Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Garbo: the divine woman

She is billed as "GARBO in THE PAINTED VEIL" - the one name is enough. This though is a rare Greta Garbo film - it is not in that box of 6 Garbo classics which one had to have (ANNA CHRISTIE, MATA HARI, QUEEN CHRISTINA, CAMILLE, ANNA KARENINA, NINOTCHKA) . I of course also have GRAND HOTEL, that "GARBO SILENTS" box with FLESH AND THE DEVIL and I quite like her last film the 1942 TWO FACED WOMAN where she does that sensational rumba ... and now THE PAINTED VEIL, made in 1934, just after QUEEN CHRISTINA.
In Austria, Katrin is lonely after her sister's marriage and she agrees to marry her father's research associate Dr. Walter Fane. Fane takes her to China but constantly ignores her in favour of his medical research. Lonely Katrin has an affair with Jack Townsend of the British Embassy. When it is discovered by Walter he becomes very bitter. Fane travels to fight a cholera epidemic and Katrin goes with him and helps. They grow closer together than ever before but Walter is knifed in a riot incited by the burning of a cholera infested town. Now their new found happiness will depend on Walter's survival. 

THE PAINTED VEIL is of course from the Maugham novel and piles on the melodrama as the tale of love and redemption unfolds against that exotic background. Garbo though is sensational here - not just a remote goddess but a real flesh and blood creature. Like her Swedish Queen she also kisses her sister passionately as she leaves for her marriage, leaving Katrin alone .... On a whim to see faraway places she marries earnest, but dull Herbert Marshall and quickly feels neglected as his duties keep him busy. The Chinese backdrop is nicely conveyed with regulars like Warner Oland (from Marlene's SHANGHAI EXPRESS), George Brent as the cad lover isn't as wooden as he is in the Bette Davis films, Herbert Marshall is just right as the very correct husband (he had a return to the far east with another unfaithful (and how) wife, Bette Davis, in THE LETTER in 1940, also by Maugham - and Marshall played Maugham in the 1946 THE RAZOR'S EDGE!).
Greta has some terrific costumes like that turban she wears and the nurses's outfit. She is gowned by Adrian, and directed by Richard Boleslawski. Again, its that voice that enthralls and that remote quality, she remains one of the greatest stars. This one we like a lot. There was a dreadful 1957 remake, which I remember seeing at a Sunday matinee (ideal kids viewing!) with Eleanor Parker (hardly a Garbo) titled THE SEVENTH SIN. Naomi Watts also played the role in the 2006 version, which at least was filmed in China, like that last version of Duras's THE SEA WALL
(As well as FLESH AND THE DEVIL the TCM "Garbo Silents Collection" also includes THE TEMPTRESS from 1926, THE MYSTERIOUS LADY and what is left (9 minutes) of the lost THE DIVINE WOMAN from 1928. I can't let these go unwatched for too much longer ...that only leaves 1932's AS YOU DESIRE ME to see of her major movies, where she is blonde (right) and of course MARIE WALEWSKA with Boyer as Napoleon in 1937, though I have seen that one a few times. I like too those portraits of her by Cecil Beaton in the late '40s when she continued to look marvellous as she aged. Of course she and Dietrich (we love Marlene too) were the great European exotics of the '30s rivalling the all-American Harlow, Lombard, West ...

Amusing story about Maugham, the feted writer of the time, in Hollywood and visiting the set of DR JECKYLL & MR HYDE where Frederic March was emoting. Somerset sits there watching the scene unfold and says out loud: "which one is he now?"!


  1. Garbo is my favorite actor, male or female, of all time. She's enigmatic and sometimes magical. I have all her films except for Torrent. I think she's great in PAINTED VEIL but it sorta suffers from the same problems in several of her films: a bland male co-star. I saw the Naomi Watts one and it doesn't even compare. My favorite overlooked Garbo film is INSPIRATION. Great, subtle performance.

  2. Good to hear from another Garbo devotee. The '40s Garbo is wonderful too, not only in the Beaton pictures, but glimpsed as she arrived or departed from airports or cruise liners. I wonder if her planned comebacks would have worked .... ?

  3. Hitchcock apparently wanted Garbo to come out of retirement to star in THE PARADINE CASE. I don't know if that was the right vehicle for her to come back (shades of one of Garbo's films called THE KISS which is very Hitchcokian; the role went to Alida Valli) but I'm sorta glad she didn't. Her mystic was preserved. Besides, Garbo complained that the only roles available were playing mothers or murderers. lol