Mata Hari [1931]

8/10 | 7.Jan.12
Mata Hari

DIRECTOR: George Fitzmaurice [uncredited] | WRITERS: Benjamin Glazer, Leo Birinski, Doris Anderson, Gilbert Emery | CAST: Greta Garbo, Ramon Novarro, Lionel Barrymore, Lewis Stone, C. Henry Gordon | USA

Garbo is a wonder as the Dutch exotic dancer/courtesan/spy, Ramon Novarro ideal (if a bit on the boyish side, shall we say) as her Russian lieutenant lover, the production design outstanding (Cedric Gibbons, so no wonder), Garbo’s gowns spectacular (Adrian, of course), and most of the smaller roles are played extremely well. George Fitzmaurice made the right decision to begin the film with opulent sets and costumes and movement and to gradually strip away all ornament so that by the end the sets are bare, Garbo’s glittery gowns are replaced by a severe black dress and the lighting has become starkly Expressionist. I’d rate the film higher but the screenplay just isn’t good enough, the direction lacks a steady pulse (scenes start well and then sag partway through), and Lionel Barrymore does his damnedest to spoil every scene he’s in with his patented shtik. (I really can’t stand him.)

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