Although there are likely only a very few folks on my Friends list who have even seen a Greta Garbo movie, let alone a John Gilbert movie, I feel compelled to write a little bit about these two, after watching Flesh in the Devil
, their famous first movie together.
I'd seen the film before, at a screening at the Rialto across the street, complete with live orchestra, and been very impressed, and the movie worked for me again this time, with a special twist. This time the movie didn't appeal to me just because of Garbo -- whose mere presence even in the background is normally entirely distracting -- but because of Gilbert.
Many movie idols from the silent era or early 30s, when seen nowadays, seem very dated, with an appeal that just isn't well, very appealing, today. You'll look at the guy and say "Hmmm, what were women thinking?" or "I guess he's alright if you like stodgy!" But Gilbert? He's not only got charisma, he's hot
, in that magical, magnetic way that pulls you in after just a few moments. (See larger version of portrait
.) This is amply demonstrated in Flesh in the Devil
by the fact that in the scenes with Gilbert and Garbo, you actually pay attention to both
of them, instead of, as typical, just Garbo. In actual fact, that's exactly what MGM was going for when they put the two stars together in this movie, as Gilbert was a top star with appeal both to men and women, and Garbo was shaping up to be the same way. Together, they're a sort of fire (Gilbert) and ice (Garbo) combo!
Meanwhile, to move on to Garbo, now that I've been watching the movies in the Garbo box set my mother bought me, and with that have now seen 8 or 9 of her movies, I have to say, she really got stuck in a box as far as casting and plots go.
Just about every single one of her movies has the plot of: 1) nice, young guy, usually with a wholesome wife or fiance, meets Garbo, 2) guy is instantly attracted to Garbo, whether she is seducing him or not, 3) guy defies dire warnings and morality to pursue Garbo, committing adultery, killing people along the way, 4) guy or Garbo tries to end affair, 5) guy and/or Garbo and/or others die at the end and nobody is happy.
Another big thing about Garbo is that she wasn't ever (and couldn't really ever be), that "Girl Next Door" or an average person, but always had to be that rich countess staying in the luxury suite at the five-star hotel, or an exotic spy, or a hyper-beautiful, high-class prostitute (Camille
). You think of the typical MGM movies from the 30s, with Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn, Clark Gable, and you'll realize that Garbo couldn't have been in any of them, because she belonged to a whole different genre of film. And that's one of the reasons, besides her own self-determination, that Garbo retired; once WWII arrived, the European audience, to whom she had special appeal, dried up, and afterward there wasn't really a place for her type of character. The world her characters lived in didn't exist anymore. It's not that she wasn't still beautiful or couldn't act, but that there wasn't really a place for her anymore.
Finally, recommended Garbo movies: Flesh and the Devil
, Queen Christina
P.S. One more thought on Flesh and the Devil
: It's sooooo "slashable." I mean, Gilbert and his buddy would marry each other, if they could. I think they did more on that "Isle of Friendship" than pledge eternal friendship.