Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB. USA, 1930. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Screenplay by Bess Meredyth, Edwin Justus Mayer, from the play by Edward Sheldon. Cinematography by William H. Daniels. Produced by Clarence Brown. Music by William Axt. Production Design by Cedric Gibbons. Costume Design by Adrian. Film Editing by Hugh Wynn. Academy Awards 1929/1930.
Unwatchable cornfest that captures Greta Garbo between stages of development as a film actress: pulling large facial expressions as if she were still in a silent movie, then forced to point her overwrought dialogue at the hidden microphones that were typical of early sound features. The story begins with the ridiculous framing device of a young aristocrat who is threatening his family’s respectability with his intentions to marry, god forbid, an actress. His ancient grandfather flashes him back to his own youth when he (played by Gavin Gordon at both ages) fell in love with a glorious opera singer (Garbo) who, in this film’s simple understanding of the kind of work involved in being that great a singer, spends her free time as something about two steps above a courtesan. Gordon loves her and she, accustomed to being mistress to rich benefactors, feels real love for the first time, but is it possible given that they come from two different worlds? What’s worthwhile about this film (and little is, you can watch many better movies to see Garbo shine) is that her stock Camille type character is not punished for sexual indiscretion and the conclusion does not tow the moral line you expect it to. Still, it’s tough to sit through and hopelessly dated.