Greta Garbo

Two-Faced Woman (1941, George Cukor)

Two-Faced Woman is the story of a successful New York magazine editor, played by Melvyn Douglas, who marries his ski instructor (Greta Garbo) while on vacation. It’s a whirlwind courtship, with one condition of the marriage (for Garbo) being Douglas is giving up New York. Turns out he’s not and off he goes to New York.

Once in New York, Douglas keeps putting off returning to Garbo. Fed up, Garbo comes to the city and finds Douglas out on the town with mistress Constance Bennett. Garbo just wants to go home, but then she’s about to be discovered and decides instead to pretend to be her own twin sister. Hence the film’s title.

While one Garbo is “proper,” the other is a “vamp.” She goes out with Douglas’s business partner, Roland Young, and attracts Douglas (out on a date with Bennett). Then he finds out she’s really his wife and spends the rest of the movie tormenting her.

There are some Catholic Church-mandated (yes, really) changes to the film, which make Douglas’s arc a lot more manipulative in regards to Garbo, but the film still ignores the Bennett situation. The extant version has Douglas dumping Bennett to prime Garbo for mental abuse. Without the changes, he’s just done catting around with Bennett and ready to cat around with his wife’s twin sister.

Needless to say, S.N. Behrman, Salka Viertel, and George Oppenheimer’s script doesn’t have much going for it. Ruth Gordon–as Douglas’s assistant and Garbo’s confidant–has some great scenes, but it’s more in Gordon’s performance than anything else. It’s the presence of the scenes and Gordon. Gordon and Garbo’s relationship is about the only positive to come out of Two-Faced Woman and it seems entirely accidental.

Cukor’s direction, as far as composition goes, is fine. Joseph Ruttenberg’s photography is solid. The matte paintings of the ski lodge are distractingly weak. Cukor’s direction of actors is similarly fine. He doesn’t do anyone any favors, but he doesn’t hurt anyone too much either.

The performances are generally fine or better. Douglas is not. Even without the mandated revisions, his arc in the script is a mess. He starts the film is a doofus, then gets to romance Garbo. In their first scene together, Douglas can’t stop pawing at her and there’s some energy and brewing of real chemistry. But then it’s back to work and the movie’s then double deception and no more real scenes for Douglas and Garbo. No more chemistry.

Garbo’s good. Her parts aren’t well-written, but she tries and sometimes succeeds. The movie’s tone is all off though, thanks to the edits, so it’s hard to know if she’s succeeding because of something revised or something intentional.

There’s a great ski finale. The script runs out of ways to prolong the third act and instead there’s a ski chase sequence. It’s lots of physical humor and expert stunt skiing. Almost like a reward for sitting through more now humorless scenes of Douglas teasing Garbo. Again, maybe they were humorless before.

Either way, Two-Faced Woman doesn’t do anyone any favors. It does Garbo the most disservice and was her last film, though she didn’t intend to retire because of it. But even if it wasn’t responsible for Garbo’s retirement, you wouldn’t really blame her if it were.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by George Cukor; screenplay by S.N. Behrman, Salka Viertel, and George Oppenheimer, based on a play by Ludwig Fulda; director of photography, Joseph Ruttenberg; edited by George Boemler; music by Bronislau Kaper; produced by Gottfried Reinhardt; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Greta Garbo (Karin), Melvyn Douglas (Larry Blake), Constance Bennett (Griselda Vaughn), Roland Young (O.O. Miller), Robert Sterling (Dick Williams), and Ruth Gordon (Miss Ellis).


Grand Hotel (1932, Edmund Goulding)

Grand Hotel opens with an expository sequence–director Goulding cuts between each of the film’s major players as they talk in the hotel’s telephone booths. It’s a brief, fantastic sequence, thanks to Goulding’s direction and William H. Daniels’s photography, but most importantly, Blanche Sewell’s editing. The editing of this sequence brings the viewer into the hotel, which never gets an establishing shot.

Goulding follows up that exposition with a scene in the lobby to get the present action started. There are two basic plot lines in Hotel, Greta Garbo as an unhappy ballet star and Wallace Beery as a industrial magnet down on his luck. Beery brings in a secretary (Joan Crawford) who meets a nice gentleman (John Barrymore) who is actually a hotel thief targeting Garbo. John Barrymore befriends Lionel Barrymore–their relationship in the film is consistently wonderful, anything with Lionel Barrymore (particularly he and Crawford), but the brothers Barrymore show off their talent quite a bit in their scenes together.

There’s romance, there’s tragedy, there’s humor. Lionel Barrymore and Crawford are the viewer’s way into the film–the problems of Garbo are entirely otherworldly while Beery’s such a creep no one would want to identify with him–and it turns out John Barrymore isn’t so foreign either.

Great acting, a fast script and simply wonderful filmmaking from Goulding, Daniels and Sewell. There’s a freshness and imagination not just to Goulding’s composition, but how he moves the camera around the actors.

Grand Hotel is a masterful, magnificent film.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Edmund Goulding; screenplay by William Absalom Drake, based on a novel by Vicki Baum; director of photography, William H. Daniels; edited by Blanche Sewell; music by Charles Maxwell; produced by Irving Thalberg; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Greta Garbo (Grusinskaya), John Barrymore (The Baron), Joan Crawford (Flaemmchen), Wallace Beery (General Director Preysing), Lionel Barrymore (Otto Kringelein), Jean Hersholt (the porter) and Lewis Stone (Doctor Otternschlag).


blogathon-barrymore

Scroll to Top