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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's classic has been brought to screen more
than 20 times so far. There are a lot of interpretations of the novel,
a lot of visions of the sad fate of Anna Karenina. They are generally
faithful to Tolstoy's novel. The minor changes, entailed in
adaptations, are not to be criticized since each director has the right
to interpret the content of a novel in an individual fashion.
Nevertheless, Clarence Brown's movie with Greta Garbo in the main role
is the most powerful of all adaptations made so far.
Before seeing this movie, there are some inevitable pieces of information that one should know about this adaptation of Tolstoy's classic. Greta Garbo was cast as Anna Karenina twice in her life. This movie was, in fact, a remake of the silent film by Edmund Goulding LOVE (1927) where Greta played with John Gilbert, one of the most powerful men in her career and private life. That version, however, had not survived in its popularity in the long run. The producers even made two endings, a sad and a happy one so that cinemas could choose an appropriate one for the needs of their audience. 8 years later, in 1935, Clarence Brown made something entirely different: a movie that really fitted to Greta's talent, a sort of tribute to Tolstoy and Garbo, something that the fans of both waited for.
There are a lot of impressive moments in the movie. From the very beginning, the decorations, the splendor do leave an everlasting impact in the viewer. The first time we see Anna Karenina is when she gets out of the train and her face becomes more and more visible from the steam (technically very well made). Very soon, there is an accident on a railroad station, a kind of prediction of Anna's death. Among other scenes, the moment of her death is particularly moving. Although there is a tragedy, the train moves on... And does the world care...?
Touching moments are something that make the movie worth seeing. Most moments of Anna being with her son, Sergei (Freddie Bartholomew) make the eyes tearful. Greta Garbo here beautifully shows someone who wants to be a good mother and at the same time, someone who desires to be loved and who has the right for personal happiness.
The cast are great, absolutely impressive performances. Except for Greta Garbo who raised the value of most of films she performed in, Basil Rathbone's portrayal of cruel and cold Karenin is really worth your attention. After Greta, he is another SHINING STAR of the movie. Freddie Bartholomew as Sergei is memorable, too. He was 11 when he played in this film and he managed so well. Fredric March, the symbol of the 1930s and 1940s Hollywood, did not give his best performance here; however, there are moments where he plays really well.
In spite of some shortcomings of the movie (skipped plot of Kitty and Levin, long scenes or sometimes dated script fitting to its era only - e.g. in Venice Anna Karenina says to Vronsky: "Is there still pain in the world?"), Brown's ANNA KARENINA is a very good film. Although it is 70 years old, it is still a high entertainment, a piece of film art that deserves the attention of today's audience, that deserves being released on DVD.
If you like this genre, this film is really worth seeing. Even if you are not particularly interested in Tolstoy, your pleasure may be reduced to the admiration of real Hollywood elite of the 1930s. WONDERFUL FILM! 9/10!
Anna Karenina seems to have been tailor-made for Greta Garbo to play.
Ms. Garbo was always cast in these types of role that demanded a great
woman's presence. Leo Tolstoy's magnificent novel is adapted with the
emphasis on Anna, because the massive book, it probably took a lot of
skill to adapt it for the screen.
Clarence Brown, the director, was a man who was instrumental in guiding Ms. Garbo's American career in the movies. First, as a cinematographer, then as a director, Mr. Brown, obviously, got the respect and confidence of his star, as it's clearly shown in the film.
Technically, this was a film that was well crafted. In fact, after seventy years it still has a crisp look, as shown in the great DVD version of the film. The great cinematography by William Daniels shows why this genius behind the camera was one of the best in the business. The splendor of the sets and the art direction by Cedric Gibbons added a rich texture to what comes out on the screen.
As Anna, Ms. Garbo does excellent work. As a matter of fact, her style shows some restraint as she doesn't go into those large gestures to punctuate a situation on a scene. The only thing that detracts from the film is Frederic March's Vronsky. While he was one of the best actors of his time, in here he is not as effective as in the rest of his screen work. In fact, their romance could have played differently had another actor been cast as the man who conquers Anna's heart.
The other principal roles are well played by a wonderful company that MGM put together to support the star. Basil Rathbone is perfect as Karenin, the dark figure in the novel. Freddie Bartholomew, the child actor, has some lovely moments when he is seen playing opposite Ms. Garbo. In fact, those scenes show well Anna's tender side, something that is in sharp contrast with what she ends up doing, abandoning this lovely child. Reginald Owen, one of the best character actors of the era is seen as Stiva with great charm. Maureen O'Sullivan is Kitty.
"Anna Karenina" is a film that will live forever because the combination of Greta Garbo's appeal and the great director Clarence Brown that understood her so well.
Greta Garbo brings great pathos to the role of Tolstoy's tragic heroine, though it's anyone's guess why her Anna would be drawn even remotely to Frederic March's stiff, colorless Count Vronsky. Basil Rathbone, on the other hand, is all that he should be as Anna's cold, unforgiving husband and Freddie Bartholomew is quite fine as their son. It was inevitable that the complete breadth of Tolstoy's massive novel would suffer somewhat in its transfer to the screen and this is most keenly felt in the film's treatment of the secondary love story involving Kitty and Levin, which is all but discarded. Nonetheless, this MGM production, directed by Clarence Brown, is utterly involving. With the very pretty Maureen O'Sullivan as Kitty; Gyles Isham as Levin; and Reginald Owen, Constance Collier, Reginald Denny, May Robson, Ethel Griffies and Phoebe Foster.
For a film that tries to pack a 900 page novel into 95 minutes, Clarence
Brown's rendition of Tolstoy's masterpiece is quite impressive. Naturally,
there are aspects of the story that are forced aside- too little time is
spent on the relationship between Kitty and Levin (who was a self-portrait
of Tolstoy)- but Brown manages to portray the affair between Anna and
Vronsky with plenty of depth and emotion.
Greta Garbo, one of the greatest actresses of the 30's, is stunning in the lead. Frederic March is a little flat as Vronsky, dressed in his military uniform in almost every scene, but manages to do well with the character nonetheless. Basil Rathbone's usual grimness suits Karenin perfectly. The production design is spectacular. Brown directs his cast so that they always stand out from the scenery, clearly visible amidst the decadence and imperial settings. The ballroom scenes, where characters dance gracefully while exchanging crucial dialogue, particularly impressed me.
A delight for Garbo fans, as well as anyone who likes costume pieces or literary adaptations.
Watching this movie you will see MGM at the height of its movie-making powers. The physical production is impeccable, the sets are amazing, the production design fantastic. The photography and all technical aspects are superb with the costuming and makeup being the very best that money could buy. All these aspects combine to make a very enjoyable production but the fatal flaw in this much condensed version of Tolstoy's classic is the casting. Frederic March brings no passion to the role of Vronsky and no-one could ever believe for a minute that Anna would give up her child and position for him. In fact it is even hard to believe that she would leave her husband at all given the totally magnetic performance by Basil Rathbone as Karenin. His is the most memorable character portrayal in the film and he acts the part with superb skill. Vronsky is immediately attracted to Anna as he watches her alight from a train and Garbo's face is suddenly revealed through a cloud of steam. This was quite a magical effect in the cinema as her face gradually appeared and filled the huge movie screen, but on video and a TV screen the effect is much diminished and her face appears rather large, plain and mask like. Garbo is also referred to as 'pretty' several times during the movie when 'attractive' would have been a better word. Her acting skills are beyond doubt however and by the climax one is genuinely moved when she watches the train pull out of the station and decides that life will no longer be worth living. You can almost read her mind in this scene which is photographed and scored to maximum effect and leaves an indelible impression.
Garbo earned the first NYC Film Critics Best Actress Award for this performance and she is fine, totally believable as the happily married wife and mother who permits an obsessed count to destroy her life. The production values are first rate with some very impressive moments: the opening tracking shot down the table laid with food, the ball where cinematography, sound recording and editing all work together to seamlessly convey scads of dialogue (it must have been hell choreographing this), the meeting in the shadow and light filled garden by the pool, Garbo's entrance first seen behind a screen filled with steam (note Vivien Leigh's similar entrance in STREETCAR). Completely absorbing from start to finish and very worth your attention. Formerly available on MGM/UA video (now out of print) and just released on DVD to coincide with Garbo's birth centenary (9/05).
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Clarence Brown's Anna Karenina (1935) bears little resemblance to
Tolstoy's Russian melodrama. But the discrepancies hardly matter. Garbo
is, of course, Anna a beautiful, congenial and much beloved wife to
senior Russian statesman and all around bore, Karenin (Basil Rathbone).
And although her virtue is beyond question, speculations begin to mount
when Anna takes an interest in a member of the Imperial Guard, Vronsky
(Fredric March). The two quickly develop as lovers, a move that places
Anna's future with her son, Alexei (Freddie Bartholomew) in peril. You
just know this is going to end badly.
Of all the Garbo classics, this film most brilliantly opens up its cinematic space and develops a real flare for storytelling that goes beyond the acting. Brown's initial establishing shot a lavish tracking over a seemingly endless dinner table decked out for the soldiers is both impressive and commanding. Ditto for his handling of Anna's exile from her home at the hands of her husband (another marvelous tracking shot) and her fatal final moments on the railway tracks. David O. Selznick personally supervised and produced this spectacular entertainment under the aegis of his MGM contract and the same meticulous attention to detail that would exemplify his own productions by the end of the decade is present here. This is a marvelous film.
Warner's DVD transfer is the second most impressive one in the bunch. A generally clean image with minimal grain, exceptionally fine detail, solid blacks and clean whites greets the consumer. Age related artifacts are present but sufficiently tempered so as not to distract from the presentation. The audio is mono but very nicely balanced and presented at an equitable listening level.
In Imperial Russia, the aristocratic Anna Karenina (Greta Garbo)
travels from Saint Petersburg to Moscow to visit her brother Stiva
(Reginald Owen) and she meets the cavalry officer Vronsky (Fredric
March), who came with Stiva to the train station to welcome his mother.
After a family reunion where Anna Karenina has a conversation with her sister-in-law Dolly (Phoebe Foster) to help to save Stiva's marriage, Anna is invited to stay for the ball. Anna Karenina is courted by Vronsky, but she decides to return to Saint Petersburg to her loveless marriage because of her beloved son Sergei (Freddie Bartholomew).
However Vronsky follows her and she introduces him to her husband Karenin (Basil Rathbone) at the train station. Vronsky woos her and soon they have a doomed love affair that will lead Anna Karenina to a tragic fate.
"Anna Karenina" (1935) is the first and the unforgettable version of Tolstoy's classic romance. Greta Garbor is perfect in the role of Anna Karenina, a beautiful and aristocratic married woman that falls in love with a man in a society repressive with the women's rights and feelings. The scene where her face appears in a cloud of steam is one of the most beautiful of the cinema history.
The grandiosity and the camera work of the initial scene showing the officer's table and the ball are still very impressive. The heartbreak conclusion of a woman destroyed by her love is very sad. My vote is eight.
Title (Brazil): "Anna Karenina"
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This version of Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina" is quite well-done, despite obvious flaws. I did miss the parallel romance of Levin and Kitty, but one can only fit so much into a two-hour film and director Clarence Brown chose to focus on the title character, which isn't exactly surprising. Garbo is wonderful--beautiful, yes, but also strong on the one side and vulnerable on the other...just the way I imagined Anna. Her death scene is profoundly moving, as is the scene between her and her son, Sergei (Freddie Bartholomew). Unfortunately for the film, while all the supporting actors are marvelous, the most important supporting player comes up distressingly short. I cannot for the life of me understand why Anna would leave Basil Rathbone's exciting and strangely attractive Karenin, for Frederic March's commonplace and genuinely boring Vronsky. They needed another actor (Errol Flynn springs to mind) to play the role of Vronsky, who is supposed to be the sort of man a woman would leave her husband, her family, and her entire social existence for. March just isn't all that interesting, and it makes the movie more disappointing than it should have been. Rathbone, on the other hand, is wonderfully repressed, with just enough passion lurking beneath the surface to make the viewer ask the inevitable question: why would anyone leave Basil Rathbone for Frederic March? You get the sense that a simple conversation between husband and wife would have solved all the problems. 9/10 stars for the sheer brilliance of Garbo, Rathbone and supporting cast, with the loss of one star for the forgettable March.
I'm willing to bet that Anna Karenina was something that Greta Garbo
agreed to remake because she thought she might have her same leading
man again. She had done Tolstoy's troubled countess in an acclaimed
silent version with John Gilbert. When Gilbert's career wouldn't
rebound after Queen Christina the year before, Garbo took on Fredric
March as a second choice.
It's not a bad choice, March makes a very good love 'em and leave 'em Count Vronsky. The book is nicely edited down to an acceptable movie length although it surely is better suited for a mini-series. But true to the Production Code and March's own image, he doesn't leave Anna for another woman and MGM tacks on a cop out scene at the very end where he expresses his profound regrets over the whole business.
Greta Garbo is trapped in a marriage to a career minded Basil Rathbone and is bored with the lack of romance. Along comes the dashing Count Fredric March and she leaves husband and child Freddie Bartholomew.
The whole point here is the difference in what happens. Tolstoy recognized full well the sexist frame his society operated under, but he thought it was a good thing. Women ought to know their place was his idea.
When Garbo runs off to Italy with March and then is seen publicly with him in St. Petersburg, she is shunned from polite society. March can be shed of her and his return back to his regiment is welcomed, Garbo has nowhere to go and her fate is inevitable.
Garbo captures the air of tragedy surrounding poor Anna so well, you're in tears practically the whole film. You KNOW what her fate must be yet you still watch her entranced. No wonder Anna Karenina is such an acclaimed role for her, both silent and sound versions.
Basil Rathbone is a proud member of the sexist society of Old Russia, yet his performance is also good in that you both feel his pain and hate him for not having an ounce of forgiveness for her.
Of the supporting cast, my favorite is Reginald Owen who is Garbo's brother. He's cheating on his wife with anyone in sight and then in the end HE lectures Garbo on what her duties are.
No wonder there were so many Bolshevik women.
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