Flesh and the Devil (1926)

I first saw this ten years ago, it was at one of David Stratton’s Continuing Education film history classes. Liked it then, liked it again tonight. In this film one of Hollywood’s great love affairs first reared its head, namely that of Greta Garbo & John Gilbert, although in the film the real affair is really between Gilbert and his male co-star Lars Hanson; this is a “bromance” if ever there was. The two boys are lifelong friends, the seeds of whose mutual downfall are sown early in the piece when they get home on leave from military service and Gilbert first casts eyes on Garbo; complications ensue, of course, but it’s not until after they’ve ensued and Garbo has in fact married the other man that complications ensue in earnest. I’ve seen it dismissed in one online review as being a bit soap operatic, and it is, but it’s still well done; it’s funnier than The Temptress and also more focused, in that here Garbo only has two men to pay attention to rather than (as in the other film) her husband, his best friend, her sugar daddy, the bandit chief and various Argentinian workers. This was nearly the end of her film career, too, as she famously went on strike in protest at what she thought were the shit scripts MGM kept feeding her, and had Flesh not been a big hit (made some $1.2m in an age when that was actually worth something) she might not have prevailed. Most interesting DVD feature was the alternate ending, cos 1) I didn’t know it existed and 2) unlike The Temptress, whose other ending I did know of, it actually serves more as an epilogue, an extension of the “real” ending rather than a replacement for it. Here both men have lost the girl, but Gilbert gets the other girl, Hanson’s little sister, who’s been a secondary “good girl” presence. I don’t think it’s a bad ending—hardly unexpected when earlier in the film Gilbert’s mother wishes she would marry him—but it did strike me that someone at MGM must’ve thought it necessary that Gilbert should get a girl, if not the girl, so that it didn’t look like he’d got the boy instead…

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