Nana is a 1934 American Pre-Code film, produced by Samuel Goldwyn, released through United Artists, starring Anna Sten. and directed by Dorothy Arzner and George Fitzmaurice. This version ...
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Nana is a 1934 American Pre-Code film, produced by Samuel Goldwyn, released through United Artists, starring Anna Sten. and directed by Dorothy Arzner and George Fitzmaurice. This version of Émile Zola's heroine was to be the vehicle for Sten's triumph as Samuel Goldwyn's trained, groomed and heavily promoted answer to Greta Garbo. Despite the big investment, the publicity help from William Randolph Hearst, and a record-breaking opening week at Radio City Music Hall, Sten was beautiful but disappointing. Goldwyn's tutoring of Sten is mentioned in Cole Porter's 1934 song "Anything Goes" from the musical of the same name: "If Sam Goldwyn can with great conviction / Instruct Anna Sten in diction / Then Anna shows / Anything goes."
Boring...and it wasn't all Anna Sten's fault--though much of it was!
My wife and I just finished watching this movie and throughout much of it, she kept asking me "are you SURE you want to finish this film?!". I have to admit that I thought about turning it off a few times, too, but it never was quite bad enough to merit this--though it sure came close!! In light of the general view that the film was a major debacle when it debuted, I was actually surprised to see one reviewer gave it a 9.
As for the plot and how it differs from the novel by Emile Zola, I'll leave you to read over tracyfigueira's excellent review. I haven't read the book but knew enough about it to realize that the plot was dramatically different from Zola's. One of the reasons is that although they never say it, it's very obvious that Nana was a prostitute and had slept with half of Paris! And her friends were also common prostitutes as well. Yet, Sam Goldwyn insisted that Nana be played like a combination of Marlene Dietrich and the Singing Nun! Oy.
When the tale of this trollop with a heart of gold debuted in 1934, critics howled at the horrible acting of newcomer Anna Sten and the public avoided this bloated epic like the plague. In fact, for years, consensus was that Sten was a horrible actress and her performance convinced me that the people of the 30s were very astute--she was a terrible actress. Her accent was difficult to cut through and her "acting" was amateurish throughout. However, I also feel that to blame the picture's demise squarely on her was unfair. Even if Ms. Sten had been competent (and I remind you she was NOT), the writing was just awful and anyone uttering such claptrap would look ridiculous! Plus, Goldwyn's insistence that Sten be treated like an even more bewitching creature than Dietrich and Garbo was silly and destined to failure--and making Sten look even more ridiculous as she tried in vain to act that alluring. Heck, when Sten sang (if you can call it that), before she even finished this god-awful number, the men in the audience (who had previously never even heard of her) all began behaving like a Tex Avery cartoon wolf! No one is THAT sexy and desirable!! In addition to all this silliness and bad acting, the film also suffers from bad acting by many of the co-stars--particularly Nana's hooker friends. And, to make things worse, the film is also dreadfully dull and derivative--looking like a knockoff of several of Garbo's and Dietrich's films (especially CAMILLE and BLONDE VENUS). See this film if you are curious about Sten--otherwise, avoid it like the plague.
By the way, and I know this will sound VERY catty, but in watching this film I kept asking myself if perhaps Ms. Sten and Mr. Goldwyn have some other vested interest in each other. I know this sounds petty, but his insistence on a huge publicity campaign to create an American career and three failed big budget US films does make you wonder why he brought her to this country to begin with or kept her here after her performance in NANA.
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