Greta Garbo and Victor Sjostrom

Friday, November 17, 2023

Greta Garbo in Wild Orchids (Sidney Franklin, 1929)

Motion Picture News during 1929 quietly reported, "Clarence Brown will direct Greta Garbo in Heat for M. G.M.", later that month it adding, "Greta Garbo...has just completed The Divine Woman and will soon begin working on a new starring vehicle tentatively titled Heat adapted from an original story by John Colton. Richard Corliss has written, "Wild Orchids is a gorgeous excersize, with soft-focus sunstars glistening off the the actors' silhouettes, and countless tracking shots that give the impression of being an elegant if impotent nose-thumb in the face of the more earthbound talkies...and Wild Orchids is full of the frolicsome play of shadows. As Garbo stands indecisively outside Asther's bedroom door, light suddenly spills over her as the door is opened and his shadow crawls up her body; when he reaches her- and reaches for her, the shadow of his cupped hand falling over her breast- she retreats." Picture Play Magazine reviewed the film with, "Greta Garbo in her best role. Rather slow, but impelled by adult emotions." It later intimated that Greta Garbo was being watched, from no matter how far. In "You'd Never Know Them", A.L. Woodbridge claimed, "Greta Garbo is one of the few stars who looks so different in person, she needs no 'prop' disguise." Photoplay Magazine published, "Wild Orchids will do much for Nils Asther. Here is the role that will push the young Swedish actor up closer to stardom." It described the film with, "a story that proves tropical heat melts all conventions. The scene is java- the details are superb and the picture is a riot for audiences." Film Daily began following the film with the entry Asther Being Groomed, which read, "It looks as if Metro-Goldwyn Mayer are grooming Nils Asther to fill the vacancy that might be created by the departure of John Gilbert from the payroll of that organization. Rumor has it that Gilbert will go to United Artists..,Asther has been assigned the lead opposite Greta Garbo in her next picture Heat." A later entry followed reporting Garbo Title Change Again, "Wild Orchids and not Kiss of The East will be final title for Greta Garbo's new picture." It is not entirely marginal that there are accounts that Nils Asther had met Greta Garbo in 1924, at the Dramatiska Teatern and that he had proposed marriage to her, which she apparently declined- the autobiography of Nils Asther, Narrens jag (Fool's Way/The Way of the Jester was published in Swedish posthumously. If, in 1928, Ruth Bieiry was writing about Nils Asther in Photoplay magazine merely to obtain information about the secretive Greta Garbo, she does in fact show him in a favorable light and was genuinely interested in the actor, "Nils Asther, like Greta Garbo, was trained in the small studios of Sweden. He was accustomed to accept acting as an art rather than a short cut to wealth, fortune or position." 
   Rilla Page Palborg, in a biography titled "The Private Life of Greta Garbo" gave an account of meeting Greta Garbo on the set of "Wild Orchids". It soon become apparent that Greta Garbo would only film on a closed set, beyond anyone questioning whose voice distinctive voiceaccompanied the images. "A few days before she was to leave for Stockholm I talked to Greta Garbo. Our appointment on the set of 'Wild Orchids', then in process of production. She was acting a scene with Lewis Stone, who in the picture was her husband...Stealthily, she slipped out of bed, wrapped in a robe about her slender body, and stole from the room. The scene was taken over and over. Finally she came out and sat down beside me on an old couch that was standing on the edge of the set. 'I guess we can have a few minutes before I continue my struggle on that bed', she said wearily. 'It's almost impossible for me to keep my mind on all this. I did not want to make this picture before I went to Sweden. There is not enough enough time. My mind is running about the shops buying clothes and presents for this one and that one. But the studio made me do it.' " Greta Garbo continued the interview after decling anything for warmth, her denying that the she was cold in the M.G.M studio. "Now that I am really going home I can hardly wait to get there. I will be home for Christmas." Garbo apparently made her first reference to filming in sound in the United States, asking the journalist Palmborg if her accent was acceptable with a hopeful enthusiasm. Palmborg noted earlier that several actors had returned to Europe for just that reason, a heavy accent no matter how bilingual. Plamborg continued, "We talked about Lars Hanson and his wife, who had returned to Sweden. Her face saddened when I mentioned I mentioned her sister, who had died a year after Greta's arrival inHollywood. 'It has been hard to believe that she is really gone. When I go home I will find that it's is true."
     Clarence Sinclair Bull photographed the portrait of Nils Asther that appeared in Motion Picture Magazine. After their review of Wild Orchids there was included a page entitled Home is Where the Arts Is. It read, "It is Nils Asther's conviction that inspiration for his work is not so much to be got from constant mingling with other people as from a communion with himself." 
     Film Daily subtitled its review to the film, "Sexy Garbo Film with Strong Feminine Appeal. Finely Done. should Get Dough." It described the film's actors, " Greta Garbo; alluring and capable; Lewis Stone gives a fine performance and Nils Asther's a handsome Shiek. The three practically carry all the action." It went on to the scenario, Exploitation of Garbo's sex appeal." while crediting John Colton as author and Marion Ainslee and Rith Cummings as having written the titles. Photplay also announced, "This is Greta Garbo's last picture before she departed for Sweden" It claimed that the story created by writer John Colton as enacted by Garbo in Wild Orchids had previously been considered for Lillian Gish. motion Picture Magazpine listed the film as Synchronized (Sound) upon its release while lending it. Recommendation, "Lewis Stone gives his always distinguished performance. And Nils is an actor, and- but see Wild Orchids. To end 1928, Film Daily reported, Garbo Re-Signed, claiming that she had signed a new contract with M.G.M, one that would allow her to go on. vacation before going into effect and speculated with a fair amount of certainty that her first picture on her return would be an adaptation of a novel written by Elinor Glyn. John Bainbridge writes,"When she finished her current film, though, she was coming home for Christmas. Stiller, excited by this piece of news..." He provides an account of Garbo recieving a telegram from Victor Sjostrom, who had been with Mauritz Stiller the previous evening, announcing Stiller having passed away, an unnamed source describing that while on the set, her composure registered and became quiet for a brief moment and that she then continued the scene. "Lars Hanson, who spent untold hours with them in Sweden and in Hollywood, is of the opinion that there existed between them a bond of mutual affection, respect and dependency, but never the normal ties of love."
     Among the several advertisements published by M.G.M Studios which advertised the studio and included the film was on placed in Motion Picture News that reintroduced Greta Garbo. "The most talked about star in pictures! 'Woman in Affairs' built her fame bigger than ever. Next 'Wild Orchids' and it's a throbbing gold-getter." Typical of the studio advertising itself, John Gilbert, Lon Chaney, Norma Shearer and Roman Novorro were included in the multi-page ads, "John Gilbert follows with 'Desert Night'. What a star! They all wanted him! The Big Ones stay with M.G.M."
Well into 1932, as was typical with the fan magazines of the early sound period, Movie Classic provided one of the many published retrospectives, biographies or timelines of the career of Greta Garbo and her silent film, building up the glamour aspect of her having been the enigmatic Swedish Sphinx, which included a look at The Mysterious Lady, "still another leading man, Conrad Nagel. Being married, he is safe from Greta Garbo." The magazine overlooked the marriage of Lars Hanosn to Karin Molander paragraphs earlier, "(Garbo) hailed in the title role of The Divine Woman with Lars Hanson as leading man. Romance with Lars Hanson rumored." If actress Greta Garbo remained eternally silent on the rumor of an affair with Hanson, it would not have seemed out of place, as by the time it had gone to print, Lars Hanson and Victor Sjostrom had both returned to their native country Sweden with their wives. Journalist Harriet Parsons of Modern Screen Magazine looked at the availability of Greta Garbo during 1931. "After her split with Gilbert, Garbo used to see Nils occasionally. They were countrymen and shared in common a moodiness and a love of solitude...There was never more than a casual friendship between them...Nils has since married the woman he loves." While describing the personal life between Greta Garbo and Niks Asther, Parson introduced Sorenson, a blond young Swede that was dating Garbo while in the United States, and "was in love with Garbo. But Garbo wasn't in love with him." She "liked him immensely. Liked not loved." Sorenson returned to Sweden when his pass port had expired.
     As Film Daily scurried for the latest information on the three tone technicolor process and the wiring of movie theaters for sound, Movie Makers making reviewed the cinematography of "Wild Orchids", "The picture opens with a skillful cinematic representation of the confusion and excitement at the departure of a steamer...scenes of the dock and boat dissolve into each other and a moving camera follows the leads...the emphasis on neutral colors helps convey...although there are very few shots with definite photographic contrasts."
     It would appear that during 1929 Greta Garbo was included into what could be considered either the hard cover or the textbooks of that year, but only due to an author writing in a flurry; Hands of Hollywood was printed by Mary Eunice McCarthy and the Photoplay Research Bureau with the subtitle Copyright Applied For as the world waited for Greta Garbo and Lon Chaney to speak. After a brief chapter on The Talers, it discussed The Future of Pictures by paraphrasing the view of Irving  Thalberg, "He also announces that Greta Garbo and Nils Asther, both possessing decided foreign accents, have been resigned by his company under long term contracts. he says that a producer is foolish to release great public favorites in which he has invested millions of dollars for advertising and exploitation and to replace them with comparatively unknown stage players merely because of their trained voice...Greta Garbo's latest picture, "Wild Orchids" (silent) is making a tremendous amount of money and has played Broadway for two splendid weeks." Earlier in the volume, in a section that covered Continuity Writers the author had mentioned the film in regard to the qualifications and duties of writers of adaptations and the knowledge of censorship and their translating to the screen novels or plays that otherwise would be censored, A Woman of Affairs having been milder than its counterpart The Green Hat.

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