Anna Christie (1930) Review

Anna Christie (1930) Director: Clarence Brown

“Gimme a whiskey, ginger ale on the side. And don’t be stingy, baby!”

★★★★☆

“Garbo Talks!” the advertisements displayed. This was the first film starring silent film’s most popular icon, Greta Garbo “The Swedish Sphinx,” known for her sexually ambiguous affect and confident but mysteriously troubling allure. Popular the world over, she nevertheless wanted nothing more than to be left alone. With Anna Christie, Garbo secured her first nomination for Best Actress and successfully made the transition into talkies. She continued to be well-celebrated in Hollywood for many years, starring in films like Flesh and the DevilMata HariGrand HotelQueen Christina. and Ninotchka. The film, Anna Christie, was an adaptation of the Eugene O’Neill play of the same name.

Greta Garbo delivers an amazing performance in Anna Christie, it is one of her more unique and less exotic roles. However, Garbo aside, Anna Christie misses the mark in my view. It would be enjoyable to see a stage performance of this Eugene O’Neill play but on the whole this film either rises or falls depending on Garbo’s presence onscreen.

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Garbo plays a tired, jaded prostitute who returns home to her father seeking refuge after many years of separation during which time she has experienced the worst of men. The scene of her entry takes place in a dark and hazy bar on the docks where Garbo delivers her famous line (in a heavy Swedish accent): “Gimme a whiskey, ginger ale on the side. And don’t be stingy, baby!” Her father is an alcoholic who runs a barge on the New York harbor. She tries to hide her past, but to complicate matters we learn that she was once assaulted by a young man on a Minnesota farm, but then fled and worked in a brothel for several years.

After reuniting with her father she lives on his barge, and he rescues some sailors from the sea. However, one of them, Matt, falls in love with Anna. They spend many beautiful days together, but when he proposes marriage, she is reluctant because of her immoral past and she is forced to tell him her full backstory. In conclusion, Matt and Anna are reunited despite her life of woes and they live together in the care of Anna’s aging father.

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Apparently, Garbo’s English was so natural by the time of filming that Garbo had to work on reintroducing her heavy accent again to match her character’s personality. Garbo was known for being a recluse, possibility bisexual or lesbian, and she died in 1990 leaving the entirety of her estate bequeathed to her niece. Garbo bought an apartment in Manhattan early in her career and lived there all her life, taking long walks with friends and successfully avoiding the press and fans as she traveled around the world. Her niece died in 2017.

Flesh and the Devil (1926) Review

Flesh and the Devil (1926) Director: Clarence Brown

★★★★☆

Based on Hermann Sudermann’s 1894 novel entitled Es War (or “It Was” later published in English as The Undying Past in 1906), Flesh and the Devil was another success for MGM’s golden boy Irving Thalberg. It begins in the vein of a screwball comedy with a hazy love triangle, but it quickly devolves into a weighty romantic story driven by a notorious femme fatale. This film is ultimately made great by the transformative presence of Greta Garbo (this was only her sixth film). Her onscreen romance with John Gilbert was made all the more authentic as their lengthy affair was aflame offscreen. This was the stuff of Hollywood legend and makes for a terrific backstory to this film.

Flesh and the Devil tells the story of two childhood friends, Leo (John Gilbert) and Ulrich (Lars Hanson), blood brothers who grow up and become German soldiers together. Upon returning home, they attend a ball and Leo falls in love with an exotic femme fatale, Felicitas (Greta Garbo), who is revealed to be the wife of a powerful Count, but only after she and Leo begin an affair. Leo and the Count duel, with Leo triumphant, but he is then punished by the German army and exiled to Africa for five years. However when he returns, he is horrified to find that his best friend Ulrich has married Felicitas. In the end, the two friends duel over Felicitas outside in the icy snow, but before they can fight, Felicitas falls through a patch of ice and drowns. In keeping with the morals of the time, the fallen woman Felicitas receives her retribution.