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Lillie Sterling comes with her husband, John, on a business trip to Java, expecting a second honeymoon. On the ship, she witnesses Javanese Prince De Gace mercilessly whipping a servant and shrinks in horror from the sight. When John is befriended by the Prince, who is very attracted to Lillie, she tries to have little to do with him. During a conversation in their room, John is called away to answer a wire, and the Prince steals a kiss in his absence, for which she slaps him. So she is understandably upset when John accepts the Prince's invitation to stay at his plantation in Java when he promised to arrange a tiger hunt. She tries to dissuade John from going, but John says he always wanted to shoot a tiger and she is being unreasonable. Once at the plantation, John is too busy to pay much attention to Lillie, and when he is away, the Prince tries to seduce her. Lillie flees in tears after another kiss, afraid of her own emotions. Finally, she embraces the Prince when he tries again,... Written by
Arthur Hausner <firstname.lastname@example.org>
During production Greta Garbo's friend and mentor, Mauritz Stiller, died in Sweden. Devastated by his death, Garbo traveled to Sweden incognito to mourn his death. Her secretive travel plans were quickly foiled when she was recognized on the voyage. See more »
WILD ORCHIDS (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1929), directed by Sidney Franklin, stars Greta Garbo in her second of four releases for that year (a busy one for the Swedish sphinx). It returns her to familiar territory about a love triangle set in far away Java ("A land of magic beauty - cursed with heat - relentless heat"). With Garbo pitted between two male co-stars, Lewis Stone (white hair, dark mustache) and Nils Asther (dark exotic features and mustache) who happen to be the only performers credited in the cast, while others, whether acting as chauffeur, steward or Javanese servants, their roles go without billing. Released minus spoken dialog from its principal players, WILD ORCHIDS, filmed in late silent film tradition, contains some spoken words ("Goodbye") from crowded extras during its opening scene at the dock, ("Don't forget to write") from another, off-screen vocalizing to the theme song, "You Are Like Wild Orchids," sound effects and grunting sounds of dancing natives, and of course the roaring of the MGM lion on the logo during its fade-in. As for the film itself, this has the possibilities of a fine early talkie, but as it stands, Garbo was to remain silent for another year on screen.
The photoplay centers upon a young woman named Lillie (Greta Garbo) who accompanies John Sterling (Lewis Stone), her middle-aged business-minded husband on a ship bound for the Orients where he's assigned to inspect plantations in Java. As Lillie heads over towards the dock so she could have one last look at San Francisco, down the hallway she witnesses the whipping by fellow passenger, the exotic Prince De Gac (Nils Asther) on his unfortunate servant outside his cabin. Seeing his brutal measures witnessed by an attractive woman, De Gace ceases as she passes him in disgust. Unable to get the woman out of his mind, the prince gets through to her by becoming acquainted with her husband by discussing business that eventually has him inviting the Sterlings as his personal guests in his luxurious palace East of Java. In spite of her pleas not to go, John agrees on the invitation so he and the Prince can go hunting tigers together. When John discovers the Prince is interested in making advances on wife, he then has more than tiger hunting on his mind.
While not up to Garbo's earlier successes, namely FLESH AND THE DEVIL (1927), WILD ORCHIDS is at times satisfactory but suffers from over length of mediocre sequences such as the "King and I" type gathering at the palace dining room where the Sterlings are entertained by group of sword dancing natives, though repetitious love scenes between Garbo and Asther with possibilities of getting caught in the act by the husband do add to some suspense. With the first half hour taking place on a luxury liner, the duration of the story giving viewers an eyeful of its luxurious Java estate, lavish sets, large stairways, and revealing fashions from Garbo's 1920s attire (even letting her hair down looking as she did in her films of the 1930s) to something more exotic to impress her husband, who, in turn tells her to "take off that junk!" Though the plot is slow going at times, it picks up again following a promising opening to its near climax that parallels FLESH AND THE DEVIL as wife rushes out to prevent the possible fatal showdown between the men in her life.
Considering WILD ORCHIDS is an unfamiliar Garbo film in itself, or MGM's for that matter, it did become Garbo's first film from the silent era to be distributed on tape enclosed in plastic clam shell and yellow cover in 1985 through MGM/UA Home Video. The video print, at 119 minutes, is 20 minutes longer than the 100 minute presentation on Turner Classic Movies, which might indicate correct silent film projection speed transferred on video, or trimmed scenes or shorter reissue prints acquired on cable television. Overall, a worthy rediscovery of a motion picture produced during the dawn of sound with actors doing their all by holding audience attention, whether through illicit affairs or hunting tigers, though none actually acquire any wild orchids in the moonlight. (**)
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