The Painted Veil [1934]

8/10 | 15.Jun.12
The Painted Veil

DIRECTOR: Richard Boleslawski | WRITERS: John Mehan, Salka Viertel, Edith Fitzgerald | CAST: Greta Garbo, Herbert Marshall, George Brent, Warner Oland, Jean Hersholt | USA

The Painted Veil is a Garbo vehicle based on a Somerset Maugham novel about a wife’s infidelity in the mysterious Orient (this time Hong Kong and surrounding cholera-striken areas) and how she redeems herself and gets her husband back at the end. In other words, the usual Maugham tripe. Here’s the first paragraph of Andre Sennwald’s December 7, 1934 NY Times review:

Pettish folk, out of an evident spirit of wish-fulfillment, are forever discovering that Greta Garbo has outlived her fame. They are knaves and blackguards and they should be pilloried in the middle of Times Square. She continues handsomely to be the world’s greatest cinema actress in the Oriental triangle drama, “The Painted Veil,” which begins an engagement at the Capitol this morning. Tracing its ancestry to Somerset Maugham’s novel, which it resembles only in the casual surface qualities of the narrative, Miss Garbo’s new film is a conventional, hard-working passion-film which manages to be both expert in its manufacture and insincere in its emotions. Since it allows Miss Garbo to triumph once more over the emotional rubber-stamps that the studios arrange for her, we must not be ungenerous about “The Painted Veil,” Richard Boleslawski has made a visual treat of it, and Herbert Marshall and George Brent head an excellent group of subsidiary players.

I could hardly put it better myself. Boleslawski keeps the action zipping along and both men in Garbo’s life — her husband (Herbert Marshall) and her lover (George Brent) — are quite good, but it is Garbo’s movie and she is quite simply wonderful. She’s relaxed and clearly enjoying herself playing the Austrian wife of a British doctor, and she has fun with the accent she’s adopted, a veddy clipped British accent over her usual Swedish-accented American English. I’ve never heard her throw off lines with the rapidity she does here. Being Garbo, of course she’s ravishing, but given how energized she is there’s an extra sparkle about her. You can’t look away from her. I can’t, anyway. I’d rate it higher but the movie is kind of threadbare when you get down to it, although there are some lines with zip to them and everyone involved seems to be having fun along with Garbo.

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