“My boy, when the devil cannot reach us through the spirit, he creates a woman beautiful enough to reach us through the flesh.”
A soldier (John Gilbert) on leave from military training falls in love with a beautiful woman (Greta Garbo) who fails to tell him she’s already married; after killing her husband (Marc McDermott) in a duel, Gilbert leaves for overseas service, asking his lifelong friend (Lars Hanson) to look out for Garbo — with unexpectedly heartbreaking effects.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Clarence Brown Films
- Greta Garbo Films
- John Gilbert Films
- Love Triangle
- Silent Films
Directed by Clarence Brown, this historical onscreen pairing of Greta Garbo and John Gilbert (their first) is notable as the film which brought Garbo to stardom. Garbo plays a seductive temptress who wreaks havoc on the lifelong friendship between Gilbert and Hanson; unfortunately, other than one potent scene hinting at more complexity with her mysterious character (as she looks at herself vainly in the mirror while trying on widows’ veils), we don’t learn enough about her to really understand her motivations. The primary draw of this disappointingly scripted film is William Daniels’ luminous cinematography, which is consistently a treat to behold, and certainly contributed to Garbo’s imminent cinematic mystique.
Note: It’s difficult to ignore the homoerotic tensions between Gilbert and Hanson, who are often pictured as remarkably physically intimate.
Their blood-brothers friendship ultimately drives the entire narrative, and is the most intriguing (if underdeveloped) aspect of the script.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Genuine chemistry between Garbo and Gilbert
- The creatively filmed duel
- Fine, atmospheric cinematography by William Daniels
No, though it’s worth a look simply for its historical relevance as the first of Garbo’s four pairings with Gilbert, and as the film which brought Garbo to stardom. Listed as a film with Historical Importance in the back of Peary’s book. Added to the National Film Registry in 2006.