Friday, February 07, 2003

CAMILLE (1937)

Two of my least favorite actors of the 30's (Greta Garbo and Robert Taylor) work together and manage to pull off very good performances in this warhorse of a tearjerker. Garbo is the courtesan Marguerite Gautier, apparently aka Camille, for her love of camellias though I don't remember anyone calling her that in the movie. She lives in a whirl of lovers and their gifts, though she always needs more money. Her older friend, Laura Hope Crews, tries to fix Garbo up with a rich count (Henry Daniell) but instead she loses her heart to the young, handsome, but relatively poor Robert Taylor. Their first meeting at an opera house goes awry and she winds up being kept by the Count, but a second meeting solidifies their feelings and she leaves Daniell and financial security for Taylor and insecurity. During an idyllic summer together, Taylor's grandfather (Lionel Barrymore) begs her to leave Taylor because, even if they marry, she will sully his reputation beyond repair. Garbo gets across to Barrymore the strength and purity of their love, but she still agrees to dump him and go back to the Count. Misunderstandings and tragedy (including one of the most famous death scenes of all) follow. Garbo's overly mannered acting style, which usually gets on my nerves (as in GRAND HOTEL), works for this "operatic" melodrama, and Taylor pulls off the innocent youth role fairly well. Crews is fine, as is Jessie Ralph as Garbo's loyal maid. Daniell is appropriately slimy, yet almost sympathetic. Rex O'Malley has a nice part as a close (and maybe gay?) male friend. George Cukor directed, with lovely trimmings (sets & costumes) and photography. It may have lost some of its luster over the years, but it's still worth seeing.

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