Greta Garbo and Victor Sjostrom

Thursday, May 2, 2024

Greta Garbo in The Temptress (Fred Niblo, 1926)

Greta Garbo as continuance of Vamp

Author Roger Manvell, in his volume The Film and the Public notes that after World War I, the genres that were already in place began to take a new turn with the new decade and that the star system that had emerged with silent film began to look for different interests to coincide with the new modernity. He writes, "the vamp, the siren, and even the shimmering courtesan played by Marlene Deitrich seemed dated, if not a little absurd. No great star has risen to take the place of Garbo and inherit her indisputable and hypnotic hold upon her world audiences." Manvell reinforces his impression, "The twenties became a wild period in filmmaking and themes of marital infidelity and liscence of all kinds were again carried to the heights of a new absurdity with titles like 'Temptation', 'Passion Flame', 'Flaming Youth' and 'La,La,Lucille'. The glamor star was in real demand and names like Pola Negri, Norma Shearer and Greta Garbo began to be well known."
While waiting for the next film to be made by Greta Garbo, Photoplay magazine during 1926 printed, "Yet an automobile almost kept Greta from Metro. Mayer had seen Miss Garbo's work in a foreign made film, The Atonement of Gosta Berling. THe picture is incidentally directed by Mauritz Stiller who is directing the second Garbo opus and it it considered an artistic gem, but aositive flop as so far as American audiences are concerned. For that reason it probably will never be released here." In actuality films from Svenska Bio were generally released years after they had been made in Sweden; the article continued to elaborate that Greta Garbo knew that movie stars were provided with limousines whereas Mayer would not include one in her contract! insisting that they were bought by the stars themselves. Having related the disappointment on the part of Greta Garbo and Mauritz Stiller when Stiller had not be asked to direct Greta Garbo in The Torrent, one that would have returned Garbo to Sweden had it not been for Stiller's encouragement, biographer John Bainbridge relates Stiller's optimism when assigned her second film, The Temptress. In Sweden it had been the reverse where Garbo had to audition for Stiller, a more than well known director who had already directed Lars Hanson in Erotikon, a film Greta Garbo had seen in theaters. "Now that he had been given a chance to direct his protegee his dark mood had disappeared. He was full of excitement and enthusiasm. 'At last,' he topld Lars Hanson, 'They'll see what Greta can do.'" Stiller wanted to open the film with a discovery shot, or revelatory shot, that dollyed back, pulled back, to show the wider context of the scene while establishing it location. "Telling Hanson of his plans, Stiller confidently predicted, 'We'll show them a thing or two.'" Upon arriving on the set, in a studio system that in regard to constructing the photoplay, had evolved from Griffith and Ince, Stiller was a prefigurement of the auteur, expressing his bewilderment that there would be an assistant director, an assistant producer, a script girl and other members of the film crew present on the set and attempting to dismiss them, "All I need is a camera and actors." The author continues, " 'They brought me here to direct because they liked my methods.' he told Hanson. 'Instead they try to teach me to direct.'" Lars Hanson explained further "Stiller tied to work in Hollywood the same way he worked in Sweden...He had his own particular way of making a picture. He shot scenes as he wished, not necessarily in sequence and not necessarily the ones he intended to use. He liked to shoot everything, and then make the film he wanted to by cutting. He could never stick to a schedule." Both John Bainbridge and Richard Corliss relay that there were stories of Stiller confronting a language barrier while instructing cameraman and that he would begin with "Stop" when he wanted to say "places, roll them, or action" and that he had interchanged "Go" with "Cut or Print" when the scene was to conclude, although the present author is uncertain as to whether it was included specificlly in the published reminiscenes of actors that often made their way into fan magazines or what their source may have been. Author Anthony Slide, while offerring biographies of one hundread silent film stars quotes actress Virginia Brown Faire on working with Greta Garbo and Mauritz Stiller,"That was just her first picture in this country and she had a difficult time with the English language. Mauritz Stiller was a big director in Sweden, but he was by that time a very sick man, although nobody seemed to know it. And every scene she did, he'd make her do over twenty times, at least...Garbo was difficult and remote."

Before the release of the film, Motion Picture Magazine attested to the experience and craftsmanship of Maurtiz Stiller as a film director by publishing a photograph from the set of the film which was captioned, "The dancing scenes of Greta Garbo and Antonio Moreno in The Temptress, which Mauritz Stiller is directing in this photograph, were filmed by a camera attached to a moving platform which followed them about the floor." If this were Stiller's only contribution to, or influence upon classical narrative and the temporal-spatial relationships of camera to subject, it would be notable, excepting that Stiller had previously filmed in Sweden and built the traditions of filmmaking there as one of its pioneers under Charles Magnusson. The Hollywood system that had evolved from Griffith and Ince had placed Stiller and Clarence Brown as directors that created camerawork and technique. 
Within a fortnight, two events occurred which seemed not to have shaken the on-screen Greta Garbo personna, or the need to create an off-screen Garbo character, as though they went unnoticed as more mystery around the recluse seemed to build. Biographer John Bainbridge writes of her sister Alva's passing away during the early filming of The Temptress, "As soon as Garbo informed Stiller of the tragic news, he dismissed the cast and took her home." Apparently Garbo was present when Stiller was dismissed and replaced, after ten days of shooting, as the film's director. She had been waiting outside the building during the conference, pacing the sidewalk. "Stiller was laid low with despondency and he was also ailing physically. As he sat on his terrace brooding, Garbo went about propping him up with pillows," Bainbridge records, "and doing what she could to cheer him up." According to Bainbridge, "when Stiller saw Thalberg after the premiere he delivered an invective about Garbo, as well as an excellant script, having been ruined by him." Motion Picture Magazine chronicled the event as nearly expected, "Stiller has sufferred from the fate that overcomes most foreign directors shen they come to Hollywood. He was unable to grasp an understanding of the business and technical end of making a motion picture in an American studio." In one of the many posthumous accounts of the career of Mauritz Stiller that appeared linking him to Greta Garbo, Ruth Biery intimated during 1932 that Stiller was removed from The Temptress because of an objection made by Antonio Moreno, the director apparently having insisted that the actor wear a pompadour to compensate fro Garbo's having had been being the taller of the two. Greta Garbo described to Photoplay Magazine her filming in The Temptress under the direction of Fred Niblo, "I could not undeIrstand the English directions. Week in, week out from seven untill six. Six months on the story. More than twenty costumes to try on over and over. That is why I donot care about clothes. There are so many clothes in every picture, I can not think of them when I am away from a picture. I never missed a day. I was never late for work." Photoplay inserted a paragraph on Greta Garbo written in bold type into one of its backpages during 1927, "Fred Niblo, who had directed the alabaster and ivory Garbo was making the usual introductory speeches. Remarking on the beauty of Greta's performance, he further said that it was most difficult to direct her for she spoke not one word of English. 'Do you?' queried Niblo turning to her where the Swedish lorelei sat. 'No', answered Greta slowly, perfectly, 'I do not speak one word of English.'" Irregardless of Greta Garbo having been reluctant to work with Monta Bell and preferring to remain under the wing of Mauritz Stiller, a look independent of that to the 1927 Motion Picture New Booking Guide and Studio Directory draws a contrast between the directors Monta Bell and Fred Niblo, the former depicted in biographical sketches as merely a novice, the latter as experienced as to where he would soon become head of the studio, Monta Bell, Metro Goldwyn Mayer director, is comparatively a newcomer to the motion picture industry." Where Bell is noted as having began with Chaplin, Niblo is noted as having begun with Thomss Ince and for his directing his wife, Enid Bennett, "Motion Picture Stars are not the only ones to claim interesting claim to backgrounds."
Film Daily during 1926 included a column of what it considered to be pertinent Newspaper Opninions, or newspaper clippings, on recently released films; these touted the "seductive charm of languid eyed Elena, the "gorgeous beauty" Greta Garbo, "who besides wearing stunning clothes can also act" and a Garbo that "vitalizes the name part of this picture." Motion Picture News during 1926 also carried a similar section entitled Newspaper Opinions on New Pictures, in which it quoted the exact same reviews, where, "Greta Garbo is a delight for the eye", "Greta Garbo makes every move a picture" and although they praised the newcomer Garbo in General a mild outlook was taken of her vamping, or being illicit as a mysterious foreign road to perdition, in the press quotes of that year. The Exceptional Photoplays department of National Board of Review Magazine credited William Daniels and Gaetano Gardino as having been the photographers of the film The Temptress, "The Temptress brings Greta Garbo to the attention of American audiences as an actress of note and unusual beauty...She is not half a minute on the screen before you know her as an artist,pliable and lively. This big starring vehicle gives her the ample opportunity to prove her versatility...The first Paris sequence is the equal in tonal quality and feeling of anything that has been done in films. It is true with strong character drawing. Miss Garbo makes Elena a breathing person." Motion Picture Magazine featured a still from on the set of the film captioned, "Fred Niblo insists on realism...and this scene of Tony Moreno and Greta Garbo in The Temptress promises to provide a thrill when it reaches the scene. Note the angle of the camera."
Bainbridge reviewed the film by writing, "Despite its florid subtitles and spurious plot, The Temptress was another distinct triumph for Garbo." Educational Screen Magazine, during a month in which it had reviewed the film Bardleys the Magnificient also looked at the film, "Most of this can be dismissed as perfectly ordinary.It is merely a tale of a siren who couldn't help attracting men, with an appended list of the fatalities...Miss Garbo as. Woman of the streets demonstrates a remarkable dramatic ability."               Photoplay reviewed the performance of Greta Garbo in the film briefly, "The Ibanez story is forgiven and forgotten when Greta Garbo is in the cast. Greta is a show in herself." Photoplay reiterated its sentiment, "While this Belasco-Ibanez story is crammed full of melodramatic action-much of it preposterous- Greta Garbo makes the proceedings not only believable, but compelling. Such a role strains at the probabilities, but Miss Garbo makes Elena highly effective. She is beautiful, she flashes and scintillates with singular appeal...'The Temptress' is all Garbo. Nothing else matters."
There is a report that M.G.M purchased the talking rights to both The Torrent and The Temptress in 1932. Bent Forslund adds,"Her first two films, The Torrent and The Temptress, both in 1926, were insignificant, but showed that she had appeal. The audience liked her." The screenplays to the first two films in which Greta Garbo had appeared, The Torrent and the Temptress (nine reels) both had been adaptations of the novels of Vincente Belasvo Ibanez, their having been titled Among the Orange Trees and The Earth Belongs to Everyone, respectively. When interviewed by Motion Picture Magazine, novelist Vincente Belasco Ibanez was quoted as having said, "The future of the camera is limitless. Now it is going ahead very fast. There is no standard in the cinema. Why do the artists not get together and set up standards?"
The novels written by Vincente Belasco Ibanez also include "The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse", filmed after "Blood and Sand" in 1921, "Enemies of Women" (Crosland 1923), starring Alma Rubens, and the film "Marie Nostrum" filmed in 1926 by Rex Ingram. The lost film "Circe, the Enchantress" (Robert Z. Leonard, 1924) featured a screenplay written by Ibanez specifically for the actress Mae Murray.

     Motion Picture Magazine reviewed the film by noting, "It must be admitted that The Temptress is a bore. It would seem to be a story of a woman whom all men love and whose curious fate is to destroy all men who love her- but not through her own will but as an inevitable consequence of her fatal lure...She at length atones by destroying herself to save the one man she really loves...Greta Garbo as the unhappy temptress, has a role which required of her precisely nothing...Antonio Moreno's role calls for a little more." The magazine also published photo of Greta Garbo "vamping" before the film's release, captioned, "Judging from the oval photographs above, The Temptress is well named. Although Greta Garbo has only been on the American screen for a short time, she enjoys quite a vogue."
Motion Picture News included among the films Production Highlight the "atmosphere, settings and fine editing" Its Exploitation Angles included "Play up Greta Garbo and Antonio Moreno and mention others of fine cast." Its review of the film read, "It may be defined as a tragic melodrama, one which is treated intellectually and with considerable imagination...Fred Niblo demonstrates again that he can be trusted to breathe in this type of I'm story- one which is similar in outline to Ibanez's other story creation Blood and Sand...Moreover, it is splendidly cast with Greta Garbo as the sinuous siren and Antonio Moreno as her Spanish lover." The Over the Teacups section of Picture Play magazine during 1926 quoted someone named Fanny the Fan, who had attended a "cat party" given by screenwriter France's Marion. Among the guests that night were Lillian Gish, Vilma Banky, Anna Q. Nilsson, Patsy Ruth Miller, Lilla Lee and Kathleen Key.  Marion that night screened a new Norma Talmadge film in her small theater. During the article, Fanny related having previously met Greta Garbo, who was "fascinating to look at." (Picture Play) "Kathleen Key is working in The Temptress with her and she says that it is an inspiration to watch her. Incidentally, Kath got her role in that because of her expressive, big eyes. Mr. Stiller, the Swedish director that is making the picture asked for the girl with the biggest eyes, and Kath got the part without any argument."

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