GARBO: THE SIGNATURE COLLECTION
(includes a new Garbo Documentary, ANNA
The prospect of a second GARBO SIGNATURE DVD COLLECTION seems extremely dim for the simple reason that Warner Home Video has, in its initial gargantuan GARBO SIGNATURE COLLECTION, quite simply gone bonkers in their understandable desire to commemorate the Great Lady's hundredth birthday. For the incredible fact is that every single one of Garbo's finest and most revered sound films (ANNA CHRISTIE, QUEEN CHRISTINA, GRAND HOTEL, CAMILLE and NINOTCHKA) comprise a prominent part of this massive home video undertaking.
Garbo's first talkie, ANNA CHRISTIE (1930), is showcased here in both an English and German language version replete with different casts, and upon viewing both versions consecutively it becomes immediately clear that Garbo at the time was far more comfortable with the latter language. Indeed, her performance in the German version not only avoids the occasional awkward stiffness that marred some of her subsequent talking film efforts, but exhibits a warmth and fluidity of such luminous magnitude that it might possibly be her finest ever.
MATA HARI (1931) is the only talkie clunker in this amazing set but manages, despite itself, to be ludicrously and deliriously entertaining by dint of its feverish avoidance of anything approaching authenticity or truthfulness. No opium addict could possibly dream up a more hysterically fanciful concoction than this, and certainly this is Garbo miscasting at its zenith. And when she dances ----- oh, brother!
QUEEN CHRISTINA (1933), on the other hand, is so beautifully played, directed and photographed that it could conceivably qualify as the most romantic film of all time and GRAND HOTEL (1932) is quite possibly the finest cinematic concoction of the early sound era. Thiis is probably the only Garbo film in which her costars (John and Lionel Barrymore, Wallace Beery, Lewis Stone, and even Joan Crawford) put the Great Lady in the shade.
There have been numerous filmic adaptations of Tolstoy's ANNA KARENINA, but none of them come within a mile of the 1935 Garbo version. Clearly producer David O. Selznick's continually unparalleled knack for transferring literary masterworks to the silver screen is the primary reason for its stunning success, and Garbo, aided and abetted by a sterling supporting cast, displays great depth as a dutiful wife and doting mother who sacrifices everything to experience real passion.
Certainly Garbo's portrayal of CAMILLE (1936) is of such sensitivity and insight that she makes the role forever and exclusively hers for all eternity, but credit must also go to the delicate direction of George Cukor and the compassionate and well-judged work of costar Robert Taylor, who miraculously manages to transform one of the dopiest characters in all of literature into a reasonably sympathetic, if callow, young man.
NINOTCHKA (1939) reveals a Garbo who unhesitatingly makes fun of herself (GARBO LAUGHS! shouted the ads) with complete (for her) abandon, which is why this may be her most fondly remembered portrayal. What fun to see Garbo with a male costar, Melvyn Douglas, too tickled with the frothy proceedings to be in awe of her and delivering a sly and cheeky interpretation with smooth aplomb. Certainly this is the great director Ernst Lubitcsh's finest hour.
The selection of Garbo Silents was clearly based on a desire to spotlight the winners of the TCM Young Film Composers Competition as well as the lady herself, and as such none of the three films included (1926's THE TEMPTRESS, 1927's FLESH AND THE DEVIL and 1928's THE MYSTERIOUS LADY) represent her best silent work, though FLESH was her highest-grossing silent film and Garbo's final scene in the otherwise frivolous and foolish TEMPTRESS is truly remarkable. It stunningly illustrates the sublime level of artistry that could be delivered without the spoken word.
Although none of the full-screen black-and-white transfers appear to be full-scale restorations, all exhibit fairly clean and bright images, the best being NINOTCHKA and, understandably, the weakest being the rare German-language ANNA CHRISTIE. All the post-CHRISTIE monaural audio tracks are in reasonably good shape. The image quality of the silents vary considerably with FLESH displaying the most confident black-and-white visuals followed by TEMPTRESS. THE MYSTERIOUS LADY, however, is severely damaged in some reels and inconsistent throughout.
Warner Home Video clearly intended this blockbuster of a Garbo Collection to be the final word on the legendary diva's illustrious career. My final word: Buy it!