Greta Garbo

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Greta Garbo in The Mysterious Lady (Fred Niblo, 1928)

While editor of Film Comment magazine, Richard Corliss signed the dedication of his biography of Greta Garbo, "To My Own Mysterious Lady, who taught me all I know." Apparently, he had met his wife at a Greta Garbo retrospective during 1968. He writes on Garbo in the film, "It's not that Garbo needed roles of majestic tragedy- she certainly got enough of those!- but she should in films as slight as Mysterious Lady (1928) and as substantial as Ninotchka (1939), that she could have fun without sacrificing the sense of fated seriousness that made her roles, and sometimes even her films, something special." The cover for Exibitors Herald and Motion Picture World was literally designed by M.G.M, their having apparently purchSed it as space, as it was still advertising Greta Garbo in War in the Dark against John Gilbert in The Cossacks and Four Walls. Photoplay in its pages from that year added a provocative photo of Greta Garbo seductive, bare shouldered, in a low cut evening dress with the caption, "Who wants movies with incidental sounds? who would be disturbed by the smack of the kiss Conrad Nagel is planting on Greta Garbo's knock in War in the Dark?" Motion Picture magazine may have lacked tact in its review of The Mysterious Lady, "Greta Garbo's latest picture is devoted to disproving those two disagreeable statements of Jim Tully's- that Greta Garbo is anemic and flat-chested. She darts about displaying unwonted vim and vigor and wears a gown that might very appropriately adorned Barbara La Marr. Greta as a beautiful lad spy is too alluring to miss...Conrad Nagel is occupying John Gilbert's usual place besides the couch." The Celluloid Critic from Motion Picture Classic Magazine of 1928 also noted that Gilbert was "conspicuously absent" from the film, leaving us to wonder if there wasn't more interest in his having been replaced, the studio not being able to elicit vamp characters from Greta Garbo and finding other seductresses that would lend themselves to the imagination. "The picture is nothing to rave about. The Scandinavian lady rises far above it in her role as an icy spy of the late war. Her particular assignment is to tempt a susceptible youth to his doom. You see, he has papers...It is an antique yarn dusted off for the occasion but functions fairly well, what with the Garbo woman tempting and tempting and tempting. And it builds a fair line of suspense." Motion Picture News during 1928 wrote, "Whatever Garbo tackles in the line of stories she has the personality and technique to make it interesting...The Mysterious Lady has been done time and again on the screen. it is old of plot that even the merest tyro at picture going can spot it all the way. it is fair enough because the presence of Greta Garbo. Conrad Nagel is opposite her for a change and acts very creditably."
Picture Play Magazine during 1928 included the film in an article entitled "Are the Movies Scorning Love?", written by Edwin Shallert. It wrote, "A love scene that is susceptible of laughter is scarcely an asset to a film, and if Flesh and the Devil did triumph, it was rather because of a strong friendship theme rather than its lush blandishments...the amorous episodes in The Mysterious Lady, which stars Greta Garbo, were visibly shortened following its initial preview. the audience was inclined to titter at certain languorous poses that Greta Garbo and Conrad Nagel assumed. Romantic love interest consequently is subdued in this spy melodrama. Moreso, at least, than in Greta's earlier luxuriating." it is difficult to gather much about the film from the review of it placed in The Film Spectator during 1928, as it seems severe, other than the plot was met with disdain in its treatment, "The main fault with The Mysterious Lady is that it's leading man is made out to be an idiot...It is not customary for Conrad Nagel to play an idiot and he's not convincing at it. of course, Fred Niblo, the director, didn't intend Nagel to be an idiot, but he made him do so many silly things that he became one anyway...Niblo's direction was very good on the whole, the scene where the hero has his commission taken from him being very impressive...Greta Garbo, Conrad Nagel have nothing to be desired in the acting line." The absence of John Gilbert from the film had been predicted from the moment Greta Garbo was included in the film. Exhibitor's Herlad reported, "Niblo signs Greta Garbo for War in the Dark. Fred Niblo announced yesterday by arrangement with Louis B. Mayer that Greta Garbo will head the cast of his forthcoming Metro Goldwyn Mayer Special 'War in the Dark' by Ludwig Wolff. he was director of The Temprest in which Garbo appeared some time ago. Bess Meredith is preparing the scenario. John Gilbert will not be in the cast as rumored in Hollywood."
The Motion Picture News Booking Guide during 1929 provided a brief synopsis of The Mysterious Lady, directed by Fred Niblo, "Theme: Romantic drama in which beautiful Russina spy falls in love with young Austrian officer. When he discovers her identity, he casts her off, and to get even girl steals valuable army plans. OFficer trails her to Russia and regains plans. Spy gets into trouble when she aides lover, but pair escape across border and back to Austria."
Fred Niblo seemed to have caused what would have been viewed carefully as a wince from fans of Greta Garbo in Screenland Magazine during 1928. He is quoted by the magazine along with others from Hollywood in response to the question of what a vamp at that time was. "A vamp is a girl like Greta Garbo. her mysterious allure is her appeal. her eyes have the look of concealing some emotion. You have the sensation that she is withholding something all the while and that she can never be understood." During the same issue, Fred Niblo acquired a byline for his article Crashing the Gates of Hollywood, which begins with his explaining the difficulty of keeping silent actors on the screen with the coming of sound. It carried a photocaption to an octagonal portrait of Greta Garbo , "Accoring to Fred Niblo, Greta Garbo is 'a blonde personality with a brunette voice.' She has a voice pitched lower than any other woman in pictures."  Greta Garbo
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