Austrian Captain Karl von Raden attends the opera one evening, and meets Tania. After the performance, he takes her home, and the two of them spend the next day on a romantic outing. That evening, Karl must deliver some important plans to Berlin. Just before boarding his train, he learns that Tania is really a Russian spy. She comes to see him aboard the train, and admits that she set things up on purpose so as to meet him, but she also insists that she truly has fallen in love with him. When Karl rebuffs her coldly, she steals the plans, which leads to him being court-martialed and imprisoned. Karl's influential uncle is able to provide him with one last chance to clear his name. Written by
While "The Mysterious Lady" is only a mildly entertaining romantic thriller, the film's seductively beautiful star, Greta Garbo, illuminates the screen whenever she appears and raises the film several cuts above what it might otherwise have been. The predictable plot is serviceable, if somewhat less than credible, and the handsome one-dimensional leading man and the sinister snarling villain, complete with flamboyant dark mustache, visually cue the audience to the identities of the hero and his nemesis.
Only Garbo infuses her character with the depth and ambiguity to keep the audience guessing as to her sympathies and motives. Although her husky accented voice enhanced her aura, the actress was a master of projecting emotion without words. Her shifting facial expressions convey more than words, and even her body language speaks volumes about the character. Garbo moves with a fluidity and grace that enhances her innate seductive sexuality. She captivates the viewer even with the simple act of descending a staircase. When cinematographer William Daniels back lights her profile in closeup, she literally glows on the screen.
While "The Mysterious Lady" has high MGM production values, fine cinematography, and lush sets, the film does not rank among the finest of silent cinema. With a lesser actress at its center, the film would likely have been forgotten. However, with Garbo, the film transcends its cardboard plot and provides a serviceable backdrop for the work of one of Hollywood's greatest icons.
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