Greta Garbo

The Mysterious Lady (1928)

The Mysterious Lady 1928

On the night of a sold-out opera, Captain Karl von Raden (Conrad Nagel) is only able to get a seat when another patron returns their ticket at the last minute. When he finds his way to his seat, he discovers his seat is next to the beautiful Tania Fedorova (Greta Garbo). The patron who had returned their ticket at the last minute was her cousin. They’re very attracted to each other and when Karl offers to take her home after the show, she hesitates at first but reluctantly agrees. Before they know it, they’re having a blissful day together out in the country.

When Karl has to leave for duty, his uncle Colonel Eric von Raden (Edward Connelly) tells him Tania is actually a top Russian spy. He boards his train absolutely furious at Tania for betraying him. Tania follows him onto the train to apologize and tries to tell her that she really does love him, but he won’t have any of it. In a fit of anger, she steals the plans he was carrying and sneaks off the train during the night.

Once Karl’s train reaches its destination, he has to pay dearly for his fling with Tania. He’s publicly degraded by his officers and spends some time in jail, but his uncle has a plan for how he can redeem himself by exposing a real traitor. As part of the plan, Karl has to pose as a piano player in Warsaw, but as fate would have it, he ends up playing at a party being thrown for Tania. They both still have feelings for each other and when they get to spend a brief moment together, it’s enough to put both of them in danger.

I love The Mysterious Lady. Is there any more perfect title for a Greta Garbo movie than that? This is, in my opinion, one of Garbo’s most underrated movies. She and Conrad Nagel had good chemistry together and the story is really entertaining and fascinating. This is the kind of movie that’s really good at grabbing your attention at the very beginning and holding onto it at the very last second with lots of twists and turns along the way. My only complaint about it is that the ending feels a bit forced and tacked on. But otherwise, it’s fantastic. I’d love to see this movie on the big screen some day because Garbo is so stunning in it, seeing it in a theater must be absolutely breathtaking to see.

A Woman of Affairs (1928)

A Woman of Affairs Garbo Gilbert

Diana Merrick (Greta Garbo) and Neville Holderness (John Gilbert) have been friends since childhood and ever since they were very young, Diana has been madly in love with Neville. They want to get married, but Neville’s father doesn’t approve and sends him to work in Egypt for a few years, where he will be able to make a lot of money. Diana wants to wait for him, but after a couple of years, she marries David Furness (John Mack Brown), someone Diana’s brother Jeffry (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) adores. It isn’t that Diana doesn’t like David, it’s that her heart will always belong to Neville. On their wedding night, David and Diana are visited by the police and David suddenly commits suicide.

Diana knows why he killed himself, but won’t say, and Jeffry believes David did it because of her. David’s death drives a huge wedge between Jeffry and Diana. Jeffry, already a heavy drinker, keeps drinking his way down a path of self-destruction while Diana becomes a woman notorious for having lots of affairs. The years go by and Neville comes home, but he’s engaged to marry Constance (Dorothy Sebastian). Just before their wedding, Diana calls for a doctor friend of theirs, who happens to be having dinner with Neville and Constance that night, to get help for Jeffry. Jeffry is extremely ill and won’t let Diana help. After she leaves, Neville follows her out and they end up spending the night together.

Several months later, after Neville and Constance are married, Neville gets a message saying that Diana is sick and she keeps asking for him. She’s been recovering from a miscarriage and is in a delirious state. When he goes to see her, she doesn’t even recognize him. But when she comes to her senses a little bit, she declares her love for him, not realizing he’s brought Constance with him. Neville’s never stopped loving her, but now that he has a chance to be with his true love, does he leave Constance behind?

A Lady of Affairs is pure melodrama, but it’s really great melodrama. Few actresses were made to work in silent film the way Greta Garbo was. The simple movement of her eyebrows spoke volumes and she is positively radiant in this movie. She gives a fantastic performance and although I wouldn’t say this is the best pairing of Garbo and John Gilbert (it’s awfully hard to top the cinematic explosion that is Flesh and the Devil), but Gilbert is very good in it, too, and it’s easy to see why they were such a hit with movie audiences. Great stars, beautiful cinematography, an interesting story (a bit scandalous for its time, but still toned down from the book it was based on), it all adds up to one entertaining movie.

Ninotchka Greta Garbo Melvyn Douglas

Ninotchka (1939)

As a way to raise money, the Russian government sends Iranoff (Sig Rumann), Buljanoff (Felix Bressart), and Kopalski (Alexander Granach) to Paris so they can sell some jewels that had been taken from the Grand Duchess Swana (Ina Claire) during a revolution. Swana now lives in Paris and when she hears about the sale of her jewels, she wants them back and gets her boyfriend Leon (Melvyn Douglas) to put a stop to it. Leon distracts Iranoff, Buljanoff, and Kopalski from their mission by giving them a taste of the luxuries life in Paris has to offer (not that it takes much effort to distract them).

Once the Russian government finds out about the sale getting off track, they send special Envoy Ninotchka (Greta Garbo) to make sure the job is completed. While Iranoff, Buljanoff, and Kopalski were easily tempted to enjoy a taste of the good life, Ninotchka is a devout Communist, deeply loyal to Russia, and very stern and humorless. The sophisticated, decadent Parisian lifestyle appalls Ninotchka and her only interests lie in selling the jewels and admiring Paris strictly from an architectural standpoint.

While headed toward the Eiffel Tower, Ninotchka meets Leon, who is immediately attracted to her. Neither of them realize who the other is and Leon continues trying to flirt with her. Even when he finds out who she is and why she’s in Paris, he still continues to pursue her. Meanwhile, Ninotchka starts to fall in love with Leon, too, and being in love helps to soften Ninotchka’s stern attitude and even gets her to change her minds about the way of life in Paris.

In my book, Ninotchka is Garbo’s finest talkie. As much as I love movies like Queen ChristinaNinotchka is a perfect cocktail of a film. This was Garbo’s first attempt at comedy and she proved to be an expert at very dry, deadpan comedy. As great as Garbo is when Ninotchka is at her sternest, her finest moments come as Ninotchka softens and starts to let go of herself. These are the moments when Garbo is at her most delightful; they let us see a side of Garbo that we don’t see in any of her other films.

Melvyn Douglas was easily one of Garbo’s best leading men; he’s my second favorite of her co-stars, just behind John Gilbert. (Melvyn Douglas is vastly under-appreciated in general, in my opinion.) His debonair, sophisticated style in this movie is the perfect contrast to the uptight Ninotchka.

And I certainly can’t neglect to mention director Ernst Lubitsch, who is completely in his element with Ninotchka. This is exactly the type of material Lubitsch is best remembered for working with. To make things even better, Billy Wilder had a hand in writing the screenplay. I adore Billy Wilder both as a writer and a director and I have yet to be completely disappointed by a Lubitsch film, so to be able to see those two creative forces come together in one movie is a true delight for me.

TCMFF 2015, Day 1: Tours, Red Carpets, and Garbo

Waiting for the TCM Film Locations Tour with Thomas, Kendahl (A Classic Film Blog), Jessica (Comet Over Hollywood), and Danny (

Waiting for the TCM Film Locations Tour with Thomas, Kendahl (A Classic Film Blog), Jessica (Comet Over Hollywood), and Danny ( Photo courtesy of TCM.

For the first day of TCMFF 2015, my day started by taking a bus tour of locations that were featured in various films. This is the tour Turner Classic Movies partnered with Starline Tours to create. Unlike many other tours of film locations you can take in Los Angeles, the TCM Movie Locations Tour is unique in the sense that it not only encompasses more films from the classic era than most other tours, it’s the only film location tour that visits downtown Los Angeles.

The tour takes visitors by locations such as Chaplin’s former studios, Paramount Studios, Echo Park, Los Angeles City Hall, and the Formosa Cafe, just to name a few. The bus itself was nice; very comfortable with lots of windows so all passengers have a great view of the places they’re seeing. There’s also a large HDTV so people on the tour can see the locations as they appeared on film and as they look today.

Bradbury Building

The Bradbury Building

There are two stops on the tour where visitors are able to get off the bus and spend a few minutes exploring: the Bradbury Building and Union Station. In both cases, you’ll find yourself wishing you could stay and explore the buildings more. Walking into Union Station is like walking into a different era; it’s absolutely beautiful. And I couldn’t get enough of admiring the architecture of the Bradbury Building.

What impressed me the most about the tour was the wide range of films it references. Since this is a tour organized by Turner Classic Movies, you can naturally expect most of the locations to be related to classic film, but there are some modern films represented in the tour such as L.A. Confidential and The Artist.  Of course, there are plenty of familiar titles like Rebel Without a Cause and Sunset Boulevard that are referenced, but the tour also talked about locations used for less instantly recognizable movies such as Buster Keaton’s Battling Butlers and Barbara Stanwyck’s The Miracle Woman. I never though I would ever go on a film locations tour and hear anyone talk about The Miracle Woman, so that one really made me happy.

If you’re going to be in the Los Angeles area and are interested in taking the TCM Movie Locations Tour, I definitely recommend it. If you’re like me and not from the area, it’s a fun way to see the town in about 3 hours. Visit the Starlines Tours website for more information about ticket prices and when tours run.

After the tour, I went out to lunch with fellow bloggers Jessica (and her lovely parents), Raquel, Kendahl, and Danny and spent some time hanging out at the Roosevelt Hotel before heading off to my next big event — watching red carpet arrivals for The Sound of Music.

A view of the red carpet from the bleachers.

A view of the red carpet from the bleachers.

Festival attendees who weren’t attending The Sound of Music screening were able to watch the red carpet arrivals from some bleachers that had been set up by the red carpet. I joined some other movie bloggers to brave the heat (it was about 90 degrees and very sunny that day) and wait in line for the opportunity to get a brief glimpse of Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer.

Christopher Plummer

Christopher Plummer

Many of the celebrities who appeared on the red carpet were people who were guests at the festival such as Keith Carradine, Robert Morse, Leonard Maltin, Diane Baker, Peter Fonda, Norman Lloyd, and of course, Christopher Plummer. Although she wasn’t doing any other events at the festival, Shirley Jones also made an appearance. While some of the stars stopped to address the crowd, others moved so quickly it was hard to even get a picture of them. Most of the pictures I took at the event could be compiled into a series called “Famous People Shielding Their Eyes from the Sun,” but it was worth attending because it gave me the chance to see some people I wouldn’t have been able to see in person otherwise.

Queen Christina Garbo Gilbert

My first film of TCMFF 2015 was 1933’s Queen Christina with Greta Garbo and John Gilbert. If you ever have the chance to see Garbo on the big screen, you must go. Garbo had a face that was made to be seen on a larger-than-life screen. I’ve always loved the movie, but being able to see it on the big screen brought out many little nuances in her performance I had never noticed while watching it at home.

As an added bonus, they screened a rare Queen Christina lighting test from the Academy archives before the movie, which was an absolute pleasure to watch. It was a 2-and-a-half minute long silent clip of Greta Garbo simply being Greta Garbo. Since these were just lighting tests, she was relaxed in a way that you don’t see her being when she’s actually acting. Plus some of the shots were close-ups, which were simply breathtaking. If Queen Christina ever gets a blu-ray release, that lighting test would make a fantastic bonus feature.

My Man Godfrey Powell Lombard

After Queen Christina, I got in line to see 1936’s My Man Godfrey starring the incomparable Carole Lombard and William Powell. I was still debating what I would go see during this time slot up until I got out of Queen Christina. I like The Sea Hawk and after saying I had never seen Breaker Morant in my post about what I was planning to see, several people told me, “You must see Breaker Morant!” so I was definitely intrigued by it. In the end, Godfrey won because I was in the mood for something light and fun, but I fully intend on seeing Breaker Morant sometime in the near future. Godfrey was a digital print, which looked absolutely stunning; I’ve never seen it look better. Not only was tonight my first time seeing Garbo on the big screen, it was also my first time seeing Carole Lombard on the big screen. In both cases, it was an absolute delight. The crowd for Godfrey was very enthusiastic, which always makes classic comedies so much fun to watch.

Cedric Gibbons and Grand Hotel (1932): One of Oscar’s Biggest Oversights

Grand Hotel 1932 LobbyGrand Hotel (1932) is best remembered for being the movie to popularize all-star casts. Before Grand Hotel, the only movies that featured so many big stars together were “revue” type movies like The Hollywood Revue of 1929 and Show of Shows, which were popular in the early days of talkies and featured many of a studio’s top stars in a series of skits and musical numbers. While most other movies had just one male lead and one female lead, Grand Hotel took five of the biggest movie stars working at the time — Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, John and Lionel Barrymore, and Wallace Beery — and put each of them in a leading role.

However, there is one other person who should be mentioned along with Garbo, Crawford, Beery, and the Barrymores as being a major star of the movie: art director Cedric Gibbons. The exquisite Art Deco style sets he designed for Grand Hotel refuse to be relegated to the background.

Grand Hotel 1932 Lobby Desk

Grand Hotel is also noteworthy for being the only movie to win a Best Picture Academy Award without being nominated in any other categories — no nominations for writing, direction, or even acting. Despite the sheer magnitude of Grand Hotel‘s stars, it’s easy to see how they failed to get nominated in acting categories. Grand Hotel doesn’t have just one male or one female lead to choose from and categories for Supporting Actor/Actress wouldn’t be introduced until the 1936 Academy Awards.  However, it’s not nearly as easy to understand how Cedric Gibbons wasn’t nominated for Best Art Direction, which is one of the biggest Oscar oversights I can think of.

Cedric Gibbons was MGM’s top art director for most of its peak years. He started working at MGM in the 1920s and stayed there until he retired in 1956. Name a big hit MGM movie from the 1930s through the mid-1950s and it’s very likely Cedric Gibbons had a hand in it. He is credited as the art director for The Wizard of Oz, The Thin Man, Ziegfeld GirlMeet Me in St. Louis, Gaslight, On the Town, The Great Ziegfeld, The Good Earth, The Women, The Philadelphia Story, National Velvet, The Postman Always Rings Twice, Marie Antoinette, and Forbidden Planet, just to name a very select few. He even designed one of the most widely recognizable symbols of Hollywood: the Academy Award statuette. But for all of his contributions to film, Gibbons’ work for Grand Hotel is undoubtedly one of the crowning achievements of his career.

Grand Hotel 1932 Exterior ShotEven with Garbo, Crawford, Beery, and two Barrymores to contend with, Gibbons’ sets stand out so much, they become a character unto themselves. Some people might even argue the sets outshine the actors. Although the sets are extravagant, there’s nothing about them that feels artificial. After all, this is a movie set in the finest hotel in Berlin, the sets need to exude an aura of luxury and represent the epitome of early 1930s glamour. But the sets are so believable as a lavish hotel, it’s very easy to forget Grand Hotel was filmed on a Hollywood soundstage and not on location.

Cedric Gibbons’ Grand Hotel sets demonstrate what an integral part art direction plays in creating Hollywood fantasy. This is a movie about characters going through difficult times in their lives, so it’s not a movie people watch and think, “I want to be just like them.” However, the sets are so breathtaking, people do look at them and think, “I want to go there!” If you’re a lover of Art Deco style, you’ll desperately want to believe this was a real hotel you could go visit. The hotel may not be real, but you’ll wish the sets had been preserved and put in a museum somewhere. These were movie sets that went far beyond being sets and were works of art.


31 Days of Oscar 2015 Blogathon

For more Oscar related articles, stay tuned to Once Upon a Screen, Outspoken & Freckled, and Paula’s Cinema Club all month long!


What’s on TCM: September 2014

Melvyn Douglas Greta Garbo Ninotchka

Happy September, everyone! Summer Under the Stars is always a tough act to follow, but TCM does an awesome job of doing so. There are two huge things that I am very excited for. The first of which is Melvyn Douglas as Star of the Month. I have always loved Melvyn Douglas and he never seems to quite get as much credit as he deserves. There’s also a ton of his movies I’ve never seen, so I’m really happy to have the chance to see more of his work.

The second thing I am so, so excited to see is that every Friday this month will be a 24-hour marathon of pre-code movies! That’s right, 24 glorious hours of wild, fast-paced, innuendo-laden movies! Friday Night Spotlight isn’t just for prime time this month! With my annual 30 Days of Pre-Codes event, it’s no secret that I adore the pre-code era. If you have yet to explore much of this wild and fascinating era of film making, this is a golden opportunity because you’ll have the chance to see so many of the pre-code essentials (Baby Face, Three on a Match, Red Headed Woman, Design for Living, just to name a few) as well as many other great ones. Don’t miss The Story of Temple Drake on September 12 at 2:30 AM or Call Her Savage September 26 at 2:15 AM. They’re on late at night so it might be easy to overlook those, but they’re a couple of my favorite pre-codes and I don’t see them on TCM very often. If you only know Clara Bow as a silent film star, you’re going to be in for a real treat with Call Her Savage. 

Now, onto the rest of the schedule…


Anna Christie (1930)

Anna Christie 1930 PosterWhen shew was five years old, Anna Christie (Greta Garbo) was sent to live with family on a farm in Minnesota.  Fifteen years pass and her father Chris (George F. Marion) has hardly made an effort to stay in touch with her.  Life in Minnesota hasn’t been easy for Anna.  Her family was cruel to her, she was raped by her cousin and she worked as a prostitute.  It’s all left her exhausted and extremely distrustful of men.  Finally she decides to get away from it all and sends her father letting him know that she’s coming to visit.

Chris is a barge captain who spends all his free time drinking and hanging around Marthy (Marie Dressler).  When Anna and Chris are finally reunited, they spend time together on Chris’ barge and begin to rebuild their relationship.  Anna even starts to enjoy living on the barge.  One night, Chris rescues a few sailors in distress and one of them, Matt (Charles Bickford), falls in love with Anna.  For the first time in years, Anna is finally finding a little happiness in her life.  However, Matt doesn’t know about Anna’s sordid past. Not even Chris knows the full extent of her life in Minnesota.  But when they find out the truth, can they still love and accept Anna?

“Give me a whiskey, ginger ale on the side.  And don’t be stingy, baby!” With those fourteen words, Greta Garbo successfully transitioned from the silent film era to the talkie era.  Garbo’s talkie debut in Anna Christie came a bit later than those of most other silent film stars.  She was such an important asset to MGM that it would have been a tremendous loss for them if she didn’t survive the transition to talkies.  The advent of talkies dealt a death blow to the careers of many actors and actresses from other countries because their accents were undesirable and MGM didn’t want Garbo to be one of the casualties.  They kept her in silents as long as possible, holding out for just the right talkie project.  Anna Christie turned out to be the perfect project for Garbo because her role called for a Swedish accent.

Some viewers might find Anna Christie dull because it is a very static movie without a lot of different sets or camera movement.  It’s an adaptation of a stage play and it does feel like a filmed version of a play.  However, Anna Christie is one of my favorite Garbo talkies.  First and foremost, I like the story so I don’t mind the static feel of the movie.  I really like Garbo in it; it’s one of my favorites of her sound films.  Anna is a weary woman and is there anyone who played weary better than Garbo?  And who can forget the wonderful Marie Dressler?  As great as Garbo is, Marie Dressler gave her a run for her money.  Dressler doesn’t get a lot of screen time in Anna Christie, but she sure made the most of the screen time she got.  Her scene with Garbo when Anna first arrives at the bar is one of my favorite scenes of Garbo’s career.