The Mysterious Lady (1928)

We end our tour of the Garbo Silents DVD with this film (I know the surviving nine-minute fragment of The Divine Woman is on there, too, but how do you review something like that?), whose title is fortunately the most nondescript thing about it. Having fought the law, as it were, over her earlier films in which she kept getting cast as a home-wrecking seductress, Garbo is cast here as a seductress out to wreck a bit more than just home… it’s pre-war Europe and Greta’s a spy for the Russians, while Conrad Nagel is a captain in the Austrian army entrusted with delivering some very special papers to Berlin; needless to say said papers end up in her hands rather than whatever German official was supposed to get them, and trouble ensues… especially since the two have already struck up a flourishing little romance before this. For the third time in this set, too, the film has a scene of the male lead trying to strangle Garbo; granted this time it’s just an act of imagination, but it’s a strange running theme… Apparently Gilbert wasn’t considered for the male lead cos the novel on which the film was based found itself being reworked by the writers into a “Garbo film”, so the male role was actually downgraded some and it was felt a Big Star like Gilbert wouldn’t have been happy with that, so Nagel got it instead. I suppose he’s OK, but this really is another case of “beautiful images of beautiful women” here, and the images are, to be sure, often stunning (she looks more like “Garbo” here than in the other films, if you know what I mean); the commentary offered the interesting statistic that William Daniels was cameraman on 20 out of her 24 Hollywood films, which raises the interesting question of just how far was “Garbo” his creation. I don’t buy her as a spy for anyone and the whole thing has the substance of a neutrino, but audiences then (and I suppose now) weren’t watching the film for the plot. It was things like Garbo lighting those candles or walking through the doorway on the train that made this film a million-dollar hit. Beautiful images of beautiful women indeed.

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