Posted 25 September 2010 - 03:46 PM
Moving on . . .
Anna Karenina (Premiere: August 30, 1935)
Cast: Garbo (Anna Karenina), Fredric March (Vronsky), Basil Rathbone (Karenin), Freddie Bartholomew (Sergei), Maureen O'Sullivan (Kitty)
Director: Clarence Brown
Cinematographer: William Daniels
Gowns by: Adrian
Production Cost: ? U.S. Gross: $865,000 Overseas Gross: $1,439,000 Profit: $320,000
Anna Karenina was Garbo's twenty-first picture for M-G-M, eleventh talkie and third attempt at portraying Tolstoy's heroine.
Truly this is a lavish production in the grand M-G-M manner. From the very first moment, the viewer can see that M-G-M spared no expense on costumes, sets, props, extras, etc. By and large, the movie is quite faithful to the period in terms of its look (although I half expected to see Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers come skittering across the highly polished entry hall floor of the Karenin mansion!)
Garbo is exquisite in this -- miles better than her performance as Anna in Love. The passage of seven years from the filming of Love to the filming of Anna Karenina revealed a greater subtlety in her acting (which was already pronounced in 1927) and, more importantly, a more aristocratic cast to her bearing. In Love, I thought her lack of physical polish at that time betrayed her at every turn. But here, she surmounts the physical challenges of playing an aristocrat in Imperial Russia with ease.
Another welcome development between 1927 and 1935 was her banishment of certain gaucheries in her acting. Compare the race scene in Love and the horse race in Anna Karenina. One sees quite a difference -- and not just because one is a silent film and one is a sound film.
Fredric March is strong as Vronsky -- certainly he was a more naturalistic actor than John Gilbert. Nevertheless, I found him somewhat stolid as a romantic lead. The only real problem I had with this picture is that I never found the love between Anna and Vronsky to be believable -- the chemistry was not there between the leads. If only M-G-M could have combined Gilbert's sexual charisma with March's superior acting ability . . .
Basil Rathbone is outstanding as Karenin and he holds his own against Garbo -- no mean feat. Interestingly, he's really not in the movie that much and yet his presence dominates.
By all accounts, Garbo hated working with child star Freddie Bartholomew (who played her son) and yet you would never know it from their scenes together. Garbo shows a real warmth with Bartholomew (and with the other child actors in the picture.) I suppose Bartholomew's performance is fine although I have always found him somewhat prissy and he is certainly no different here. The child actor in Love is better to my way of thinking.
Maureen O'Sullivan is effective in a supporting part as Kitty.
There are many, many beautifully composed and shot scenes in this film including Anna's emergence from a cloud of steam at the Moscow train station, the grand ball, the horse race, Venice and the dramatic final scenes at the Moscow train station. My favorite, though, was the scene where Anna slowly strides out of Karenin's house as he shouts "Do you hear?" after her. Perfect!
The disc contains no commentary track. The print transfer is very strong.
Film grade: A
Garbo grade: A
March grade: A-
Rathbone grade: A+