Saturday, August 29, 2009

A Woman of Affairs (Clarence Brown) **

Clarence Brown

Cast: Greta Garbo, John Gilbert, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Johnny Mack Brown

Background: Greta Garbo and John Gilbert had previously teamed up to great success in two previous films, Love and Flesh and the Devil. The story was adapted from a controversial play called The Green Hat, but the studio demanded changes to the story.

Story: Diana (Garbo) loves Neville (Gilbert), but their impending marriage is thwarted when his father disapproves and sens him away on business. Diana ends up marrying David, their other childhood friend, but when tragedy strikes she makes a decision that ruins her reputation.

Thoughts: Garbo is excellent as usual, but once again the script and director are not up to the job. Part of the problem is censorship, which diluted much of the sensational events in the book. Clarence Brown still directs things in the mode of an intense melodrama, but with everything dumbed down, it feels kind of blah. If the studio wasn't willing to do the book justice, then they needed to hire a director with a light touch, who could inject some personality and humor into the story. Only Garbo really rises to the occassion, her immeasurable screen presence impossible for even the worst director to ruin. Gilbert suffers the most, playing a very passive character, playing a man who doesn't seem so much torn between two woman, but just hopelessly confused.

Postscript: Garbo would make one more silent film before transitioning to sound, where she would receive four Oscar nominations over the next decade. Gilbert's first sound picture was a disaster (legend being that his voice was too high pitched, but that is strongly disputed by some film historians) and he was never able to recover his popularity, despite teaming up one more time with Garbo. His last film was in 1935. Clarence Brown would go on to receive six Oscar nominations for Best Director.

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