Greta Garbo and Victor Sjostrom

Thursday, May 2, 2024

Greta Garbo in Flesh and the Devil (Clarence Brown, 1926)

After listing "Tower of Lies as a reunion of Victor Sjostrom, Norma Shearer and Lon Chaney from the film "He Who Gets Slapped", and that Lon Chaney would "appear in another stunning vehicle..Title and details to be announced soon", a magazine advertisement paid for by M.G.M announcing its 52 quality films of 1925-1926 listed the film "Flesh and the Devil" as "The Victor Seastrom-John Gilbert special. Sjostrom as director, Gilbert as star make a marvelous money-winning combrination. It is the sucessor to 'He Who Gets Slapped'.

It is difficult to find notice that Victor Sjostrom had been originally slated to direct Greta Garbo and yet it is unlikely that Marcus Loew would have been in error. It is only by flash forwarding to Greta Garbo's fourth film and by claiming that her first three were already in the planning stage without her that we can see the phenomenon of Greta Garbo as having arisen from a combined phenomenon of Greta Garbo/John Gilbert, which it inevitably did. Moving Picture World of 1925 published the predictions of the then President of Metro-Goldwyn. " 'The Flesh and the Devil' is a Victor Seastrom-John Gilbert Special. It is by Herman Suderman. It will be directed by Seastrom, the man who made 'He Who Gets Slapped' and I don't know what better recommendation there is than that. There will be one other John Gilbert production, title and details of which we will announce later." The question is did Loew publish this before director Monte Bell had seen the screen test of Greta Garbo spliced into the rushes of "The Temptress", which would entail his holding The Flesh and The Devil for her during the completion of two film in production- it is quite possibly in that Loew at the same time had announced " 'The Torrent' by Ibanez will have Aileen Pringle in the leading role and this also will be a Cosmopolitan Picture made at our studio. It will be big in every way."

During 1927, the paid magazine advertisements M.G.M. published for "Flesh and the Devil" had resorted to "Hot damn! What a great picture."

For those interested in how the Greta Garbo John Gilbert pairing did come about from 1925 onward, Loew happenned to add, "There will be one Fred Niblo production on our schedule. Details on this picture have not been completed as yet and will be announced later." There literally seemed to be more excitement about the film "The Mysterious Island" containing Technicolor sequences than anyone named Greta Garbo speaking on the screen with John Barrymore.
Garbo photographer William Daniels in 1926, in addition to lighting Garbo and Gilbert was also cinematographer to the films Altars of Desire (seven reels)) under Christy Cabanne and Bardley the Magnificient under the direction of King Vidor; that is not to say that that is the limit of his contribution to film history; Daniel's had trained on several of Von Strohiem's important films, beginning with Blind Husbands in 1919 and continued in Hollywood after the making of the 1939 film Ninotchka, until 1970. Daniels has been deemed an "inventor of detail" for his ingenuity by American Cinematographer magazine and it was noted that during the silent era he would light the scene with a stand-in and use a bicycle horn when finished and ready to replace the figure with the film's star.  Although Daniels seems uncredited for his photography on Von Strohiem's "The Merry Widow", starring John Gilbert and Mae Murray, he is noted for work on the 1925 film "Woman and Gold" (James  P. Hogan) for Gotham Productions,  film which starred actress Sylvia Breamer.  Film historian Leo Braudy has written, "The lighting that William Daniels created for Garbo's early silent film rendered her more erotic than any spoken dialogue."
     Hollywood magazine during 1935 printed the article,"Garbo's cameraman Talks At Last", in which William Daniels primarily, for whatever reason, dispelled some of the more than prevalent publicity about Greta Garbo having been " gloomy, aloof, frightened or imperious" It claimed that he had originally become Garbo's cameraman when the studio ace that had been assigned to the film "The Torrent" had on the third day encountered an accident and needed a crushed finger amputated and with the studio busy, only young William Daniels was available to film Garbo. In light of what Daniels said during the filming of Anna Karenina, it would stand to reason that where Greta Garbo was foreign, the studio might reassign the same film crew in her pictures that were to follow. Daniels is quoted as having said, "She's changed. Developed. Matured. Ten years ago, she was a young girl undergoing the bewildering experience of finding herself suddenly famous in a land whose language she couldn't understand. She kept her head then, as she has ever since. Don't imagine she has had an easy time. For instance, look at the way she has perfected her English. I don't think she has learned so much by study as actually making herself use the language...And Miss Garbo is fond of America. She loves the Californian sunlight, basking in it, walking in it, incessantly."
      There is an account of Rowland V. Lee having met Greta Garbo when she had first been introduced to the United States in 1925, "Jack Gilbert was all she wanted to talk about."
     Greta Garbo and John Gilbert were to attend the premiere of Bardley the Magnificient (Vidor/Daniels,1926) together. Motion Picture magazine printed, "Hollywood is still talking. The newspaper wires still buzz everytime ther telephones the other. Yet in spite of this, Greta Garbo and John Gilbert dare appear at openings and other Hollywood functions."  During this screen writer Dorothy Farnum ran magazine advertisements announcing her having written the screenplay to the film Bardley the Magnificient and the portrait from the film of John Gilbert printed in Motion Picture magazine had been taken by Ruth Harriet Louise. 1926 was also the year that Greta Garbo, John Gilbert and Lars Hanson would film an adaptation of the novel The Undying Past, bringing its plotline to the screen untill its emotional concluding scene at the Isle of Friendship during Flesh and the Devil Picture Play magazine during 1927 published what seems to be a seldom seem photograph of Greta Garbo and Jack Gilbert, their staring at each other across a table. In When Hollywood Discovered Bridge, the caption below the four playing cards read, "The Flesh and the Devil quartet- Greta Garbo, Lars Hanson, Jack Gilbert and Director Clarence Brown- more than once took time off during the production to play a hurried rubber. as may be seen, though, Greta and Jack, who are usually partners didn't give their full attention to the game." As posed, they are looking at each other with a sense of either impending doom, or a mutual consent that would soon decide to spring into action, as though the photograph were staged.
     Clarence Sinclair Bull published a portrait of Lars Hanson in Picture Play magazine during 1927. it's caption read, "That slow intent gaze which was so powerful a factor in making Hanson's Reverend Dimmesdale in 'The Scarlet Letter' a convincing portrayal is here pictured with equally telling effect. Hanson will next be seen in 'The Flesh and the Devil'.

Biographer John Bainbridge quotes Clarence Brown as though Brown had contributed to the mythical quality of any romance between Greta Garbo and John Gilbert, adding celluloid, or perhaps, tinsel rather, to the publicity it had already acquired, " 'I am working with raw material,' Brown said rather breathlessly. 'They are working in that blissful state of love that is so like a rosy cloud that they imagine themselves hidden behind it, as well as lost in it.'"
      For Photoplay Agnes Smith in 1927 wrote the intrigue between John Gilbert and Greta Garbo, "He worked with her in a picture called Flesh and the Devil. He proclaimed his intention of marrying her. As for Greta she seemed to enjoy the rush. And then, when everyone was all set for another Hollywood wedding, Greta walked out...John Gilbert sticks to his story...She is a wonderful woman. A delightful woman And the most fascinating woman in pictures. 'She is,' says Mr. Gilbert, 'a mountian of a girl. She is a statue. There is something eternal about her. Not only did she baffle me, but she baffled everyone at the studio.'"

Of her off-screen Clarence Brown romance with John Gilbert, Clarence Brown has been quoted as having said, "After i finsihed a scene with them, I felt like an intruder. I'd walk away to let them finish what they were doing." Brown has also been quoted as having said, "Those two were in a world of their own." Bainbridge quotes the director with, "Clarence Brown introduced them on the set of Flesh and the Devil, 'It was love at first sight,'and it lasted through many years.'" As a biographer, Bainbridge estimates the facets involved in the relationship, "her response to Gilbert's gaily insistent attention was quick, though it was not her nature that it should have been precipitous...Because of their work, Garbo and Gilbert spent all of their days together, and Gilbert took advantage of every oppurtunity to press his cause...Off the set, Gilbert and Garbo were also getting better acquainted. They often dined together, and the young actress became a rather frequent visitor a Gilbert's Tower Road mansion." This estimation reveals Gilbert's advance, "When 'Flesh and the Devil' was finished, Gilbert asked Garbo to marry him- a proposal that he was to make more than once again." The account in Photoplay written by Agnes Smith is very much like John Bainbridge's, "A great many stories have been broadcast concerning the romance of Greta Garbo and John Gilbert. The scenario, according to Hollywood's most reliable gossips runs something like this. John met the beautiful Scandinavian and immediately started an impetuous courtship. He made no secret of his devotion to the lovely Greta. He accompanied her to all the parties. He lunched with her and dined with her." When "Flesh and the Devil" was reviewed by Photoplay Magazine, it was seen as "a picture filmed when the romance of Jack Gilbert and Greta Garbo (see Jack's story in this issue) was at its height." It saw the performance of Greta Garbo as "flashing" whereas that of John Gilbert was delivered by one who "does overshadow his scenes".
Picture Play Magazine in the beginning of 1927 playfully alluded to the meteoric notoriety of Greta Garbo by reintroducing her to magazine audiences as the mystery new to stardom, but elusive by virtue of her celebrity with a portrait taken by Ruth Harriet Louise; its caption read, "That sad, sad look on Greta Garbo's face is deceiving. She's really very happy over here in America and they say that she loved working with John Gilbert in 'Flesh and the Devil'."

Journalist I.W Irving, during 1926, expalined the film and the act of audience reception in the periodical Hollywood Topics, "As for John Gilbert, well...its one of the best things her ever did. The flapper will simply rave ober him. His love scenes with Greta Garbo will go in motion picture history as a momentous inspiration. And Greta Garbo...she's simply bewitching. The male element will undoubtedly rave over her. So will the female element, for they themselves will learn a few things in the art of love making...But it is Gilbert and Garbo in their great scenes that put the picture over as a directorial triumph."

During the middle of 1927 Photoplay featured the two pictured together in the News and Gossip of the Studios section, "All bets are off on the Garbo-Gilbert wedding. For at least five days Hollywood was in a flurry of excitement. Jack and Greta, fairest of Fjordland, were rumored to have trekked to a neighboring hamlet and murmurred, "I do." A search of marriage license permits revealed nothing. There is bleak silence from the two." Bainbridge adds, "'Gilbert pleaded and begged that they should marry, but Garbo just did not want to,' the director Clarence Brown said recently." Picture Picture magazine during 1927 queries Is the Gilbert-Garbo Match Really Off? Prompted by journalist Dorothy Herzog. The accompanying portrait of Jack Gilbert was photographed by Ruth Harriet Louise with the caption, "There can be no doubt that Jack Gilbert is saddened by the unhappy turn taken by what promised to be his great romance". She began, "She is a thousand years old. She came into the world with all it's knowledge. She knows everything, and instinctively remembers everything.' 'and you love Greta Garbo?', we interrupted. Jack Gilbert's shadowed eyes swept our face swiftly, then looked away. 'She is. Wonderful girl. We were merely good pals,' he evaded, alertly on the defensive. 'is it true you were engaged to her?' 'We were never engaged.' ------ Back to Greta Garbo John Gilbert M.G.M.advertised Greta Garbo in 1927, it often taking full page magazine pages that mentioned several actors and actresses that were currently at the studio at any given time. Garbo had become, "The most sensational find in years, she clicked immediately in The Torrent, then in The Temptress and now Flesh and the Devil" Later it advertised, "Greta Garbo's amazing hold on the public cannot be duplicated anywhere in this industry. Flesh and the Devil is just a foretaste of the money she means for the theaters. " --------- Collen Moore must have read about or in fact contacted the Greta Garbo apparition; during 1928 she compared herself to Greta Garbo by coming to her aid in Motion Picture Classic Magazine, "most of the greatly beloved women of history- they have been possessed of the childish appeal, every one of them. Perhaps not so much childish as wistful, whimsical. Seems a funny thing to say, but Greta Garbo has it too. Really, she romps and plays it less than that worn-out term, vamp, than anyone I know. In its way, it gets across." In an interview during which she outlines her having met John Gilbert, Greta Garboas quoted by Ruth Biery in The Story of Greta Garbo, said, "When I finisihed The Temptress, they gave me the script for The Flesh and the Devil to read. I did not like the story. I did not want to be a silly temptress. I cannot see any sense in getting dressed up and doing nothing but tempting men in pictures." This is oddly echoed by National Board of Review Magazine, in which the conclusion was drawn that, "the leading contributor to the success of Flesh and the Devil is Greta Garbo" It provided a synopsis of the film that also lent a background to its addressing the desire of Greta Garbo to leave her earlier " ladies of vampire repute" characters and to be seen as a more serious dramatic, or perhaps romantic dramatic, actress. it primarily sees her as having been a then more believable character, " Miss Garbo in her later day personal ion shows a frail physique and a fragile ethereal air. She is infinitely more civilized and all the more suitable for not being so deliberate."

Scott Reisfeld, the great nephew of Greta Garbo, reiterates the sentiment that Greta Garbo was dissatified with her assignments and needed to play more demanding characters in her reluctance to star in the film "Women Love Diamonds" but he also questions the part played by Louis B. Mayer in generating the conception of Garbo being a recluse, to which she may have merely acquiesced, "But Mayer was persistent in his attempts to compel Garbo into submission. He intiated a smear campaign in the media to depict Garbo as a megalomaniac. A negative media campaign supported threats to deport her."

The portrait of Greta Garbo that year had been photographed by Ruth Harriet Louise, the caption reading, "We are feverishingly waiting her performance opposite John Gilbert in
Flesh and the Devil." By then, it was increasingly unnecessary to introduce her as a rising star. The photograph of Greta Garbo Ruth Harriet Louise published in Photoplay carried a caption referring to her as "the object of John Gilbert's fervant wooing". In regard to the direction of Clarence Brown, Motion Picture new reviwed the film during 1927 with, "And Clarence Brown, who has advanced so rapidly the past year, has brought out every point to build a story which fascinates in its paly of caprice and feeling. It is touched with sex- but sex never becomes rampant. It always remains a film of visual excellence...Early scenes project the development of the affair. What follows are the dramatic complications which culminate in a happy ending- the only flaw in the picture." Under the magazine's section on Explotation Angles, it advised: "Play up Gilbert and Garbo. Use stills. Cash in on title. Play up director. Go the limit." When the film was reviewed by Motion Picture Magazine the film was praised with, "Here is one of the best pictures reflected upon the screen in many a moon, the perfection of which is only marred by the ending, which appears tacked on, as an afterthought...Greta is a beautiful nymphomaniac...You never feel the chaos she causes exaggerated. she's attractive enough to wreak has ok in a man's world." Paul Rotha reviewed a what he deemed to be "a film of more than passing cleverness" directed by Clarence Brown, "Flesh and the Devil had some pretensions to be called a good film. The theme was sheer, undiluted sex,and Brown used a series of close ups to get this across with considerable effect. Notable also was his use of Ngles, different indeed from customary German and American method and the happiness with which he settled his characters in their environment." Back to Greta Garbo John Gilbert Greta Garbo and Jack Gilbert in Love< Film Daily during 1926 sported two interesting entries. During September it wrote, "Marcel de Sarno, director, and Raymond Doyle, scenarist, returned to M.G.M. studios after a trip for research data for Ordeal, which de Sarno will direct with Greta Garbo and Lon Chaney. In November, Film Daily reported, "Clarence Brown, who has just completed the direction of John Gilbert and Greta Garbo in Flesh and the Devil is preparing to direct Lillian Gish's next production, The Wind, screen adaptation by Frances Marion of Dorothy Scarborough's story. It seems either misprint or misquote that Exhibitor's Trade Review had earlier, during 1925, published, "Miss Alice Scully, a young scenario writer wrote the script for Stella Maris...since the first of the year has also written scripts for Parisian Love and The Undying Past for Victor Seastrom." Greta Garbo<Greta Garbo Greta Garbo

No comments: