Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Mysterious Lady (Fred Niblo, 1928) **

Director: Fred Niblo

Cast: Greta Garbo, Conrad Nagel, Gustav von Seyfferfitz

Background: Garbo only had a handful of films under her belt, but had already made a name for herself with her stunning screen presence. Her films with co-star John Gilbert were so popular that the studio retitled their Anna Karenina remake "Love", so they could run ads saying "Garbo and Gilber in LOVE". For this one she would go with a different co-star, silent film veteran Conrad Nagel.
The Story: Tania Fedorova is a Russian spy tasked with seducing Austrian Captain Karl von Raden. Things get complicated and dangerous for both of them when she actually falls in love with him.

Thoughts: It's hard for a movie to be comepletely worthless with Greta Garbo in the lead role, and thus The Mysterious Lady remains somewhat entertaining thanks to her fantastic screen presence. However, her presence also causes a bit of a problem, because she completely overshadows co-star Conrad Nagel. He is pretty much an empty presence in this one, though the screenplay does him no favors. Nagel's character is really one of the worst spies ever. He lets secret plans get stolen from him in the most obvious manner possible. It's hard to feel sorry for his fate, since he pretty much deserves everything he gets in this movie. Garbo's character isn't much better. There's a key scene where it's obvious a trap is being planted for her, and she is too clueless to even suspect anything. The movie thus wastes alot of time on a story that the screenwriter/director clearly knows nothing about instead of giving us what we really want, which is lots of luminous shots of Garbo. And without her frequent co-star Gilbert (with whom she had real chemistry), the romance itself just isn't convincing enough to care about.

Postscript: Garbo was a big star and her stardom made this film a box office success. Unlike many of her contemporaries, she was not slowed down by sound films, and had much success in the 30s. Nagel continued his acting career throughout the 50s, but never really achieved huge stardom.

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