Friday, September 18, 2009

Happy Birthday, Greta Garbo

I only mention Greta Garbo (or "Gerta Garber," as the teenage girl put it when Turner Classic Movies came to the local mall a few years ago and held games and handed out prizes) (Katie-Bar-The-Door won the TCM edition of "Scene-It") to remind you that during the Early Sound Era she was paradoxically at the height of her popularity while doing the worst work of her career.

Her first sound movie, Anna Christie, came out in 1930 and although Garbo received an Oscar nomination for it, it was actually Marie Dressler in a supporting performance who commands the screen (I gave her a Katie for the effort). Garbo followed up with Romance, Inspiration, Susan Lenox, Mata Hari and Grand Hotel (the last winning the Oscar for best picture of 1931-32), all hits, all showcasing Garbo struggling to make the transition from the overly broad, Kabuki theater style of the Silent Era to the dialed-down style more appropriate to sound pictures.

Ironically, once she got it, with Queen Christina in 1933, American audiences stopped going to see her. Her "I vant to be alone" persona, coupled with the hot house orchid plotlines of her pictures, alienated moviegoers struggling with the depths of the Great Depression. None of her movies after Queen Christina turned a profit domestically and it was only Garbo's huge following in Europe that made her attractive to MGM's paymasters. The moment Hitler's armies closed off that market, Garbo read the writing on the wall and retired.

But she was one of the greats (already with a Katie on her mantle for her performance in 1926's Flesh and the Devil) and although she won't receive another Katie nomination until 1933, she was actually one of the big stars of the Early Sound Era. So here's to you, Miss Garbo. I know you're out there somewhere, alone but not lonely, and never forgotten.


Marlon Brando said...

So here's to you, Miss Garbo. I know you're out there somewhere, alone but not lonely, and never forgotten.

I understand that Paul Simon originally started with these lyrics, but felt that the Yankee Clipper would inspire more passion than some European broad.

I think Ms. Garbo was powerful -- not only physically stunning, but commdning -- in the scenes from silent films that I've seen.

mister muleboy said...

commanding ?

Who Am Us Anyway? said...

Don't step on Greta Garbo as you walk down the Boulevard
She looks so weak and fragile that's why she tried to be so hard
But they turned her into a princess
And they sat her on a throne
But she turned her back on stardom
Because she wanted to be you know what


-- Celluloid Heroes, Kinks

Anonymous said...

Your assessment of Miss Garbo was very base and you so quickly gave her such. She deserves so much more accolades. She was divine and so worth more than the vehicles in which she starred. You failed to even mention Camille.

BTW, her silents are enchanting and she underplayed them like none other. Her beauty and her acting speak for themselves.

Mythical Monkey said...

No slight intended. I promise I'll be writing about Greta Garbo at length as the blog progresses -- Queen Christina, Camille and Ninotchka certainly and undoubtedly others. But one of the conceits of this blog is that we're progressing in real time through the history of movies. Garbo got good reviews for her silent work, sags as she makes the transition to sound and then once she adapts to the new medium, establishes herself as one of the greatest actresses of all time.

Hang in there, I promise you haven't heard the last from Miss Garbo.