Tuesday, May 07, 2002

MATA HARI (1932)

Apparently, I remain immune to the charms of Greta Garbo. In this movie, with her heavy accent and her propensity for overacting, she seems just a couple of notches above Bela Lugosi. The movie, however, was mostly fun. Garbo plays the famous WWI spy, who was also an exotic dancer and the toast of Paris. She is providing top-secret Russian documents to the Germans (Lewis Stone is her "spymaster," and he does a good job of overcoming the Judge Hardy persona I associate with him), seemingly with the assistance of her lover, Lionel Barrymore, a Russian general. I was never clear how much he was implicated in her spying--he knows about it, but he also tries to betray her in the end. I may have missed a plot point somewhere. Ramon Novarro, a Russian pilot who is instrumental in carrying secret documents in and out of Paris, falls head over heels in love with Garbo and eventually she falls for him, which leads to her downfall.

Novarro feels awfully lightweight up against Garbo, but he does convey a certain youthful romanticism and innocence fairly well. He's also handsome and the scenes of the two making love (in the old fashioned sense, although in this pre-Code movie, it's quite clear that they spend at least one long night in carnal embrace) are nicely photographed. There's a memorable but short scene showing fellow spy Karen Morley stalked by a club-footed assassin who later comes after Garbo. As I said, this was fun, but Dietrich and Sternberg made a much more interesting movie with very similar material in DISHONORED the same year.

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