miliosr

The Films of Greta Garbo

214 posts in this topic

Her laughter at the restaurant although charming is not one of the strongest moments of the film, I think it lacks spontaneity unlike her most charming laugh in "Queen Christina" when she sees John Gilbert's carriage caught in the snow.

This is the most disturbing scene, because it's so famous, and yet when you look at it, it can seem almost painful. I tend to agree with you on the 'drunk scene' insofar as I can; as you know, this is my least favourite of the Garbo films, and it's for me a case of the whole really not adding up to the sum of its parts (many of which are indeed scintillating.) But the laughter scene is just upsetting, for one thing it's her own resistance to the stupidity of something that crude anyway, this might evoke mild amusement, but not these uncharacteristic attempts at 'belly laughs'. Oh yes, I really don't care for this scene.

I am going to watch your Mercouri video tonight or tomorrow when there's more time. Yes. Melina was a huge persona, and these are often attracted to others. I don't bring her up that often because it seems people have not thought of her that much in the U.S. since her death, or really as much as she deserved even before her death. She was a true goddess, and I'll add one film that you didn't that I especially like, because she is so shining and beautiful in it: La Legge, or La Loi, and which has its campiest 50s American translation as 'Where the Hot Wind Blows'. What a cast for this episodic film too: Not only Melina, but Gina Lollobridgida, Yves Montand, Pierre Brasseur and Marcello Mastroianni. I like 'Stella' too. I've tried for years to get a copy of 'Phaedra', but never have been able to find it on eBay even. Libraries here don't have it, so I think it may have never been released commercially (I recall there was someone on eBay selling taped copies, but was caught at something fraudulent, and I was one of the buyers, so we were all reimbursed--I've still yet to see it. But I tell you, I have never understood how Anthony Perkins managed to make his way into movies with these voluptuous ladies like Melina and Sophia; at least with Audrey in 'Green Mansions', it's not quite so strange, but he didn't 'find his stride' till 'Psycho', which may not be the kind of way one always wants to find it!

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I forgot about La Loi, I have not seen this film for a long time. Another wonderful film of hers was Celui qui doit mourir based on the Kazantzakis book with Pierre Vaneck, in 1956. And she was also a great stage actress. Among her best known roles was Blanche Dubois in Streetcar, Alexandra del Lago in Sweet bird of youth and Euripide's Medea.

Melina was extremely fond and protective towards Antony Perkins with whom she co-starred in Phaedra. The two became tender friends.

Melina was always fond of telling stories about the people she met and who left an indelible mark on her. Garbo always came first, she was her ideal and their meeting was magical in every sense of the world. She also said that she dearly loved Brando who charmed her with his unconventional charm and was impressed by Gerard Philippe.

On the other hand, he meeting with Chaplin whom she totally idolized on the screen was disappointing. This happened in Switzernad in the sixties i believe.

And regarding La loi, apparently and according to Melina she and Lolobridgita had an intense mutual dislike during filming.

To go back to Ninotschka, the laughter scene is certainly not the best scene in the film. But other than that I think that Garbo is admirable in the part and although this is definitely not one of the Garbo films I love watching all the time, I have to admit that I cannot imagine any other actress doing her part. Actually Lubitsch did this film especially for Garbo and he said he would not have done it for another actress.

As it was mentioned before, this works though well as an ensemble film more than just a Garbo vehicle, which can be one of its strengths but also for others one of its weaknesses. It has been said by some, Mick Lassale included, that Ninotschka is the one Garbo film that the non Garbo fans love and there is some truth in this I guess.

The thing is, if one who has never seen a Garbo film in his life and wishes has to experience the Garbo magic, to comprehend why she was called the Divine, this would not be the film I would personally recommend, although I do consider it a great one. Besides Camille or Queen Christina or even Karenina, Flesh and the Devil one can get more easily the Divine touch even from lesser known titles like Susan Lennox, or The painted veil, or As you desire me, The Kiss, Woman of Affairs and The mysterious Lady. And I always feel a sort of guilty pleasure watching Mata Hari, although many people dismiss it, I simply love it and Garbo in it.

And then there is the almost inexplicable charm of Two Faced Woman (we can discuss this film after Ninotschka if you like) where her charm, besides the Americanization process, the weird hairstyle and the not always inspiring wardrobe, strangely and magically works. Garbo shines in it and proves to have an even more striking comic flair than she displayed in Ninotschka. Maybe since she was directed by Cukor, like in Camille she seems to have in this film that "unguarded" quality who struck Thalberg when he saw the first rushes of Camille, she seems to be completely free in her acting.

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Hello everyone

I thought I would also bring up another subject relating to Garbo's filmography which might be of interest to you. This has to do with censorship with the Code Hays. Two of Garbo's films which suffered from the censors were "Mata Hari" and "Two Faced Woman". As you probably know "Mata Hari" was reissued in 1939 and at the time the censors were at the peak of their powers (unfortunately!), so they basically cut every single erotic or sensual scene of the film. So the print we see today on TCM or DVD is based on that version.

"Two Faced Woman", as you know, also severely suffered from the censors and was reissued as well the same year (1941) with numerous retakes.

I had the rare chance to watch both films in their uncut versions. "Mata Hari" in Brussels (Cinémathèque de Bruxelles) back in 2005 on the occasion of Garbo's centennial and "Two Faced Woman" back in 2004 at the National Film Theatren in London during a Cukor retrospective (at the same night "Camille" plus the uncensored "Two Faced Woman". It was quite a treat!).

Now, I have contacted various persons since then and the only person, this I have to undeline since I am always grateful to him and who took some real interest was Mark Viera who was most kind and even contacted himself George Feltenstein at Warner Bros so they would do something with those rare prints (it seems that the "Mata Hari" one is the most rare one whereas quite a few people have the uncut "Two Faced Woman" but for some strange reasons Warner bros has not bother to so something to restore the film).

At any rate, here is a description of some fo the differences I observed during the screenings of those films. Let us hope that one day we will see the films reissued in restored versions on DVD.

So here we go:

In May 2005 I had the opportunity to attend a Garbo revival at the Brussels Cinémathèque. One night I saw with amazement a print of “Mata Hari” that looked like the original 1931 version. It had several scenes not in the currently available [1939 reissue] version.

This longer version of “Mata Hari” was shown at the Brussels Cinémathèque on May 6, 2005. It was in English with subtitles in French and Dutch. The print belongs to the Brussels Cinémathèque.

In Mark’s Viera book Sin in Soft Focus the description the author gives to the cut sequences totally matches those I saw at the Brussels Cinémathèque in 2005. My first surprise—I almost got up from my seat and screamed—was at the dance scene, you know when we see Mata Hari dance. In the version I saw there was even a shot in which we see two staff members from the nightclub kitchen; one is watching Mata Hari dance through the keyhole, and the other, a girl, expresses some jealousy. Then the camera moves back to Garbo and the dance goes on, more frenetic and much more suggestive, ending with her throwing off the veil and stripping. The other scenes also match what I saw in Brussels: when Novarro goes to her apartment for the first time and the first love scene there, as well as the love scene after the Madonna icon.

Also, during a George Cukor retrospective at the National Film Theatre in London in 2004, I had the opportunity to watch the uncensored version of "Two Faced Woman" which is quite different than the version shown on TCM.

I have written below a description of the most significant differences I have signaled for both films as compared to the "censored" versions.

« Mata Hari »

Mata Hari's dance scene at the beginning is much longer than in the version most of us know. That is in the version shown by TCM she moves a bit, then we have a few close ups of her as she goes towards the statue of Shiva, then she kneels down and then applause. Well not in this one! The dance goes on and on, most revealing as Garbo continues in a frenetic dance to approach the statue of Shiva in such a suggestive way, that she seems to imply that she actually makes love with it and the last shot she takes the costume off and we see her from behind—totally nude.

In this version we see the scene where Garbo goes into her bedroom after closing a satin curtain and then changes into a most revealing negligee (you see that in a photo in Mark Vieira's book on Garbo) and then she emerges to initiate a wonderful love scene with Ramon Novarro. There was also another scene included in the copy I saw in Brussels which follows the celebrated scene where Garbo tells Novarro to put out the candle on the Madonna icon and Novarro obeys. After the candle goes out, we see a wonderful close up of Garbo, the two lovers embrace and Novarro picks her up in his arms and carries her to his room.

« Two-Faced Woman »

The first difference is visible in the scene after Larry (M. Douglas) and Karen (G. Garbo) return to their chalet. When she asks for her pajamas, this scene is slightly different. In the uncensored version we see her hand suggestively coming out of the bathroom to pick up the top of her pajamas.

The second and more important significant difference occurs after Karen appears in New York where Miss Elli (R. Gordon) is advising Karen (Garbo) how to look more glamorous. Karen goes to the Broadway theater to surprise her husband and finds him with Griselda. When the rehearsal ends she actually sees them kissing as they leave the theater (whereas in the censored version we do not see the kiss) and cries.

There is no telephone scene of course where Larry at the nightclub scene calls Snow Lodge and finds out that his wife has left for New York.

The confrontation scene in the powder room with Griselda (although the dialogues are pretty much the same is shot differently. Those are different shots and angles, the voice delivery is different; it was obviously re-shot for the censored version.

The scene after the chica-choca when she goes with Douglas to her hotel room. The moment where she says: "Not even a sisterly kiss." He approaches and says: "You are Karen ".

In the uncensored version, she says slyly: "You think so?” and gives him a real sensual kiss which of course is missing from the censored version.

In the same scene after she puts on her "serious" costume, Garbo is far more provocative (the way she lies down on the sofa, stretches her legs) it is really much more sensual and suggestive than in the censored version. Some of the lines are different, (“How does my position affect your position?”), different close-ups etc. It was obvious that the scene was re-shot for the censored version and the same goes for Karen’s second visit at Larry’s apartment.

The reunion scene at Snow Lodge between Garbo and Larry is very different. In the uncensored version we first see Douglas at the chalet actually rehearsing a speech of a break-up something like "Dear Karen, I think we made a mistake and must put and end to our marriage and so on” and then we see her and she is actually doing the same thing something like "Our marriage was a mistake." It is wholly different concept. The two are there to admit that they made a mistake, and he does not yet know that his wife is also the twin sister who has seduced him. Then he comes down and they end up sleeping together and it is only in the morning when he wakes up and sees her toenail polish that he realizes he is with the same person.

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To go back to Ninotschka . . . I cannot imagine any other actress doing her part. Actually Lubitsch did this film especially for Garbo and he said he would not have done it for another actress.

I agree with you about no other actress being able to play that part. However, I think Lubitsch was being disingenuous when he said he would not have done it for another actress. The truth is . . . he could not have done it for another actress. In essence, Ninotchka is a one-joke movie and it's a joke on Garbo's screen and public image of that time. To the extent the movie worked, it's not because Garbo was superior to longtime M-G-M contemporaries like Joan Crawford or Norma Shearer (which she was) but because audiences of the time would have been familiar with Garbo's super-serious image and laughed at her send-up of herself.

« Mata Hari »

In this version we see the scene where Garbo goes into her bedroom after closing a satin curtain and then changes into a most revealing negligee (you see that in a photo in Mark Vieira's book on Garbo) and then she emerges to initiate a wonderful love scene with Ramon Novarro. There was also another scene included in the copy I saw in Brussels which follows the celebrated scene where Garbo tells Novarro to put out the candle on the Madonna icon and Novarro obeys. After the candle goes out, we see a wonderful close up of Garbo, the two lovers embrace and Novarro picks her up in his arms and carries her to his room.

I would love to see the uncut version of Mata Hari because the relationship between Garbo and Novarro in the commercially available version is somewhat sexless.

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The scenes censored in the widely circulated print of "Mata Hari" and included in the original print make a lot of difference for comprehending both the characters of Mata Hari and Rosanoff played by Novarro. Even the first dance scene of Mata seems much more sensual and original if seen in its longer version. On the DVD released by Warner Bros and the print shown on TCM (and in most repertory movie houses), the dance scene seems short and even awkward. But the additional footage adds something, an element of eroticism, a provocative and ambiguous touch which would be in line both with Garbo's personna on screen and even the real Mata Hari.

If you add to that the two love scenes cut (the first when Rosanoff follows Mata to her apartments and the second one when she asks him to put out the Madonna's light) you get a better understanding of what goes on between the two characters and especially Mata Hari's progressive transformation from a distant, calculating ormented with gold goddess to a human self-sacrifising goddess.

In the first love scene deleted you can see that when Mata Hari says goodnight and slowly closes suggestively the golden satin curtains, she leaves enough space for Rosanoff to follow her and as he prepares to leave he hesitates and then unfortunately... cut. When he sees her the next day and she is cold and indifferent to him he says to her disoriented : "I am sorry but last night you told me that you love me". "Oh did I she says cynical? Well that was last night, today I am very busy"; and we understand that they spent the night together. This time Garbo's character is still calculating but her ultimate transformation will come during their second love scene together. What is a fascinating too, is that in the uncensored version we get to see Garbo in one of her most provocative and sensual outfits (you have a photo of this in the Mark Viera book).

The same goes for the second love scene cut. In the original version Rosanoff kisses Mata Hari passionately and we see him carrying her to his rooms and then we hear the two lovers in the dark only lit with the cigarette smoke talking tenderly about their future together. So the next morning when Mata Hari walks out of his rooms we see that she is beginning to melt down from her expression as she leaves his room and as she writes him a note. In the cut version, it is hard to guess why she has changed like that but if you add the love scene you can see that the lady has fallen in love so she is a different woman.

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Thank you for these lengthy descriptions, yiannisfrance. Very illuminating.

To go back to Ninotschka, the laughter scene is certainly not the best scene in the film. But other than that I think that Garbo is admirable in the part and although this is definitely not one of the Garbo films I love watching all the time, I have to admit that I cannot imagine any other actress doing her part. Actually Lubitsch did this film especially for Garbo and he said he would not have done it for another actress.

As it was mentioned before, this works though well as an ensemble film more than just a Garbo vehicle, which can be one of its strengths but also for others one of its weaknesses. It has been said by some, Mick Lassale included, that Ninotschka is the one Garbo film that the non Garbo fans love and there is some truth in this I guess.

I appreciate the depth of her humanity in what could have been a shallow send up in a shallow movie. It's skillful, but would be very cold if not for her.

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Hello everyone!

I won't be able to write my Garbo overview until after Christmas is over. So, until then, I thought I would leave you with these Garbo tidbits from Allen Ellenberger's 1999 biography of Ramon Novarro:

Many years later, in a magazine interview, Novarro related his last meeting with Garbo. It was the early 1960s in New York City, and Novarro was walking down Fifth Avenue when he happened to see a newspaper photograph that reminded him of the Swede. Suddenly, he turned and there she was at his side, hidden behind a wide-brimmed hat and dark sunglasses. She looked at him seductively and said, "Hello baby"; then she disappeared into the crowd.

And:

[O]n February 20, 1962, police arrested [Novarro] for driving under the influence. "I am old and I just want to die," he allegedly told officers. Unfortunately, his statement was picked up by the press. Before he could deny making his "death wish," he began receiving mail from around the world. Even Garbo dropped him a line of encouragement. [Joan Crawford also wrote him and asked him to call her if he needed someone to talk to.]

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Thanks, miliosr. Look forward to reading your thoughts in the new year!

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So, having spent the last six months viewing twelve Garbo films (and the fragment of one), what did I learn about Greta Garbo?

Probably the most welcome discovery I made during my six month sojurn through her repertory was to discover how much more natural her acting was than so many of her co-stars. That naturalism (and an associated subtlety) was already there as early as her first silents at Metro and it would remain a constant throughout her 17 years at the studio. I don't think I am exaggerating by saying that Garbo was at the forefront of those actors leading screen actors away from silent film acting (which had taken pantomimic acting to great heights during the 1920s but had become untenable by 1930) toward sound film acting. She wasn't alone in this endeavor but she did as much as anyone to forge a new aesthetic during a very chaotic transition from one acting aesthetic to another.

Curiously, I don't think she would have succeeded anywhere else but in front of a camera. Like Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor, Garbo was a true creature of the camera -- it picked up something that wasn't always seen by the naked eye. (Mark Vieira's book, Greta Garbo: A Cinematic Legacy, contains much testimony from her contemporaries stating that they were unimpressed with her work on sound stages but, when they saw the same work on screen, they were transfixed.)

I also don't think Garbo would have found a particularly congenial working environment at any other studio in Hollywood except Metro. For all her carping and complaining about M-G-M in general and Louis B. Mayer in particular, Mayer and Metro really did right by her more often than not in terms of scripts, co-stars, production values and monetary compensation. Not everything worked, of course, but almost from the start Mayer, Irving Thalberg and the rest went all-out for her movies.

And, quite frankly, the Metro brass put up with a lot from her over the 17 years she was at the studio. Reading Vieira's book contemporaneously with watching Garbo's films was a real eye-opener in this regard. I can't think of any other studio from that era that would have put up with her moodiness, her indecisiveness, her disappearances, her general lack of cooperation with the Metro publicity machine and her eccentric circle of friends. Given the way they treated their leading ladies, I can't picture Jack Warner, Darryl Zanuck or Harry Cohn tolerating Garbo for long.

While there are probably a dozen or more Garbo films I haven't seen, I have no desire to seek them out. I doubt very much that watching them would add to my knowledge of Garbo except at the margins. There is much else to see from the late-silent/early-talkie era so I'm off to watch Louise Brooks and Ramon Novarro and Barbara Stanwyck and Johnny Mack Brown and early-period Joan Crawford.

I hope everyone who read my reviews enjoyed them. I certainly had a great deal of fun watching the films!!!

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Thanks for the summing-up, miliosr. I don't think it would have been impossible or even unlikely for Garbo or even Monroe to have succeeded on stage if there had been no camera to place in front of them (I'd say the same of Taylor although she isn't a cinema phenomenon in the same class with the first two), because born performers will get in front of an audience in almost any era that doesn't ban them outright from performing but there is no doubt those two had a special relationship in front of the camera that hasn't been matched before or since - truly in a class of their own.

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Hard to believe this thread is nearly six years old!

In any event, I rewatched Mata Hari this Memorial Day weekend. My initial impression of it was none too favorable back in 2010 but I liked it a lot better the second time around.

I warmed to Greta Garbo on second viewing mostly because she really does look like she's having fun with the material. She knew the material was outrageous so she had a ball with it. That being said, she does do some stellar acting as when she's told she will receive no reprieve from the President of France and the expression on her face changes ever so subtly.

Unfortunately, another viewing of Ramon Novarro's performance made me like it less. Back in 2010, I gave Novarro a pass because I thought the part itself was hopeless. I still think there's some truth to that as Novaro's character, Rosanoff, has the worst, most florid lines in the movie. Matters aren't helped by the fact that Novarro was much too old to be playing this part. Rosanoff is supposed to be younger and more inexperienced than Mata Hari but Novarro was 32 when he made this film. He looks much too old to be playing someone in his early 20s, especially when you consider that Garbo had only just turned 27 at the time of filming. (Interestingly, Novarro's biographer Andre Soares reports that the studio was considering Robert Montgomery for the part before Novarro asked for it. Montgomery, who was also 27 in 1931 but looked younger would have been more believable in terms of age if not from a character standpoint.)

My real objection to Novarro is that his performance was still mired in silent movie conventions. He endlessly makes these silent movie faces that, compared to Garbo's more subtle work, give his performance an amateurish feel.

I definitely noticed the supporting cast more this time. I gave Lewis Stone high marks the last time around and his performance held up for me this time. I also greatly appreciated C. Henry Gordon as the relentless Inspector Dubois and Karen Morley as Mata Hari's fellow spy Carlotta. Unfortunately, Lionel Barrymore, who didn't really factor into my thinking in my last review, irritated me to no end this time with his hammy performance. It's not quite as bad as his hammy performance in A Free Soul (w/ Norma Shearer) which had come out earlier in 1931 but it's within hailing distance.

Finally, I can't say enough good things about cinematographer William Daniels. Whether it's the way he lit Garbo and Novarro or his work on various Expressionistic set pieces that occur throughout the movie, his work impresses to this very day.

Film grade: Original (C+) New (B)

Garbo grade: Original (B-) New (B+)

Novarro grade: Original (No grade) New (C )

Stone grade: Original (A) New (A)

Gordon/Morley grade: Original (-) New (A-/B+)

Barrymore grade: Original (-) New (C )

Daniels grade: Original (A) New (A+)

Adrian grade: Original (C-) New (B) (Mata Hari's costumes grew on me.)

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I've spent part of my evening reading this entire thread and, having seen most of Garbo's films at some point in time, found the commentaries thoroughly engrossing. Thank you, all!

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Thank you for the thank-you, Josette. Feel free to pipe up with your own views any time!

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