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    cast

    • Greta Garbo Karin Borg Blake / Katherine Borg
    • Melvyn Douglas Larry Blake
    • Constance Bennett Griselda Vaughn
    • Roland Young OO Miller
    • Robert Sterling Dick Williams
    • Ruth Gordon Miss Ellis
    • George Cleveland Sheriff
    • G P Huntley Jr Mr Wilson


    crew

  • Dir:
      George Cukor
  • Prod:
      Gottfried Reinhardt
  • Scr:
      SH Behrman, Salka Viertel, George Oppenheimer, from the play by Ludwig Fulda
  • Ph:
      Joeph Ruttenberg
  • Ed:
      George Boernler
  • Mus:
      Bronislau Kaper
  • Art Dir:
      Cedric Gibbons, Daniel B. Cathcart

    (M-G-M)






                                                                                                                                              stars

         Two-Faced Woman

    [ t w o - f a c e d   w o m a n : m o v i e  r e v i e w ]

    vhs

    Rated: NR

      Greta Garbo's last movie is nowhere near as bad
      as contemporary reviews would have you believe,
      and certainly didn't warrant the most fabulous screen
      face of all opting for a retirement that would last until
      her death almost 50 years later.

                                                            - Paul Page


    THE outbreak of the war in Europe presented Greta Garbo with a new set of worries, both personal and professional. Fearing a German invasion of the Scandinavian countries, she had arranged in advance to bring her aged mother as well as her brother Sven and his family to the United States. Arriving in California at the end of December 1939, they took up residence in a modest house in a secluded section of Inglewood. Garbo's relatives were, if anything, shyer than she. They kept strictly to themselves, and Garbo seldom spoke of them. Her mother died in California, but because of Garbo's almost morbid dislike of talking about personal matters, few people knew of the occurrence. When Garbo made her first trip to Sweden after the war, she visited a friend who remarked sympathetically about Mrs. Gustafsson's death. Garbo, who was standing at a window in her friend's apartment, replied, "What a lovely view from this window."

    Garbo's career was more seriously affected by the spreading war than that of probably any other Hollywood actress because her pictures had always earned more money abroad than in the United States. In fact, few, if any, Garbo films ever returned their investment from exhibition in the United States alone. The knowledge that her lushly romantic, tragic roles had made her the idol of European audiences had always been an important factor in the selection of her vehicles. Now, in the middle of 1940, with the Continent embroiled in war, France in defeat and the rampaging German armies still on the march, the lucrative foreign market was all but gone. In these circumstances M-G-M was faced with the necessity of producing a Garbo film, which, to make a profit, would have to appeal almost exclusively to American audiences.

    After many high-level conferences, Metro executives came to the conclusion that the actress who had won her fame primarily by portraying lovely, world-weary women caught in the silken toils of ill-fated love, had to be transformed into a vital, blooming American glamour girl. To this ill-advised enterprise Garbo gave her half-hearted consent. The vehicle selected for her debut as a sporting, fun-loving American type was called Two-Faced Woman. It was destined to be Greta Garbo's last moving picture.

    Though the studio denied it at the time, Two-Faced Woman was a remake of a picture called Her Sister From Paris, originally filmed in 1925 and starring Constance Talmadge and Ronald Colman. Based on a dusty Hungarian play, Two-Faced Woman told the story of a plain wife who wins back her indifferent husband by impersonating her own glamorous twin sister. The theme was the familiar one of The Guardsman with the roles of husband and wife reversed. However wispy the plot, Metro was not miserly in investing the picture with talent. The scenario was prepared by S. N. Behrman, Salka Viertel and George Oppenheimer; the cast included Melvyn Douglas, who had proved a perfect foil for Garbo in Ninotchka, Constance Bennett and Ruth Gordon; and the direction was entrusted to George Gukor, who had had such estimable success with Garbo in Camille.

    As soon as Two-Faced Woman went into production, the Metro publicity department began an extensive campaign to prepare the American public for the emergence of "the new Garbo." In her next picture, it accordingly became known, Garbo would appear, for the first time on the American screen, in a bathing suit—a brief one she had designed herself. Furthermore, she had cut her hair in a new short bob that the Metro publicity experts predicted would:

      "set a style craze comparable to the long Garbo bob in 1932."

    Not only would the hitherto inscrutable actress be shown swimming but also skiing, "wrestling with her man while clad in filmy finery" and joyously dancing a brand new rumba called the "chica-choca." Metro's labours to Americanize Greta Garbo in the public mind produced gratifying results. In an article about Two-Faced Woman published several weeks before the picture was released, Life described Garbo as

      "probably the greatest oomph girl of all time."

    In contrast to the buoyant items distributed by the studio, Garbo was very moody and depressed while Two-Faced Woman was being filmed. She didn't like the way things were going. There were clashes of temperament on the set, arguments and misunderstandings as well as frequent differences of opinion between the producer and the director. The tense, uncongenial atmosphere on the set, together with her own grave doubt about her role, gave Garbo a deep sense of impending doom. She became so despondent that she confided to close friends her belief that there was actually a plot afoot at M-G-M to ruin her career. "They're trying to kill me," she often said darkly.

    One person at M-G-M who shared Garbo's misgivings about her role was Adrian, the designer who had fashioned nearly all the star's costumes during her career at Metro. He said later:

      "It was because of Garbo that I left M-G-M. In her last picture they wanted to make her a sweater girl, a real American type. I said, 'When the glamour ends for Garbo, it also ends for me. She has created a type. If you destroy that illusion, you destroy her.' When Garbo walked out of the studio, glamour went with her, and so did I."

    Two-Faced Woman was released in November 1941, and immediately ran into serious trouble. The National Legion of Decency promptly condemned the film as immoral. It was the first time in several years that leaders of the Catholic Church had put a blanket condemnation on a major Hollywood production. In a release to the press the Legion said the picture was offensive because of its

      "immoral and un-Christian attitude towards marriage and its obligations; impudently suggestive scenes, dialogue and situations; suggestive costumes."

    Other disapproving actions followed quickly. Two-Faced Woman was banned in Australia; the chief censor declined to state why. The Most Reverend Francis J. Spellman, Roman Catholic Archbishop of New York, asked pastors of Catholic churches to remind communicants that the Legion's rating of the Garbo comedy meant that:

      "the picture is condemned as the occasion of sin and as dangerous to public morals."

    In Providence, Rhode Island, the police amusement inspector announced that he had forbidden the film to be shown there. The Catholic Interest Committee of the Knights of Columbus of Manhattan and the Bronx went into action by publicly denouncing the film as "a challenge to every decent man and woman" and demanding that it be withdrawn immediately from distribution. Elsewhere other self-appointed censors turned up in force.

    The furious attack on Two-Faced Woman astonished Garbo and deeply depressed her. She had always sought to avoid playing what she had once called "bad womens," and now, it seemed, she had unwittingly made that very mistake. Her delusions of persecution became more intense. All the uproar the film had caused seemed to confirm her suspicion that she had been the victim of some dark intrigue. To her friends she said, "They've dug my grave."

    Confronted with the Legion's action, M-G-M had to choose between ignoring the criticism—and thereby running the risk of the picture's financial failure—or altering the film in such a way as to suit the Legion—thereby destroying whatever merit the picture possessed. Hollywood entrepreneurs, as everybody knows, have a deserved reputation for pliancy when a dollar is at stake, so M-G-M naturally did the commercially sensible thing. Soon after the Legion voiced its objection, Metro quietly announced that Two-Faced Woman was being withdrawn for revision. The major change was the insertion of a scene in which the husband learns through a telephone call of his wife's intended deception. The heart of the plot was thus neatly cut out, with the result, as one of the reviewers later remarked, that:

      "the romps of Meivyn Douglas and the wispily clad Miss Garbo across all sorts of upholstered furniture become a bewildering and pointless charade."

    For its pains M-G-M received the thanks of the Legion, which changed its classification of the film from "C" to "B." In other words, the picture was still, in the Legion's view, "objectionable in part." As it turned out, nobody won.

    The purified version of Two-Faced Woman had its New York premiere on 31 December, 1941. That being less than a month after Pearl Harbour, the timing was less than fortunate. The critical reception was not auspicious. A few die-hard Garbo admirers, like Howard Barnes, valiantly recorded that the film was "captivating entertainment," but the praise was little enough. Said the New York Times.

      "Miss Garbo's current attempt to trip the light fantastic is one of the awkward exhibitions of the season."

    And the film was otherwise condemned, on critical grounds, for its "shoddy workmanship" and as "a stale joke, repeated at length." Garbo's performance was found to be "gauche and stilted" and "one of the less propitious assignments of her career." The magazine Time described the picture as:

      "an absurd vehicle for Greta Garbo ... a trick played on a beautiful, shy, profoundly feminine actress ... Its embarrassing effect is not unlike seeing Sarah Bernhardt swatted with a bladder. It is almost as shocking as seeing your mother drunk."

    The cruel Hollywood maxim—"You're only as good as your last picture"—applies less to Greta Garbo than to any other film actress in history. But, in however slight degree, it applies. She had been given mediocre scripts before, but always had been able to illumine them with the sorcery of her acting. Two-Faced Woman defied even Garbo's genius. M-G-M was disappointed by its distinct failure to make Garbo over into an oomph girl, and though the studio was willing to experiment further, Garbo was not.

    Apprehensive of the transformative project to begin with, Garbo was made wretched by the censorship troubles Two-Faced Woman encountered, and plunged into despondency by the general apathy with which the picture was treated. In her own mind she was now firmly convinced that malevolent forces were at work to bring about her downfall. Her unreasonable but powerful fears, her recent professional set-back, the effects of the war, the fact that she had all the money she needed, her natural laziness and lack of direction —all combined to make her lose interest in her career. Thirty-six and at the height of her dramatic power, Garbo made up her mind to withdraw from pictures until, she then thought, after the war. It was not the only irony of her life that she never returned.


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