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Erich von Stroheim
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Leo and Ulrich are life long friends. Home, on leave from their military training, Leo sees the beautiful Felicitas at the railroad station. Awed by her beauty, they meet again at the ball and quietly leave together. In her room, her husband, about whom she has neglected to inform Leo, comes in and challenges Leo to a duel. The duel is done, the Count is killed, and Felicitas is a widow. Leo, however, is 'requested' to serve 5 years in Africa and he tells Ulrich to watch over Felicitas while he is gone. After 3 years, Ulrich is able to get a pardon for Leo, and all that Leo thinks about on the way home is Felicitas. When he arrives, he learns that Felicitas has married Ulrich. Felicitas likes that Ulrich is rich and she never told Ulrich the truth about Leo and her. Leo is crushed and does not visit them which saddens Ulrich as he does not know the reason why. Leo tries to stay away from her, but Felicitas uses every opportunity to tempt him to return to her as her lover. She creating... Written by
Tony Fontana <firstname.lastname@example.org>
According to Barry Paris's commentary on the 2005 DVD release, Garbo initially refused to do this film, which was scheduled for production immediately following her last picture, and also not long after the death of her sister from cancer. MGM sent her a sternly worded telegram, and she capitulated. See more »
When Leo is talking to Felicitas on the bench in the park and tells her that he must go to Africa, the position of the collar of his overcoat repeatedly changes from pulled up to flat. See more »
My Boy, when the devil cannot reach us through the spirit... He creates a woman beautiful enough to reach us through the flesh.
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FLESH AND THE DEVIL (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1926), directed by Clarence Brown, is a silent film classic that marked the initial pairing of John Gilbert and Greta Garbo, and possibly their best collaboration of the silent era. As in most Garbo films during her rise to fame, she plays a heartless "vamp," a kind of screen role Hollywood seemed to usually give its foreign imports, and Garbo is no exception to that rule.
The story focuses on Leo Von Harden (John Gilbert) and Ulrich Von Eltz (Lars Hanson), two Austrian militant comrades who happen to be the very best of friends since childhood. (In a flashback sequence where Leo and Ulrich are boys, they are seen, along with Ulrich's kid sister, Hertha, playing on what they call "The Island of Friendship" where the boys become blood brothers. Although Hertha loves Leo, Leo simply ignores her). Back to present day, now set at a lavish dinner party, Leo, who had earlier noticed the mesmerizing Felicitas (Greta Garbo) at a train station, finally makes her acquaintance. During a dance, it is love at first sight. They both leave the party only to later have an affair in her place of residence. During the affair, they are caught by her husband, Count Von Rhaden (Marc MacDermott). Not wanting to disgrace his good name, the husband challenges lover boy to a duel with the understanding that they had "words in a card game." The duel takes place and the Count is instantly killed. Leo continues to see this "merry widow," but because of the duel, Leo is ordered by his superiors to go on a mission to Africa for five years. After he is pardoned, he rushes home on horseback with only Felicitas' name on his mind. Upon his return, he finds that Felicitas is now married ... to ... his best friend, Ulrich. At first he tries to avoid her, but finds himself meeting her secretly. After husband No. 2 learns of their secret rendezvous, Felicitas, with those devilish eyes, succeeds into turning these former best friends into bitter enemies.
In the supporting cast are George Fawcett as Pastor Voss, the man who warns Leo (Gilbert) that when the devil cannot reach man through the spirit, then he sends a woman to get him through the flesh; Eugenie Besserer as Leo's mother; William Orlamond as Uncle Kutowski; and the pert and dark-haired Barbara Kent as the grown up Hertha.
FLESH AND THE DEVIL was one of MGM silent movies presented on New York City's public television station of WNET, Channel 13 in the 13-week showing of MOVIES GREAT MOVIES (1973), hosted by Richard Schickel, featuring an original orchestral score written directly for the film in this series. It also ranked one of the most revived movies from that series, making its final bow in the spring of 1978. When distributed to home video by MGM/UA in 1988, the newly restored copy was presented with a new Thames orchestral score by Carl Davis, which proves disappointing at times mainly due to its occasional violin playing that makes viewing this sleep inducing. The only other disturbing element in regards to the video copy and the print that turns up on Turner Classic Movies is its elimination of the original ending involving Leo (Gilbert) and Hertha (Barbara Kent) as she rides a coach bound for Munich never to return as Leo runs after her, thus, ruining the focal point as to what becomes of Hertha after she earlier begs the uncaring Felicitas to go out in the cold and snowy grounds to spare the lives of both her brother and the man she loves from a duel they are to have at sunrise. The alternate ending that hasn't been shown since its 1970s PBS presentation has been placed in the 2005 DVD release of the "Garbo Silents Collection."
Although a big success upon its release, FLESH AND THE DEVIL will probably provide few surprises to first time viewers, especially since many movies involving illicit affairs have been done many times since the beginning of cinema and continues on to this very day. However, minus the more explicit "bedroom scenes" and flesh most common practice in more modern films, director Clarence Brown substitutes that with Gilbert-Garbo doing their passionate love and kissing moments transpired into semi-darkness. There is one fine visual effect that has Gilbert lighting a cigarette as she coyly blows out the match. Otherwise what the two central characters do is left to the imagination of the audience. It's surprising to mention, however, that a story such as this did not get remade in later years as a starring vehicle for the likes of either Hedy Lamarr or Elizabeth Taylor playing the Garbo role, and Peter Lawford and Ricardo Montalban as the militant comrades, for example, but overall, it's hard to duplicate and compare the performances of the screen's popular flesh and the devil themselves, Gilbert and Garbo. (***)
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