Friday, September 25, 2009

Anna Christie (Clarence Brown) **

Clarence Brown

Cast: Greta Garbo, George F. Marion, Charles Bickford, Marie Dressler

Background: Greta Garbo was one of the biggest stars of the late silent era, and the films she made with frequent leading man John Gilbert (especially Flesh and the Devil) were very successful. She decided to make her talkied debut in this adaptation of Eugene O' Neil's Broadway play. She reteams with Clarence Brown, the director of Flesh and the Devil.

Story: Anna (Garbo) visits her seafaring father (Marion) for the first time in 15 years, looking for a place to stay. While on his barge, she meets a sailor named Matt (Bickford) who immediately falls in love with her and asks her to marry him. However, her father does not approve, wanting her to escape the kind of life he lives.

Thoughts: Garbo's deep, thickly accented voice was not likely what audiences were expecting when hearing the silent film star for the first time, but it is appropriate for the lost, broken character she plays. What is not appropriate is the abysmal sound quality of this early talkie, much worse than even some of the films that were made a year earlier. This really causes a problem for the film because the thick accents used by most of the cast are sometimes indecipherable and I'd say at least 1/3rd of the lines spoken are almost impossible to make out. But the film also runs into problems with structure. Based on a Broadway play, the staginess is to be expected, but the long and simplistic scene structure skips through events too quickly for the audience to become emotionally invested. Garbo's performance is a bit awkward, wooden at times and overdone at others. She struggled to find the right balance in her first talkie. Marie Dressler also shows up in a supporting role, but the one note drunk she is forced to play does the usually wonderful actress no favors. Only George F. Marion as the father acquits himself well with a sad portrait of a man who has many regrets.

Postscript: The film received three Oscar nominations, including Best Director and Best Actress. Garbo would adjust to talkies nicely and continue a very successful career over the next decade, receiving two more Oscar nominations. Marie Dressler would win the Best Actress Oscar the next year for Min and Bill.

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