I love Garbo above anything else.

I was reading with great interest the various appreciations of the Garbo films described here.

Just recenbtly, I attended the International Film Festival of La Rochelle (at the beginnings of July) where they paid tribute to Garbo' silents (they showd "Goesta Berliong's Saga", "The street of sorrow", "Flesh and the Devil", "Love", "The mysterious Lady", "Woman of Affairs", "The kiss" and the extract from "The Divine Woman". "Love" was one of the films shown there and the audience loved it. The house was packed and what they did love above all was Garbo. I have to respectfully disagree with the above review, especially regarding Garbo's performance in the film. For sure she was a bit young for the part, but her youth combined with her inner maturity and mystique make wonders in this film.

I personally find her heartbreaking in "Love". She si passionate in her films with Gilbert, but she also shows a touching venrerabilty which is very appealing and which is close to Tolstoy's description of Anna. Whern she realises that she has fallen in love with Vronsky-Gilbert, there is a wonderful scene in her room where she is deeply lost in her thoughts and she touchingly tries to convince her husband to go away for some time (in vain) so she can run away from Vronsky (and escape from her feelings for him). Garbo tells the audience everything in this scene: her doubts, her growing love for Vronsky, her alienation from her husband and she is all movement and grace (as Luise Brooks so wisely said about Garbo's acting).

Her scenes with Philippe de Lacy, wonderfully portraying her son, are breattaking. Innocent, moving and most sensual. The scene where she pays a stolen visit to her son after her return to St Petersburg allows us to see Garbo at her very best as a tragedienne. She is constantly exposed to our scrutiny through Goudling's direction and yet she never fails to move us and make us share with her her feelings, her love for her son, her sadness, her tragic destiny and social destitution as faces her cold and severe husband who will chase her out of her house.

Gilbert reportedly directed their subsequent farewell scene where Anna sacrifices herself so that she will not ruin Vronsky's career. Garbo does the scene beautifully, lovignly kissing and touching Gilbert and kissing his sword with sensuality. As he leaves the door she raises her hands in desperation, an extraordinary gesture towards his direction, a tragic woman who has lost everything and as she turns towards us, her fatalistic suicidal intentions are most clear and striking (In La Rochelle they showed both endings of the film, the tragic and happy ending at the same time!).

Although she was very young at the time (22) I believe that she made the part of Anna unforgettable and although I love her later portrayal of Karenina (where she is more mature and "perfect" on a dramatic level) I tend to prefer this vertsion since there is an open sensuality and a radiant quality about Grabo here which is most appealing to me.

Regarding Gilbert I think that although he works wonderfully with Garbo as a couple, his acting is uneven as Vronsky. He does have tendencies to fall into some traps of "silent" acting (as opening wide his eyes whenever he sees Garbo as he did this in "Flesh and the Devil"). Garbo even when she loses a scene (as in the race chases) she never falls into this kind of trap, she never plays a scene as a "typical silent actress" would play it. And she always regains a scene with in a majestuous way.

Just a few more thoughts on Garbo. I personally consider her a genious of acting (the greatest) and a most fascinating and radiant actress. her genious lies int he fact that she does not just "acts up" her parts, but she goes deeply into them and manages to express all sorts of different feelings, as well as various physical and mental states which she shares with her audience. Once sensitive to her acting each member of the audience sees not only the character before him/her but also his/her own life and feelings. A close up of Garbo is never just an instrument to show us how extraordinarily ebautiful she is but above all a privilidged moment where we enter her inner world and through that we see our own life and feelings.

Contrary to what often is written about her, she is a most diversified actress. She can be convincing as a femme fatale as in "Flesh and the Devil", sensual and enigmatic in a very feminine way as in "The mysterious Lady", modern and fascinating as in "Woman of Affairs". And she can handle with ease great stage parts as in "Anna Christie" (especially in the German version) or "As youd desire me".

"Queen Christina" is one of the most powerful female screen portrayals of all times. What is amazing in this film is that Mamoulian tells us the story of Queen Christian (and Garbo's personna) thourh Garbo's point of view in each single scene. We have a feminist point of view throughout the film. Garbo is incomparable in the part. Majestic in her scenes with the crowd, she displays a great sense of humour in her private scenes and at the inn where she glows with a fascinating touch of androgyny she makes us dream of her in Shakesperean parts (As you like it" or "Twelfth night).

What to say about "Camille"? The performance of a lifetime and any lifetime I would say (the subject will come up later). Simply love her in one of her least known and neglected parts in "The painted veil" where she is divinely simple and compex at the same time. Nothing tragic, or femme fatale here, just a simple, torn woman who discovers the mysteries of life little by little. As played by Garbo this "ordinary" character becomes trully extraordinary. A pity also that "Woman fo Affairs" was not included in the DVD box wih Garbo. It was the first time that she adopted a modern look thanks to her collaboration with Adrian and this in my opinion is by far her greatest performance in her silent films and also among her very greatest (with "Camille").

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Garbo was good in 'Ninotchka', but I think Ina Claire steals the show in spades

Claire was excellent but Garbo more than held her own. The chief interest of their scenes together for me is the contrast between Claire's high theatrical style versus Garbo's made-for-the-camera technique, given spice by the fact that the women are playing rivals for the same man.

What to say about "Camille"? The performance of a lifetime and any lifetime I would say (the subject will come up later). Simply love her in one of her least known and neglected parts in "The painted veil" where she is divinely simple and compex at the same time. Nothing tragic, or femme fatale here, just a simple, torn woman who discovers the mysteries of life little by little. As played by Garbo this "ordinary" character becomes trully extraordinary. A pity also that "Woman fo Affairs" was not included in the DVD box wih Garbo. It was the first time that she adopted a modern look thanks to her collaboration with Adrian and this in my opinion is by far her greatest performance in her silent films and also among her very greatest (with "Camille").

Welcome to the board and the discussion, yiannisfrance! Hope to hear more from you. I too revere her performances in Camille and A Woman of Affairs. I've never seen The Painted Veil and it would be interesting to compare-contrast it to the recent version with Edward Norton and Naomi Watts (which itself made for interesting comparisons with the Maugham original).

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Welcome to the board yiannisfrance! :)

Her scenes with Philippe de Lacy, wonderfully portraying her son, are breattaking. Innocent, moving and most sensual.

I agree with you about her work with the young boy. There was something unaffected about their interaction that didn't feel like acting.

(In La Rochelle they showed both endings of the film, the tragic and happy ending at the same time!).

Did one ending get a better response than the other?

Although she was very young at the time (22) I believe that she made the part of Anna unforgettable and although I love her later portrayal of Karenina (where she is more mature and "perfect" on a dramatic level) I tend to prefer this vertsion since there is an open sensuality and a radiant quality about Grabo here which is most appealing to me.

I'll let you know what I think after I see Garbo in the 1935 version.

Regarding Gilbert I think that although he works wonderfully with Garbo as a couple, his acting is uneven as Vronsky. He does have tendencies to fall into some traps of "silent" acting (as opening wide his eyes whenever he sees Garbo as he did this in "Flesh and the Devil"). Garbo even when she loses a scene (as in the race chases) she never falls into this kind of trap, she never plays a scene as a "typical silent actress" would play it. And she always regains a scene with in a majestuous way.

I had the opposite reaction to you. I thought Gilbert was at his most restrained and least "silenty" while Garbo, after giving two forward-looking performances in The Temptress and Flesh and the Devil, stalled in this. (I really hated her acting during the actual horse race.)

Ah well, that's beautiful thing about art -- we can each look at the same thing and see something different!

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Too bad 'Love' isn't included in the Garbo Silents Collection, NYPL has that, but not 'Love'. i saw 'The Painted Veil' once, thought it was okay, that was when George Brent still looked very handsome, I believe.

The chief interest of their scenes together for me is the contrast between Claire's high theatrical style versus Garbo's made-for-the-camera technique, given spice by the fact that the women are playing rivals for the same man.

Yes, I'd agree. And 'high theatrical' is right.

That story about Colman/Niven/Gilbert/Garbo was wonderful, miliosr. Thanks.

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Hello everyone. My sincere thnaks for your kind welcoming words.

Dear Diamonds Circle.

"The painted veil" is definitely a film worth seeing. It is also quite unusual for a Garbo vehicle (especially knowing that she made this right after her androgynous majestic Christina) since as I have mentionned before, there is nothing utterly tragic or femme fatale about her character. Yet, I personally feel that this is one of her most representatif films both for the actress and icon (now I also know that there are many Garbo fans who hate the film but what to say?). It is a matter of taste, but here I find her utterly enchanting and so beautiful (hte scene where she dresses up in white to go to the Chinese festival and puts that white turban is quite simply divine). As for her acting is miraculious and for once she has a most charming and wonderful partner Herbert Marshall. The film was not yet released on DVD but you can still get on on VHS at amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/Painted-Veil-VHS-Greta-Garbo/dp/6301972260/ref=sr_1_3?s=dvd&ie=UTF8&qid=1283864422&sr=1-3

It is also interesting to compare it to the other versions. You know there is also a second version of "The painted veil" made in 1957 starring Eleanor Parker called "The seventh sinn". Interesting film but not very satisfactory on a dramatic level. The most interesting parts are the secondary ones (George Sanders as Waddington and Françoise rosay as the mother superior). And then of course you have the most recent one with Naomi Waats, an interesting version. Definitely worth seeing worth seeing and it is a film which gains in terms of dramatic weight as the story progresses.

Dear Gold Circle, thank you for your comments. I am glad we disagree on some matters (imagine if we all agrred on everything). Now the Festival at La Rochelle was passionate and the Garbo tribute trully enchanted the audience. People (many young ones as well) were in awe and after the screenings you could hear people raving about Garbo, her acting,her magic, her beauty. On the other hand, most people were not very kind with Gilbert and sometimes I found myself defening him since I like him very much (but i guess I suppose I am more fond of Gilbert's personality than the actor whom I find uneven). But as I said I love his screen couple with Garbo and I think he helped her immensely in developing as an actress and woman in the Hollywood film industry. I also found Gilbert wonderful in films like "La boheme "with Lillian Gish and in one of his talkies "Downstairs" where he plays an "immoral" character.

With regards to the screening of "Love" at La Rochelle, it is quite funny. They actually showed one ending after the other without any explanation or inermission. So there you see Garbo-Anna committing suicide and one minute later she is back to life againg and you seer the happy ending. Many people who did not know anything about the existence oft he alternate endings were quite perplexed. Of course the sad ending is much more appropriete to the general mood of the film.

Now since we mentiooned my favorite silent "Woman of Affairs" I have written a sort of analysis on this film. This is a film which I highly recommend to every single Garbo admirer. In my opinion this is the Film who defines her most magically as an actress, icon and personality. You can get it as a VHS on amazon on the following link:

http://www.amazon.com/Woman-Affairs-Silent-Greta-Garbo/dp/6302004497/ref=sr_1_sc_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1283865038&sr=1-1-spell

And here is my analysis on "Woman of Affairs". I hope I will not bore you with this and please forgive me for any spelling mistakes:

Garbo the ultimate modern heroine: “Woman of Affairs”

After a few successful years in Hollywood, Garbo has firmly established herself as actress and icon. Critics and audiences alike loved her and flogged to see her films. Her partnership with John Gilbert was still sending shivers to female and male cinemagoers around the world.

But despite her success, something was still missing. It had probably something to do with her cinematographic image which did not yet fully capture the complexity and modernity of her persona. This would come just in time with her next film and her next important professional encounter with costume designer Adrian.

“The Green hat” by Michael Arlen was one of the most talked about bestsellers of the 1920s and its tragic heroine Iris March who was reckless, daring, modern and romantic at the same time fully captured the ambiance of the era where women were beginning to emancipate themselves.

It was not surprising that Garbo, after having seen Catherine Cornell portray the part on Broadway expressed her desire to play the part if a film was made. Irving Thalberg jumped on the occasion and they closed the deal buying the rights for the film version. Clarence Brown was chosen to direct and Gilbert was to portray Iris love interest (Napier in the original book).

The main problems the studio encountered had to deal with the censors. There were several elements in the “Green Hat” which would raise quite a few eyebrows among the censors who pointed out every single one of them. The most serious objections had to do with the death of the Boy (Iris first husband) who commits suicide because he has contracted syphilis. There was no way for the censors that they would let pass such a word and so in the film the husband simply became an embezzler who kills himself for decency. They also had to suppress any direct references to the fact about the stillborn baby of Iris a result of her reunion with Napier.

The studio changed the title which became “Woman of Affairs” as well as the characters names. Iris March became Diana Merrick. Napier became Neville, his wife Venice became Constance. But despite these changes the essential remained especially its fascinating heroine. In my humble opinion the film is better structured than the book and more easy to follow since Clarence Brown and the studio kept the most interesting and central elements and restructured the story into a more coherent ensemble which gives greater depth to the principal characters.

It is quite common for both film critics and even many Garbo fans in our days to look down at most of the star’s vehicles, constantly nagging at MGM’s inability to cast the actress in other parts other than the fallen woman or the absence of great film directors guiding her Hollywood career.

This is where I beg to differ and “Woman of Affairs” is a marvellous example which illustrates Garbo’s incomparable gifts and special contribution to film.

It is above all the film which allows her to fully come into her own both as an actress as well as personality with a tantalising modern touch. There are several reasons for this ultimate transformation. For the first time Garbo was given the chance to play a modern woman of her own times, the epitome of the 1920s heroine, brave, reckless, fascinating, defiant of conventions, true and brave always living on the edge of danger and excitement. It was a golden role and Garbo was ideally cast. It was also the first time in her career that she was given the chance to bring out her dual or should I say multi dimensional nature. A part which allowed her to be modern and strong with a slight touch of masculinity yet ultimately feminine, spiritual, romantic and vulnerable.

Adrian who designed Garbo’s costumes for the first time and who subsequently designed her costumes for all her films up to her retirement in 1941 was largely responsible for this miraculous transformation. He was the first who understood Garbo’s unique appeal and was not afraid to underline her large shoulders with a marvellous trench coat which made her look more secure and confident than ever in her movement with what was to become her trademark the famous slouch hat which underlined the youthfulness of her face and its divine features.

But costume for Adrian as well as for Garbo was above all a most valuable tool for dramatic action, a key for storytelling and character definition. His costumes for Diana in “Woman of Affairs” are actually very close to the description of Irish March in “The green hat”, but what is more important is that each costume and the way Garbo moves through it tell the audience something important about the character she is portraying in the film. The trench coat, slouch hat in the opening scenes allow Garbo to establish the modern and confident part of the heroine, playful, standing on an equal feet with men in a man’s world, shaking hands with them like a true gentleman.

Even her enemies see that gentleman nature of her character, most notably John Gilbert’s father played by Hobart Hobsworth. As fate weights more and more heavily on Diana, her wardrobe becomes more feminine, bringing out the vulnerable and ethereal part of her character. In the admirable scene where Diana confronts her brother Jeffrey (accompanied by Gilbert, his father as well as her best friend played by Lewis Stone) after her husband’s suicide on their honeymoon at Deauville, she is dressed in a simple stark black dress and moves with tragic and moving dignity in it desperately bending towards her brother’s side in search for some consolation only to sink in resignation in an armchair in order to take all the blame for her husband’s death in order to save her brother’s ideal.

What Garbo does in every single scene of this admirable yet still neglected film is nothing short of miraculous. She invests every single gesture, expression of her character with beauty, conviction making us share with her every single thought and emotion of Diana. It is a performance which re-establishes the art of film acting and which should be seen by many people who tend to claim that silent films are caricatures with exaggerated acting and that Garbo was simply a legend who wanted to be alone or left alone with no enduring film legacy.

Look at her early scenes how playfully she imitates her brother at the couch when he is angry at her and how she burst into laughter turning her back on him until he finally perceives her laughing in the mirror. See the touching girlish expression in her face as she shares a secret with her best friend (Lewis Stone) when she thinks in vain that she will marry Gilbert in secret, her desperation and moving pride as she confronts Gilbert’s father who unexpectedly comes to announce her that his son has left for Egypt and has no intention in marrying her.

Garbo’s Diana is a strong yet extremely gentle and generous nature and this touch of generosity is one of her biggest strengths. How many so called “great” performers of our days have shown one ounce of generosity and understanding for human nature in her “big” acting? Garbo’s key element in her performances especially in this one is her capacity to open up her soul into everything which surrounds her: people, flowers inanimate objects. She displays a rare spiritual quality of understanding and eventually accepting human beings with all their shortcomings and mistakes like a gentle human goddess who has descended to earth to grace and lighten up our dim world only to disappear again from our mortal site.

Her face shows sadness yet understanding and generosity when her husband embraces her during their doomed wedding night. He is in love with her, but not her with him as she still loves Gilbert. Yet she understands him and genuinely feels his love and desperation for her.

Her generosity is the key element which guides her admirable subsequent scene when she confronts her brother who furiously and unjustifiably believes that she is responsible for his best friend’s death. Garbo performs the entire scene with an amazing tragic dignity. She emerges from her room where she is supported by a nurse. She stretches her head and hands towards her brother’s direction clearly perceiving his rejection and then desperately sinking in an armchair determined to accept all the blame for something she did not commit. The execution of the scene is like a graceful, slow tragic dance. Garbo performs this dance with slight movements, subtle facial expressions passing from helplessness and vulnerability to resignation, dignity and doom. She is the tragic muse, Sophocle’s Antigone knowing that she will sacrifice herself in order to save her ideals and those she loves.

Another wonderful example of her generous nature is displayed during her reunification scene with Gilbert when she enters his rooms and perceives a photograph of his fiancée Constance (portrayed by Dorothy Sebastian). Her face glows with gentleness and understanding as she contemplates the picture of the girl, intuitively understanding that Constance is also a generous, brave nature with whom she already establishes a special bond. The wonderful and subtle playing with objects continues as Garbo answers to Gilbert’s claim that her “ring is loose” that she was told that she was “like this ring up to fall but that with a little effort she can keep it). Garbo sinks on the couch and the two lovers embrace as her ring falls from her finger. Brown films the scene with astonishing fluidity and grace admirably contemplating Garbo’s special gift with the camera as well as her ability to convey emotions and thoughts with inanimate objects.

The film’s most memorable scene occurs at the French hospital where Diana lies ill after a miscarriage she has suffered (from Gilbert’s child). Gilbert pays her a visit with Constance and has already sent her a bouquet of roses which are removed from her room. He is unable to make her recognize her and the recognition will come through once more through an object the bouquet of roses. Suddenly with perceive in a long shot a frenzied Garbo in delirium frantically searching the bouquet of roses which was taken away from her room.

Her panic and desperation are dissolved as she sees the bouquet of flowers and stretches her hands moving like a dancer towards her beloved objects’ direction. In what remains one of the most privileged moments in all Garbo filmography she takes the flowers in her hands caresses it preciously as if it were her lover or her lost child. Through the shock of this discovery she will eventually recognize Gilbert as well as Constance though the memory of the photograph she has seen of her. We are definitely entering into Proust’s territory here, and Garbo is the most eloquent performer to suggest sensations, memories of the past mingling with the present as well as the future. Out of a single scene which in the hands of another performer it would probably end up as pure melodrama, she has created poetry, something utterly divine. As she lies back in her hospital bed sleeping in peace clutching her flowers which lovingly frame her perfect face she looks more like Ophelia in her death bed than someone who has come to life and this would very likely be described as a death scene without death actually taking place.

Garbo’s Diana is a mythological yet utterly human creature which tells us as much as we need to know about human nature. Garbo’s Diana makes us as aware to human beings as well as all inanimate objects and the universe that surround our existence. She makes us see and feel that everything which surrounds us has its own meaning and truth and that life like the art of film is a fascinating mystery which only she as true goddess has the key to it.

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Garbo’s Diana is a mythological yet utterly human creature which tells us as much as we need to know about human nature. Garbo’s Diana makes us as aware to human beings as well as all inanimate objects and the universe that surround our existence. She makes us see and feel that everything which surrounds us has its own meaning and truth and that life like the art of film is a fascinating mystery which only she as true goddess has the key to it.

This post is an impressive thesis, and I must say I've never encountered a more devoted fan of literally anybody. I've seen 'A Woman of Affairs' once, and don't remember it well--I much preferred 'The Kiss'--but if anyone wants to know every single nuance in the former, he will find it here.

Now, as to that last paragraph I've quote above, may I respectfully, in singling at least that out, say that you do go too far--at least for most of us, it sounds nearly delirious, but maybe some can accommodate such things. There is no character or figure ever written or played anywhere, from ancient Greece to Hollywood soaper who 'tells us all we need to know about human nature'. If you 'live in Garbo', as it were, I suppose she "does makes us as aware to human beings as well as all inanimate objects and the universe that surround our existence", but I don't to quite that degree.

She makes us see and feel that everything which surrounds us has its own meaning and truth and that life like the art of film is a fascinating mystery which only she as true goddess has the key to it.

You may or may not mean this as literally as you say it. This singling out in such fugues as 'which only she as true goddess has the key to it' is really a bit too much for most of us. I do agree with you that she is a great actress and does 'show generosity' in singular and unique ways. However, in many films, she is exquisitely attuned to the upper-class ways of dismissing servants and underlings--this is amusing and she does it uniquely, but I wouldn't call it generous exactly.

To quickly sum up my reaction to this somewhat breathless worship, may I just say that 'screen goddess' is still a slight oxymoron. They are called 'god and goddess' because they are extraordinary and exotic, but 'real gods and goddesses' don't have bodies or perish. Frankly, there are even other actresses who can inhabit the screen even in that particularly luminous way, Delphine Seyrig being the best example I can think of--and she can do things Garbo could never do, and vice-versa. In fact, if you want to speak of 'generosity', she's got what I see as generosity in much larger supply, as well as much greater range as an actress, even though her own career is also relatively small output. And that's without even bringing in stage actors who had abilities Garbo didn't have.

How many so called “great” performers of our days have shown one ounce of generosity and understanding for human nature in her “big” acting?

I can't really see how one would want to respond to this unless one agreed with you totally. But, again, we don't even bring in stage actors and stars.

There certainly are 'Garbo Fans' and GARBO FANS, don't doubt you've proved that.

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Thank you for your kind reply and observations.

Of course my words (somehow clumsy at times) may see exaggerated, I can understand that, but you know that last phrase I sort of wrote it out in a somehow (slumsy) poetic (perhaps not very successful) way when I talk about this mythological goddess and things that make you aware of human beings, feelings, emotional states etc. But you know I have this attitude about beauty in its pure and symbolic form in general. It is like listening to Chopin's music for example, or reading a novel by Balzac, or Proust or seing Sylvie Guillem performing (for me at least). These are things which make me aware about so many things.

It may sound delirious and a bit too much, but as far as I am concerned it is true for me at least (I am not a Garbomaniac for nothing after all). There were also several books on Garbo, for example a French one by Henry Agel who would describe the Garbo effect on a goddess like and mythological side.

Also true that I rate Garbo higher than any other actor or actress I have ever seen either on stage or screen. It is personal, I feel her acting, her presence, her interior rythme more than enyone else I have ever seen. I personally feel that no other performer went as far in her acting like she did in "Camille" (and I would add "Woman of Affairs" as well). I like Delphine Seyrig quite a lot and from French actresses I think I love most Simone Signoret.

My favorite stage actress is Vanessa Redgrave, who also has that raw, radiant quality in her acting, something mysterious.

I suppose I am unable hide the fact that I am a true Garbomaniac in the true sense of the word.

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Thank you, yiannis, for that very sweet reply. This

But you know I have this attitude about beauty in its pure and symbolic form in general. It is like listening to Chopin's music for example, or reading a novel by Balzac, or Proust or seing Sylvie Guillem performing (for me at least).
gives me a better feeling, since at least a few other artists are remembered (I realize you did mention Sylvie already, but I got quite lost in the account of 'A Woman of Affairs' and was on the verge of wondering if anyone besides Garbo had ever existed, you know). I actually enjoyed very much your fine attention to nuance in 'A Woman of Affairs', and it has convinced me to watch it again; I'll re-read your post on it beforehand. :)

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Hello and thank you again

Yes of course I absolutely love Sylvie Guillem. I have seen her several times on stage and her performances in ballets like “L’histoire de Manon”, “Romeo and Juliet”, “Giselle”, “Carmen”, “Sleeping Beauty” “Bolero”, “Sissi” etc remain among the great treasures I always carry in my memory.

Regarding Garbo, the interesting thing in my case is that it took me some time to really understand and love her. At the beginning I did not really get her appeal. It was at the time of her death in 1990 (at that time I was in the US studying in Boston). So I got a chance to see most of her films even the ones I never heard of like “Inspiration”, “As you desire me”, “The painted veil” etc and I really fell under her spell.

So I watched all of her films including the silents and really understood her and loved her deeply. I also started following up various events on her in Europe (by the time I came to love in France). One of the most memorable events was the screening of “Flesh and the Devil” at the Royal Festival Hall in London back in 2000 with Carl Davis conducting the orchestra. And there was a lovely touch with none other than Leatrice Fountain Gilbert, Gilbert’s daughter who introduced the film to the audience. She spoke very lovingly about her father but then she mostly raved and raved about Garbo.

I also attended various events on Garbo’s centennial and it was at the Cinémathèque de Bruxelles that I watched with amazement the uncensored version of “Mata Hari” containing various scenes that we do not see in the widely circulated version on TCM and the DVD (as you know the film was censored during its re-release in 1939).

This is also another fascinating thing regarding Garbo. It is wonderful to watch her films on TV or a small screen but If you get a chance go and see her on the big screen, there is something magical and overwhelming when you see films like “Queen Christina” (her face lights up the screen and you can feel the audience holding its breath when she appears in close-up) or in her silents like “The mysterious Lady”, “Woman of Affairs” or “The kiss” on the big screen.

And since I mentioned events related to Garbo, there was (the event is still going on until October) a wonderful exhibition on Garbo with her private wardrobe at the Ferragamo Museum in Florence. They first presented the exhibition in Milan (that is where I saw it!). This is the first time that Garbo’s private wardrobe is exhibited in public (her family has lent the clothes at the Ferragamo Museum for the exhibition). Also on display one can see costumes from her films like “Queen Christina,” Anna Karenina,” “Conquest”, “Inspiration”, “The Saga of Goesta Berling” an extracts from her films. Most magical! There is a magnificent book on this which you can get from amazon for those of you who are interested here is the link:

« Greta Garbo the mystery of style »

http://www.amazon.com/Greta-Garbo-Mystery-Stefania-Ricci/dp/8857205800/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1283896603&sr=1-1

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I also started following up various events on her in Europe (by the time I came to love in France).

Charming typo that. It's well-known to be a good place to do it, I did a fair amount of it when I lived there.

One of the most memorable events was the screening of “Flesh and the Devil” at the Royal Festival Hall in London back in 2000 with Carl Davis conducting the orchestra. And there was a lovely touch with none other than Leatrice Fountain Gilbert, Gilbert’s daughter who introduced the film to the audience.

That does sound pretty fabulous. Davis would have thoroughly been able to throw himself into it, and make it a unique experience. Come to think of it, that's one way (although only for the most storied and privileged films) that silents can be enhanced in a way that talkies can't--by bringing a superb live score to it, and when I've heard these at Film Forum with a pianist, it's been capable and enjoyable, but a little too funky for some films.

This is also another fascinating thing regarding Garbo. It is wonderful to watch her films on TV or a small screen but If you get a chance go and see her on the big screen, there is something magical and overwhelming when you see films like “Queen Christina” (her face lights up the screen and you can feel the audience holding its breath when she appears in close-up) or in her silents like “The mysterious Lady”, “Woman of Affairs” or “The kiss” on the big screen.

I've seen many of them on the big screen, including 'Queen Christina' and 'The kiss' and 'Anna Karenina'. I've only watched them on television if I hadn't any other opportunity (and revival houses in New York don't operate the way they used to, with many of the classics coming back to theaters like the Thalia and the now-defunct Theatre 80 St. Marks, with some regularity.) I don't know if you have had time to read our whole thread here, but I really do love 'Romance', and that is the one I'd most like to see onscreen of the ones I haven't.

Your description of the Florence show reminds me of the auction of her things at Sotheby's or Christie's shortly after her death. A friend went to see it, and said it was lovely, and I had not known about it, or I would have gone too. Around that time, the NYTimes Magazine did a piece on her, which had photos of the interior of her apartment, and details of things from the King of Sweden, but I especially remembered (not quite sure why, since I've seen other impressive versions of this in wealthy apartments) her bookcases of beautifully bound books--there seemed to be a colour scheme, dark-violet or mauve maybe, I'm not sure.

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On the other hand, most people were not very kind with Gilbert and sometimes I found myself defening him since I like him very much (but i guess I suppose I am more fond of Gilbert's personality than the actor whom I find uneven). But as I said I love his screen couple with Garbo and I think he helped her immensely in developing as an actress and woman in the Hollywood film industry. I also found Gilbert wonderful in films like "La boheme "with Lillian Gish and in one of his talkies "Downstairs" where he plays an "immoral" character.

The DVD version of Love is interesting in this regard. As I wrote previously, the disc contains a score recorded live at a UCLA screening. Not only did the recording pick up the score but it also captured audience reactions. For the first 20 minutes or so, there is a certain amount of laughter during particularly florid silent film moments, particularly those involving Gilbert. However, as the film progresses, the laughter dies out completely as the audience becomes more and more involved in the story.

For modern audiences watching silent films, the style of the acting can appear ridiculous at first until you immerse yourself in it and adjust your expectations. Since Gilbert embodied the apex of that style, it makes sense that his performances would appear silly to the modern eye. Garbo was fortunate in that regard because, as I wrote at the beginning of this thread, she was a naturalistic film actress biding her time (however unknowingly) in a non-naturalistic medium (the silent film). And history has rewarded her for that in a way that it hasn't for John Gilbert.

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Dear Sapphire Circle

Seeing a cince-concert conducted by Carl Davis is indeed a fascinating experience, you get the impression that you see the film come to life with music and the audience participating n that experience. I have seen "Flesh and the Devil" this year as well in Luxembourg also conducted by Davis and "I have also seen "Woman of Affairs" (with the Carl Davis score) on a couple of occasions in Germany and Austria conducted by Frank Strobel. Davis' scores underline the undeniable qualities of these films and make them even more accessible to the public.

Regarding the screenings of Garbo's films "Romance" is one of the few which have escaped me (i have seen it several times but never on the big screen). Garbo is radiant as Rita Cavalinni and I love her subtle way, when she is forced to tell the truth to Gavin Gordon's character about her past, how beautifully she displays her inner conflict and torment and anxiety as she plays nervously with her pearls and her hands.

Dear Gold Circle

Regaring "Love" it is a pity that they did not restore the film (including the tragic ending) for the DVD and I think they could avoid including the audience's laughter which is distracting at times. But you are right, it is interesting that as the film progresses the laughter dies out. When Garbo as Anna pays a visit to her son after she has been banished from her house, you can feel the audience silence, everyone is holding his breath with emotion.

It is fair to say that time has not been kind to Gilbert. I think very few people know him today and one can still see some unkind things about the actor in books (some people remember him just as Garbo's partner in life and films). I think he deserves better but what to say.

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Thanks for the information, yiannisfrance. (Generally on Ballet Talk we address posters by their chosen IDs rather than their Board member status, so please feel free to call us miliosr, papeetepatrick, dirac, etc. :)) I agree - the score for a silent film is most important, and when the two are poorly matched it can really affect one's appreciation of the movie. Carl Davis has a true knack for it.

It is fair to say that time has not been kind to Gilbert. I think very few people know him today and one can still see some unkind things about the actor in books (some people remember him just as Garbo's partner in life and films). I think he deserves better but what to say.

It is sad in a way that Gilbert is probably best remembered not even for being one half of the most famous love team of the silent era but as the most notorious victim of the coming of sound. I can't say he was the world's greatest actor but he had looks and charisma. Unfortunately his style and type have dated (the theatrical eyeliner and lipstick that was still thought appropriate for some male screen stars doesn't help). One can still watch Colman, Barthelmess, Barrymore, et al. in their silent pictures making few allowances for time and place but that's less true for Gilbert, although he comes across better in The Big Parade than in some of his hyper-romantic vehicles.

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Hello dirac

Poor Gilbert. I remember talking to different member pf the audience of the Film Festival of La rochelle most people did not even know who he was or did no even care to put it bluntly. And I did encounter the same indifference when I presented a silent film festival in Forssa Finland dedicated to Garbo where they screened "Flesh and the Devil", "The mysteriosu Lady" and "Woman of Affairs". Inevitably, when you have Garbo and Gilbert on the scren poeple will talk about Garbo. They will pmention Gilbet as part of that scren pair and Garbo's legend at the very bestSo his legacy today largely stems from that partnership which was electric and wonderful.

To be fair, as I mentionned before, I found Gilbert at his very best in the neglected film "Downstairs" which was well received by the critics at th time but was not a commercial hit. Gilbert plays the "immoral" part of the chauffer to perfection. I think due to his drinking and animosity with Louis B Mayer, he probably lost quite a few occasions during the talkies to revive his carrer. True, one can imagine him playing the baron in "Grand hotel" (although John Barrymore is magnifiecent in the part).

But I think the problem was also due to his type, the persona of the screen. In the 1930s people were more impressed by a new kind of male persona (virile and strong) like that of Clark Gable or Gary Cooper. Gilbert had difficulty in creating or re-creating for the talkies a new persona who combined his romantic appeal in the silents and accomodate this to the new era. On the other hand, Garbo had not problem in doing that, the talkies even enhanced her mystique and screen image.

To be fair, compared o varios romantic silent leads Gilbert stands up pretty well. I personally prefer him to Valentino and I think that his films should be shown more often (like "The big parade"" or "La boheme" besides his Garbo vehicles).

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Hello dirac

To be fair, compared o varios romantic silent leads Gilbert stands up pretty well. I personally prefer him to Valentino and I think that his films should be shown more often (like "The big parade"" or "La boheme" besides his Garbo vehicles).

Oh, absolutely. Although I have to say Valentino was fabulous in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

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For the first time Garbo was given the chance to play a modern woman of her own times, the epitome of the 1920s heroine, brave, reckless, fascinating, defiant of conventions, true and brave always living on the edge of danger and excitement. It was a golden role and Garbo was ideally cast. It was also the first time in her career that she was given the chance to bring out her dual or should I say multi dimensional nature. A part which allowed her to be modern and strong with a slight touch of masculinity yet ultimately feminine, spiritual, romantic and vulnerable.

. It's interesting how the morality of the time insisted that Diana, as a "scandalous woman," be treated badly by everyone and ultimately sacrifice herself, but that doesn't diminish the allure of her freedom and unconventional sexuality. Which is also true of other pictures Garbo was making around this time.

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. It's interesting how the morality of the time insisted that Diana, as a "scandalous woman," be treated badly by everyone and ultimately sacrifice herself, but that doesn't diminish the allure of her freedom and unconventional sexuality. Which is also true of other pictures Garbo was making around this time.

Very true

Garbo is a true tragic heroine and like every genuine tragic figure she meets her fate which very often takes the form of death. In "woman of Affairs" this is particularly true, but what is more striking is that despite the moral outcry which makes Garbo un outcast, the audience always is on her side. This is so because Garbo makes us fully understand her motivations of her character and allow us to share her inner world. It also has something to do with Garbo's generous and radiant nature as an actress and her capacity to understand others and forgive (eneven her foes like Gilbert's father).

And above all she is her own master, both strong and vulnerable at the same time she decides for her own fate, so her suicide does not seem like a punishment but rather becomes a victorious act over a society of hypocrites.

Also agree regarding the previous post on Valentino he was marvellous in the "Four horsement of the Apocalypse" his best performance in my opinion.

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The other day since it was Garbo's birthday on the 18th I watched a couple of her films. "Susan Lennox Her Fall and rise" with a young Clark Gable is a film usually neglected and dismissed by critics in Grabo's filmography.

I personally love it. Garbo and Gable are marvellous together. Garbo's early scenes when she finds refuge at Gable's cabin are astonishing, so natural, sensual and pure at the same time. It is tempting to say that Garbo was rarely photographed as brilliantly by her favorite cameraman William Daniels as in this film (and this says much as he awlays did an astonishong job).

"Caviar", asks Gable a relaxed Garbo dressed in his art-deco pyjamas. "Is that to eat" she asks with amazement and then bursts into an adorable contagious laughter.When they go fishing the next day, the fun and open sensuality is stille evident in their interaction.

When Gable prepares to leave for an architect's contest leaving Garbo alone, we have a series of playful moments with her hiding his shaving things and running like a happy kid around the room (another blow to the widely spread Garbo myth which assumes that Garbo is a humorless and cold femme fatale. See these scenes and you will see just the opposite). She is even capable of creating something moving out of nowhere as when she grasps a photo of Gable's parents loooks at it attentively and says with sadness and tenderness. "I never had a picture of my mother, I guess she never had one taken, just like she never had a ring". Only Grabo can give meaning to such sentences creating something moving and magical.

Even when the film becomes what we may call an exotic melodrama, the charm still operates, thanks to Grabo's acting, beauty and magnetic presence and her interaction with Gable (a sort of love and hate relationship)

I highly recommend this film to any Garbo and/or Gable fans and unfortunately it was not released on DVD yet.

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Yannis, your description of images in 'Susan Lennox' is stupendous. I finally find someone who loves this film the way I do. I agree it's totally underrated. All the details you've chosen to emphasize do, in fact, offer a kind of 'way to look at' this film. But the whole film is exotic, it has an atmosphere all its own, and that cabin is another world, just as the diner in the original of 'Postman Always Lives Twice' has an other-worldly atmosphere. Great writing, monsieur.

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Oh, merci Monsieur. I am trully glad you like this film, I love it and really feel protective towards it (maybe because so many people dislike it, ot simply ignore it) and it is so enjoyable in every way. I wish Garbo had made more films with Gable.

I will be going on vacation for a week tomorrow but I will be back soon and hope to hear more on Garbo's films. A bientôt.

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