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In Austria, Katrin is lonely after her sister's marriage and she agrees to marry her father's research associate Dr. Walter Fane. Fane takes her to China but constantly ignors her in favour of his medical research. Lonely Katrin has an affair with Jack Townsend of the British Embassy. When it is discovered by Walter he becomes very bitter. Fane travels to fight a cholera epidemic and Katrin goes with him and helps. They grow closer together than ever before but Walter is knifed in a riot incited by the burning of a cholera infested town. Now their new found happiness will depend on Walter's survival. Written by
Gary Jackson <email@example.com>
The soundstage China of 1933's "Bitter Tea of General Yen" leaves the soundstage China of 1934's "Painted Veil" in the dust. "Yen's" China draws you in and intoxicates you. "Painted Veil's" China is fun, but it's a bit silly and superficial. A San Francisco Chinatown Chinese New Year's parade would be more profound.
George Brent is at his worst here. I've never seen him do anything quite like what he does here -- a fly-by-night and exploitative romancer who toys with women's hearts.
Brent wasn't great looking, but he was very good at playing the grounded, reliable foil to electric characters like Bette Davis' Judith Traherne in "Dark Victory."
Here, as Townsend, while speaking serious words, Brent adopts a silly smile, and -- literally -- renounces everything he says in the very next sentence. Maybe a much better looking, or more conventionally handsome, actor could have made this character charming in a snake-like, dangerous way (Erroll Flynn?) but Brent didn't really have the equipment to make Townsend as charming to the audience as he might have been to a neglected wife in China.
Garbo plays a near spinster who watches her younger sister marry, and, on the rebound, marries a man she doesn't love out of desperation.
How on earth could anyone make sense of *Garbo* as a desperate spinster? The movie doesn't even try to make sense of that. It just asks us to believe it. The viewer has to try to make up reasons for her spinster status. (Her parents kept her locked in a closet the first thirty or so years of her life? She had a horrible facial deformaty that suddenly fell off?)
I still love this movie.
I love it for the moment when Herbert Marshall says, with the kind of real passion you expect of a contemporary production of a Eugene O'Neill play, that he despises himself for loving Garbo, after she has cuckolded him.
It's great to see Marshall, who so often played helpless men ill used by women ("The Letter," "Duel in the Sun," "The Little Foxes"), here finally able to effectively express his bitterness at being so ill used, and take some action in response, even if that action is intended to be fatal.
I love it for the complications that arise in the final portion. Hearts are changed. Suffering and human sacrifice changes them. Love is born of the kind of big events that sometimes do change people, and life stories, in real life.
This ending, though not in compliance with Maughm's novel, didn't strike me as a "Hollywood" "happy" ending at all. It struck me as a profound ending. It reminded me of a more recent film, Bertolucci's "Besieged," that also talks about the role of altruism in love and eroticism.
For those features, I deeply value this movie, in spite of its superficial imperfections.
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