The Temptress (1926)

Ah, Greta. Looking back, the erstwhile Ms Gustafsson was one of  Hollywood’s less likely success stories; despite having wanted to be an actress, all she wound up really wanting was to be left alone. The making of this, her second Hollywood film, was so fraught with horror for her it’s a wonder she made any more films after it; her sister died during the shoot, her mentor Mauritz Stiller was fired as director just ten days into filming, which then dragged on for four months, and in the end she seems to have hated the result as much as the experience of making it. But MGM had a hit on their hands, whatever their rising star may have felt. Story comes from that Blasco-Ibanez fellow and is full of the rip-roaring melodrama and slightly ponderous sentiment of the other two 1920s films I’ve seen taken from his novels (The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and Mare Nostrum), Garbo as the vamp who leaves a trail of death in her wake and Antonio Moreno as the man trying to resist her temptations. I watched the DVD with the commentary on, which I don’t usually do on a film I haven’t seen before, but on a silent film it’s easy to get away with; commentator Mark Vieria is inclined more to discuss technical particularities like film stock, lighting, that sort of thing, but he offers some other good points like his belief that, contrary to what some say, none of Stiller’s footage is in the finished film because Antonio Moreno has a moustache throughout the film which Stiller hated and made him shave off, and also a statement about how what MGM were really about selling beautiful images of beautiful women. If we disregard the frankly overcooked story, it’s otherwise hard to deny that The Temptress sells in spades. Though for me the highpoint is the whip duel between Moreno and Roy D’Arcy (once again letting his moustache and his teeth do most of the work); the blood may be fake but it’s still startling, and the fight itself involved no stuntmen or anything like that. It’s terrific, even if the film as a whole isn’t.

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