Budapest bar entertainer Zara is a discontented alcoholic who is pursued by many men but lives with novelist Carl Salter. A strange man (Tony) shows up on Salter's estate claiming that Zara... See full summary »
Erich von Stroheim
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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
This is to my mind the most brilliant of all of Garbo's silent films, and I never fully understood the attitude of most critics who simply dismiss it on the account of the Divine Woman's own lack of care for this particular entry. True, she did not like just doing this film, and true, Mauritz Stiller was actually dying while she was shooting this, therefore, we can understand that she thought poorly of it; yet this was shot at the peak of silent film-making, in 1928, and never before had Fred Niblo been so good, never had his full command of the motion picture been so obvious. All through the film, the direction is superb, subdued and subtle, while the gorgeous settings, MGM's trademark, are lit and photographed at their best. Niblo makes the best of his composition skills, with or without Garbo in the shots, and the way he deals with the extras, putting the stars in the distance, swallowed by the crowd, is clearly an innovation for 1928; his use of a few, but decisive shots based on a moving camera proves that, like the European imports(Murnau, Leni, Fejos, Christensen) or like his fellow Americans (Ford, Borzage,Wellman), he was aware of the German experiments. Of course, the spy story is not the source of any intellect-expanding masterpiece, but, hey, this is a stylish and entertaining film that foreshadows some of Hitchcpock's best British films of the decade to come. And Niblo even handles suspense in a remarkable way in the last five minutes. The edition id remarkable, the print being a bit worn but still clear; and an emasculating restoration has been avoided, retaining thus the crystal-clear, crisp quality of William Daniel's photography. And to conclude, a question about Garbo: who else on earth could wear these dresses and get away with it?
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