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In New York, the alcoholic skipper of a coal barge Chris Christofferson receives a letter from his estranged twenty year old daughter Anna "Christie" Christofferson telling that she will leave Minnesota to stay with him. Chris left Anna fifteen years ago to the countryside to be raised by relatives in a farm in St. Paul and he has never visited his daughter. Anna Christie arrives and she is a wounded woman with a hidden dishonorable past since she had worked for two years in a brothel to survive. She moves to the barge to live with her father and one night, Chris rescues the sailor Matt and two other fainted sailors from the sea. Soon Anna and Matt fall in love with each other and Anna has the best days of her life. But when Matt proposes to marry her, she is reluctant and also haunted by her past. Matt insists and Anna opens her heart to Matt and to her father disclosing the darks secrets of her past. Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
"Anna Christie" (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1930), directed by Clarence Brown, was the motion picture event of the season where "Garbo talks!" Naturally she talked, but was never heard during her days (1926-1929) on the silent screen. With other silent film stars having already made the transition by 1929, the selection in what Garbo was to appear had to be a sound one. Considering Lon Chaney's talking debut being a remake to his 1925 success, THE UNHOLY THREE (1930), the possibilities of Garbo doing the same for any one of her silent screen successes. FLESH AND THE DEVIL (1927) or that of Anna Karenina from LOVE (1927) immediately come to mind. Garbo did play Anna Karenina again, but in 1935. Another Anna did get selected, one that was already filmed in 1923 starring Blanche Sweet. Taken from Eugene O'Neil's Pulitzer Prize winning play that originated on stage in 1921 starring Pauline Lord, considering the title character of Swedish heritage, it seemed natural for the Swedish born Garbo to tackle tat role herself. And so she did, earning an Academy Award nomination in the process. With her accent authentic, George Marion, who originated his role of Chris Christophersen on both stage and silent screen, was not or didn't appear to be. Whether faithful to O'Neill's writing or not really didn't matter for that "Anna Christie" proved to be a critical success.
The story gets underway as Old Chris (George Marion) a Swedish captain of the fishing boat, living on the barge with Marty Owens (Marie Dressler), his drunken waterfront mistress. After coming to the nearby bar for some drinks, Chris receives a letter with news that his daughter, Anna, is coming from St. Paul, Minnesota, for a visit. Chris, who hasn't seen Anna since she was a five-year-old child in Sweden, is a concerned how to handle their meeting after a 15-year separation. While in the next room, Anna, who calls herself Anna Christie (Greta Garbo) enters the waterfront bar where her first encounter being Marty, the woman Anna claims to be herself, "forty years from now." As both women drink some whiskeys, and Anna smoking cigarettes, she reveals her troubled past to Marty, being raised by cruel relatives on the farm, turning to prostitution in order to survive, and hating all men in the process. Having been released from jail and a two week hospital stay, Anna finally meets with her father as Marty secretly moves from the barge where Anna is to stay. As the two venture out to sea, they meet with a terrible storm, later rescuing Matt Burke (Charles Bickford), a tough talking Irish seaman, from a drifting raft where he and others had spent five days. When Matt shows interest in Anna, Chris objects, causing the two stubborn men to become rivals, forcing Anna to come between them.
For its initial 34 minutes, "Anna Christie" is virtually stage-bound, set mostly in a bar. Garbo's star entrance takes its toll 16 minutes into the story. From there she recites these spoken words to the barman in deep throat manner, "Gimme a vhiskey. Ginger ale on the side - and don't be stingy, baby," with occasional end of sentence catch phrases of "Alright, alright." With this, the long wait ends. "GARBO talks!" And does she ever. The voice not only fits her personality, but her character as well. How the story develops in early sound technique is another matter.
During its 88 minute time frame, director Clarence Brown breaks away from its staginess with outdoor scenery of the Brooklyn Bridge, the sea, as well as time away at Coney Island Amusement Park before resorting to stage-bound manner on the barge. There is no underscoring to set the mood but inter-titles ("The next morning - the waterfront of the East River - New York City." "Two days later in town off New England." "At anchor in an outer harbor along the Massachusetts coast.")in the silent film tradition placed between extended scenes.
With the supporting cast a limited few, only four take precedent. Charles Bickford proved way different from the usual Garbo co-stars. Definitely not the John Gilbert romantic type, but that of a roughneck Irishman, a vivid reminder of Victor McLaglen caricature found in John Ford directorial features reciting such typical lines as, "I can lick any man with one hand tied behind me back." The opposites attract combination of Garbo and Bickford gives equal balance to the nature of the story. George Marion, at times, bears a slight resemblance of character actor, Donald Meek. No doubt Meek might have been an interesting prospect to play Old Chris had a remake of ANNA Christie been considered in the 1940s with Ingrid Bergman in the lead. Marie Dressler's performance leaves a lasting impact, enough to have earned a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award nomination had that category been around back then. In fact, her waterfront floozy in second hand clothing was no doubt a dress rehearsal for her upcoming role in MIN AND BILL (1930) for which won Dressler a Best Actress award by the Academy.
Seldom revived until its 1985 distribution to home video by MGM/UA, followed by occasional public television showings, "Anna Christie," along with Garbo's German-language version, can be found on cable TV's Turner Classic Movies. While the English version of 'Anna Christie" now available on DVD, is better known, many claim the German edition to be better and much more forthright. Though this "Anna Christie" may not hold up as well as Garbo's most notable assignments as CAMILLE (1936) or NINOTCHKA (1939), it's noteworthy, if nothing else, as the one where that term "Garbo talks!" started. (*** vhiskeys)
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