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Seductively mysterious, the exotic dancer MATA HARI pays the ultimate
price for being the most famous spy of World War One.
Coming only fourteen years after the execution of its title character, here is a densely plotted film given the full MGM gloss & glamour. Production values are excellent, even if the script strays a bit too much into fiction to tell its story.
Languid & languorous, Greta Garbo slinks across the screen like a large cat, almost purring her dialogue rather than speaking it. Utterly fascinating, it is easy to see why she dominated her generation & why her legend still endures. Finally coming fully alive during a penultimate murder scene, Garbo exhibits the frenetic energy of which she was capable on screen. Fortunately, she is only required to dance once, leaving to the imagination the full impact of Mata Hari's original private performances.
Ramon Novarro, who receives co-equal billing with Garbo, had been an important movie celebrity far longer than she, but her rising sun tended to obscure most other stars in her orbit and Novarro has to work hard to get much notice in their joint scenes .As always, MGM's chameleon actor (this time he plays a Russian) gives a very competent performance, but as a romantic pair they make a rather unusual couple - which simply means that Novarro's sexual ambiguity is perfectly mirrored by Garbo's intrinsic androgyny.
Lewis Stone is quite effective as a sinister German spymaster. C. Henry Gordon gives some nice moments as a tough French policeman. Lionel Barrymore is also on hand, flamboyantly overacting as a Russian general who delivers military secrets to Mata Hari in exchange for her favours; he apparently decided Garbo wasn't going to steal the entire picture and he puts up an outrageous display of ham acting.
Karen Morley & Frank Reicher appear as German agents who learn the price of becoming no longer useful to Berlin; movie mavens will recognize an uncredited Mischa Auer in the opening scene as an unfortunate victim of Mata's wiles.
Born to a prosperous hatter in The Netherlands on August 7, 1876, Margeretha Geertruida Zelle was convent schooled and later attended a teacher's college. In 1895 she married British-born Campbell MacLeod, a captain in the Dutch colonial army and lived with him in Java & Sumatra from 1897 until 1902.
After their divorce, Margeretha settled in Paris, where she changed her name to the Malay 'Mata Hari,' which means 'eye of the day.' Fabricating a mystique of exotic mysticism, the beautiful Mata supported herself quite nicely as a courtesan and erotic dancer, giving special performances around Europe to delighted clientele. Several military officers of various nations counted themselves among her lovers.
The details of Mata's involvement in espionage still remain rather vague. It's possible she entered the German Secret Service as early as 1907, but she later is thought to have worked for the French Secret Service, as well. As a citizen of neutral Holland, she was still able to travel freely after the commencement of the War and it is alleged that she garnered secrets from Allied officers for her German employers. It was the British who tipped off the French as to Mata's supposed activities while in Belgium, and she was arrested upon her return to France.
At the court martial trial, she could only be found guilty of giving outdated information to the Germans, which she claimed was entirely innocent. However, it was more than enough to imprison her for three months, before her final rendezvous with a firing squad on October 15, 1917.
"Mata Hari" is a pre-code film that took lots of liberties with the real
life story of the World War One spy, but who cares? One watches a film like
this to enjoy the old stars in action, including Lionel Barrymore, hamming
it up sans wheelchair. Though Garbo has never been one of my favorites I
enjoyed her performance here; she smiled quite a bit and never once said she
wanted to be alone. Most of the time she just wanted to be with handsome
Ramon Novarro, and who could blame her?
Funniest moment to me: Ramon's character is obviously Catholic (as Ramon was in real life) and he has promised his mother to keep a candle lit before this Madonna icon and never let the flame go out, because if it goes out then evil will descend upon him. So Mata (Greta) tells Alexi (Ramon) that his room is too brightly lit; he goes around and turns off all the lights -- except for the candle. So then she asks him to blow out the candle. "If I am everything to you then you will blow it out." He asks her in shock: "But why would you ask me to?" (a perfectly reasonable question she doesn't answer). He ends up rejecting the sacred for the profane, blowing the flame out and the room goes into darkness. The camera pulls away and we are supposed to know instinctively that they are making love all through the night. And of course evil descends on Ramon's character, and he goes blind, but what the heck, this is Hollywood.
Watch it for the stars, not for history. If you want history, read a book.
German spy Mata Hari works in Paris during World War 1 under cover as
an exotic dancer, and falls in love with a young Russian officer while
she is taking advantage of him.
The script is rubbish, dialogue trite at best, and the treatment doesn't hold together well. Adrian's costumes are ridiculously improbable, but in a sinfully pleasurable MGM kinda way. You simply sit there and gape at Adrian's inventiveness and sense of kitsch. And William Daniels photographs them beautifully.
As he does his favorite subject, Greta Garbo. There is no way anyone could call Mata Hari one of the better Garbo roles, although she looks gorgeous at every turn, even in her slightly awkward Balinese dance in the beginning, all arms and legs. And still Garbo manages to be sexy! Notice the glance she sends Ramon Novarro as she draws the curtain of her bed. This was a short period in the history of Hollywood, when there was no functioning censorship, and it is always titillating to see what cinematographers, directors and stars made of it. And here they exploit it to the full.
Not a great film, not even in the Garbo canon, but still worth a watch, absolutely.
In 1917, in Paris, the famous dancer Mata Hari (Greta Garbo) has a
double life as a German spy, obtaining secrets from French and Russian
officers in bed. The chief of the French Secret Service Dubois (C.
Henry Gordon) is unsuccessfully in her tail trying to find proofs to
incriminate Mata Hari. The Russian general Serge Shubin (Lionel
Barrymore) has a crush on Mata Hari, but when she meets the young
Russian pilot lieutenant Alexis Rosanoff (Ramon Novarro), she sleeps
with him to photograph secret documents in his possession. But they
fall in love for each other, and the jealousy of her lover Shubin
provides the evidences to Dubois to arrest her.
This fictional and naive romance based on the life and death "Mata Hari" is an enjoyable melodramatic love story. Of course it is not a historic event, but this pleasant romantic fantasy is supported by an extremely beautiful Great Garbo performing a charismatic role in a great production. In spite of not being a masterpiece, I totally disagree with the unfair reviews in IMDb. My vote is seven.
Title (Brazil): "Mata Hari"
As the notorious "Mata Hari", Greta Garbo makes both the role and the
character her own, providing a portrayal that is much deeper and more
complex than the historical character probably was. The rest of the
cast and production work well enough, but they are mostly there only to
provide Garbo the backdrop and the foils that she uses to develop the
The story focuses Mata Hari's liaisons with two Russian officers, an older general played by Lionel Barrymore, and a young aviator played by Ramon Novarro, with an implacable Secret Service man (played by C. Henry Gordon) trying to stop her. Each of the three plays his part well, while allowing Garbo to take the spotlight. Lewis Stone also makes good use of his limited screen time, and Karen Morley has some memorable moments as another spy.
The story probably has little in common with the historical facts, and while the historical character is an interesting one, it seems certain that Garbo's character is more so, combining her obvious appeal with a depth of feeling and a complicated set of priorities, as few other actresses could have done. Designing the story and characters with her in mind works well, making for good drama and one of Garbo's many effective performances.
A semi-fictionalized account of the life of Mata Hari , an exotic
dancer who was accused of spying for Germany during World War I . Based
loosely on the real-life story of the World War I alluring spy , though
the title character was real, the events in the film are mostly
fictional . The exotic dancer uses her contacts in European high
society, along with her seductive charm , to collect military secrets
during the war . It starts in Paris 1915, Folies Bergere , where Mata
Hari is playing a spectacle impersonating an oriental dancer along with
Goddess Kali sculpture . Mata Hari beguiling everyone from a Russian
officer (Lionel Barrymore) and a pilot (Ramon Novarro , he wears
internal lifts in his boots so that the difference in hight between
himself and Greta Garbo was increased on screen ; and being the first
time Novarro took second billing since becoming a star) . Mata Hari
successfully plays both sides against each other until at last her
deceptions catch up with her.
This is the classic adaptation by filmmaker George Fitzmaurice with Greta Garbo as the notorious dancer playing exotic dances and Ramon Novarro as her lover . While this film was in production, rumors began circulating that co-stars Garbo and Novarro were having an affair ; this was untrue, but they did develop a strong friendly rapport . The Greta Garbo/Ramon Novarro combo turned Mata Hari into a major worldwide blockbuster, with $2.22 million in worldwide rentals . This is a melodramatic biography about notorious dancer with smouldering allure who had relationships with high-ranking military officers, politicians , millionaires and others in influential positions in many countries . This is Greta Garbo's one of the greatest picture , a romance based on the true life story of the exotic woman spy , Mata Hari . Truly all-star such as Lionel Barrymore and Ramon Novarro's highest-grossing picture after Ben-Hur ; this production will leave in mind and heart the memory of an unforgettable thrill , emotion and sensitivity . Furthermore , an important support cast such as Karen Morley , Henry Gordon , Lewis Stone and uncredited Mischa Auer in opening scene as condemned man who won't betray Garbo's love . This George Fitzmaurice's romantic spy melodrama Mata Hari was well received by critics and enthusiastically embraced by moviegoers .
Although the story is inspired on real events, it's mostly a historical fiction , the actual deeds are the followings : His true name was Margaretha Zella(1876-1917), a Frisian-Dutch known dancer and double agent during WWI. She was a successful courtesan , though was known more for her eroticism and sensuality rather for her stunning classic beauty. At 18, she answered an announce in newspapers about a man looking for spouse . She married Netherland Colonial Official and they moved to Indonesia , at island of Java. But the marriage was a disappointment and the couple early separated in 1903. Meanwhile she practices Indonesian traditions, uniting a local dance company learning the exotics jigs. Later she revealed her artistic name, Mata Hari, for 'eye the day' of the sun. She moving back to Europe , winning fame and fortune as exotic dancer. She was one of the leaders of the contemporary dancers, such as Ruth Dennis and Isadora Duncan that looked to Asian world for inspiration. During WWI, as neutral origin citizen was able to cross national borders freely , she travelled among Netherland, France, Germania, Spain but her several movements inevitably attracted attention. In early 1917 the German staff in Madrid transmitted messages to Berlin referring the activities of a German spy , code named H-21. French Intelligence intercepted it and identified as Mata Hari. Then she was detained and put on trial, framed of spying for Germany and condemned death warrant , accused to cause deceasing of at least 50.000 allied soldiers. She was founded guilty and executed by firing squad at the age of 41.
Other versions based on famed courtesan/spy are : a silent version ¨Mata Hari¨ with Magda Sonja , ¨Agent H 21¨ (1964) by Jean Louis Richard with Jeanne Moreau and Jean Louis Trintignant and ¨Mata Hari¨(1985) by Curtis Harrington with Sylvia Kristel , Derek De Lint , Christopher Cazenove , Oliver Tobias , Gaye Brown and Gottfried John.
Garbo in love. There is nothing to compare with it. And MGM knew it.
Again and again they fashioned vehicles for her to be in love, and "Mata
Hari" is one of the best. Who cares that it has nothing to do with the real
Mata Hari? This is a beautiful film - it looks gorgeous and is brilliantly
acted. It was always difficult for male actors to hold their own with Garbo
- Robert Taylor failed, Olivier by his own confession couldn't "hold a
candle to her" - but there are three who certainly could John Gilbert (of
course!), Melvyn Douglas (in comedy) and here the sublime Ramon Novarro. He
was perhaps the only one of Garbo's leading men who could compare with her
in beauty (though Lew Ayres is pretty cute in "The Kiss")and William Daniels
films him nearly as lovingly as he does Garbo. The shot of his face where
he blows out the candle (at Garbo's insistence), that his mother made him
swear to always burn, is most beguiling. The two display a rare chemistry,
and the final scene in the prison cell is very moving. Novarro in love is
as enchanting as Garbo in love.
And the film is about the experience of love, and how it over-rides all else in life. Very romantic and very touching. Unrequited love sends Lionel Barrymore mad - this is a great performance too - and Lewis Stone's incomprehension of love makes him a cold, heartless monster (another expert performance from him). The sad thing here is that Novarro and Garbo were never again paired. A great and powerful film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In the early scenes Mata Hari (Greta Garbo) dances a slinky oriental dance; it's not clear what sort of culture she is meant to representthere are silver pagodas on her head, and a many-armed god in the background, as well as other orientalist culture indicators sprinkled throughout. It's enough that she's exotic, without needing to pin her nationality down. Her costumes are gorgeous and also vaguely oriental, but with much silver lamé. She wears hats. It's Paris during WW I, and there are spies all over the place, and she's the most independent and fearless of them all, cool and heartless, using men easily, as she does General Shubin (Lionel Barrymore), until she meets the handsome young Russian aviator Rosanoff (Ramon Navarro), who has excellent posture, melty eyes, and a Spanish accent. Navarro is all pleasing surfaces. In the course of being irresistible, she steals secrets from him and accidentally falls in love. This causes problems, she has to kill Shubin to protect Rosanoff, and she has to part with the aviator. His plane crashes, but she finds him when he is blinded in hospital and tells him sweet lies, and she protects him in court and faces the firing squad. The movie is purely a Garbo vehicle, and she is fine, breezing through the clichés and the bad writing, and acting cool and then passionate. She is, of course, compellingly lovely. When she is not dancing, she moves sinuously, mostly. She has an odd carriage when walking slowly through a room, leading with her head bent forward, her neck arched, her shoulders one or two inches from a shrug. Otherwise she reclines langorously and gazes at other characters with a smile impossible to read.
She is not the first to play Mata Hari, the alluring spy of World War I. But Greta Garbo is very memorable as the temptress; the seducer; the beguiling not-so-secret agent. Garbo's exotic dance is quite lethal for the early 1930s. Ramon Novarro plays the young lover willing to give his life for hers. Lionel Barrymore is the older lover that dies by her hand. This classic does not claim to be factual to history, but makes a great melodrama not to be missed. Supporting cast features Lewis Stone, C. Henry Gordon and Karen Morley. Viva la France.
MATA HARI (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1931), directed by George Fitzmaurice,
is more of a showcase for Greta Garbo in the title role rather than a
biographical study on the legendary female spy of World War I. Having
already played a lady spy in the silent melodrama, THE MYSTERIOUS LADY
(MGM, 1928), this particular stature and situations that occurred are
nothing new here. By contrast, from fictional to actual character
portrayed, this is a somewhat improved story overall, scripted by
Benjamin Glazer and Leo Birinski, and highlighted by interesting
casting of Mexican actor, Ramon Rovarro, in support.
Opening title: "In 1917, war-ridden France dealt summarily with traitors and spies." Traitors and spies are demonstrated in the opening scene as DuBois (C. Henry Gordon), chief of the spy bureau, gives orders at the firing squad the execution of three traitors, the third being a condemned man (Mischa Auer) refusing to reveal any information about a notorious woman, Mata Hari, who happens to be a great threat to France. Mata Hari, a spy working under secret orders for Adriani (Lewis Stone), is known for hypnotizing and seducing military officials for secretive information, and DuBois's mission is to gather enough evidence to have her arrested and executed. DuBois suspects General Serge Shubin (Lionel Barrymore) to be involved with Mata Hari, but, too, is unsuccessful in gathering evidence against him as well. After getting together with his friend, Lieutenant Alexis Romanoff (Ramon Novarro) of the Russian Interior Air Corps, Serge invites him to come to the café and watch an exotic dancer perform. The dancer is Mata Hari (Greta Garbo). Although Serge is romantically involved with Mata Hari, Alexis becomes interested and soon involved with her, causing friction on their friendship after Alexis finds Mata Hari alone in Serge's apartment. Her seductive ways has Alexis falling under her spell again, enough lose the important documents entrusted to him meant for the Prime Minister over to Mata Hari. After Alexis becomes blinded in an airplane accident, Mata Hari, realizing her love for Alexis, puts herself in great danger for betraying Adriani, committing murder and having DuBois hot on her trail.
The screen version, reportedly loosely based on Mata Hari herself, is no doubt tailor made for Garbo's talents as well as MGM's answer to Marlene Dietrich's fictional World War seductive female spy of X-27 in DISHONORED (Paramount, 1931). Faster paced than her previous early sound efforts (1930-31), Garbo appears much more relaxed in the role and very much accustomed to the new medium of "talking pictures" by this point. MGM reliables of Lionel Barrymore and Lewis Stone (both of whom became standard players in many Garbo films over the years) add to the amiable support, along with the Mexican-born Novarro playing a Russian pilot. Somehow Novarro does better than expected, without making any attempt speaking with a Russian accent. Being the only pairing of Garbo and Novarro, MATA HARI turns out to be the only Novarro film produced during his MGM sound years (1929-1934) to have any distinction. His mustache, dark hair and fleecing eyes in one scene come as a reminder of another popular MGM leading man, John Gilbert, who might have tackled the role of Alexis had it not been for his lack of successful box office appeal he once earned in the mid twenties. Others in fine support are Karen Morley playing Carlotta, the dark-haired spy working under orders of Adriani; Alec B. Francis as Major Caron; Blanche Frederici and Helen Jerome-Eddy briefly appearing as Nuns; Frank Reicher as the Cook/Spy; and Edmund Breese (The Warden).
Notable scenes worth mentioning include Mata Hari getting Alexis to make passionate love to her. Before he does, she alluringly talks him into proving his love for her by turning out the continuous burning candle of the Holy Lamp of Madonna (a patron saint to guard him from evil); and the stalking of Mata Hari by Jacque, a club-footed giant (face unseen).
Of the many major MGM feature film releases of 1931, this and THE CHAMP starring Wallace Beery were once notable exceptions as those to have continued revivals on broadcast television in the New York City area through the mid to late 1980s before making its way to cable television, notably Turner Network Television (1988-92) and Turner Classic Movies (1994-present). Distributed on video cassette and later to DVD, MATA HARI continues to become one of the most notable and worthwhile Greta Garbo films, along with "Queen Christina"(1933), "Anna Karenina"(1935), "Camille" (1936) and "Ninotchka" (1939) all of which she was born to play. As much as the Novarro films from this period are virtually forgotten to today's generation, his legend rests simply on his silent screen performances of both BEN-HUR (1925) and THE STUDENT PRINCE (1927), along with the one notable movie where he was "just wild about Hari." (***1/2)
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