Friday, May 18, 2012


Katrin, daughter of a medical research doctor, feels at odds when her younger sister gets married, but soon Walter, one of her father's students, shows an interest in her, and rather suddenly asks her to marry him.  Mostly to escape her humdrum life, she accepts.  They go off to Hong Kong where Walter works on a cure for cholera.  Katrin tries to fit in by playing bridge with the local British wives and going to the horse races, but Walter soon becomes obsessed with his work and Jack, a handsome, married embassy attaché, begins paying attention to her.  She fights his flirtatious advances, but one night, during a Chinese festival celebrating the marriage of the sun and the moon, she gets tired of just watching the people in the streets, and dresses up and ventures out.  Right away she meets Jack and together they walk through the crowds, enjoying the festivities, finally giving way to their lustful attraction.   Soon Walter puts two and two together; he tells Katrin he'll divorce her only if Jack agrees to divorce his wife and marry her.  Concerned about the repercussions for his career, Jack says he can't leave his wife.  When Walter is called away to a remote province to fight a raging cholera epidemic, Katrin goes with him and begins to have a change of heart, throwing herself into nursing duties and finding a new respect for her husband, though, it takes a near-tragedy for the two to fully reconcile.

This romantic melodrama, based on a Somerset Maugham novel, is notable as a film which, released after the censorious Production Code went into effect, more or less lets its characters get away with immoral behavior and not get punished.  No one is presented as "bad"; we understand why Katrin strays, why Walter grows distant, and why Jack wants to keep things as they are.  Greta Garbo, as Katrin, is her usual sultry but stiff self; she does strike some sparks with George Brent (as Jack), and she's good in her early scenes with Herbert Marshall (as Walter, pictured to the left of Garbo and Brent), but I remain mostly immune to the Garbo mystique.  Marshall, who sometimes strikes me as passive and artificial, and Brent are both fine here.  In supporting parts, Jean Hersholt (as Katrin's father) and Warner Oland (as a Chinese general opposed to Walter's plans to burn down much of his village to end the epidemic) are good enough that you wish their roles were larger.  Keye Luke, who would later play with Oland in the Charlie Chan films, has a small role.  The film is beautifully photographed by William Daniels, who shot all of Garbo's MGM films, with the Chinese festival scene a standout. [TCM]

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