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There are many good reasons to watch this version of Anna; close
fidelity to Tolstoy's masterpiece is not one of them, as in it's day,
long adaptations were not the norm, and one cannot expect most of Anna
Karenini in 95 minutes. There are numerous other versions out there in
Movieland much more complete and detailed--but they lack the main
I would have paid full price to see this version for two main reasons: One, for the first ten minutes, a spectacular studio-recreation of a never-was military banquet with a dazzling tracking shot that seems to go on forever, studio forces marshaled to produce an extravagant opulence only from MGM! And then there's Garbo! One of the people watching this film with me was hushed and amazed later commenting that she had heard Garbo was beautiful but had no idea she was so incredibly ravishing--and she is, a perfect Anna in so many ways, with her largely blank, gorgeous features allowing other characters and the viewer to project their own fantasies onto her character. No one comes close.
Beware the deadly tot actor Bartholomew, who was effective under Cukor's direction in David Copperfield, but here with Clarence Brown is unctuously sticky, a sweet kid Rathbone would have fried for breakfast; the latter is dryly caustic as Anna's inflexible mate, and Fredric March is serviceable as Vronsky. This version is all about Garbo.
None But the Lonely Heart ANNA KARENINA (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1935),
directed by Clarence Brown, stars Greta Garbo in the title role taken
from the classic 1877 epic novel by Count Leo Tolstoy. As much as the
story had been told and re-told several times on screen, dating back to
the early days of silent cinema to the 2012 Academy Award nominated
production, this edition, next to CAMILLE (MGM, 1936), has become one
of Garbo's most celebrated of tragic heroines. Having already enacted
that same basic character in the silent version titled LOVE (MGM, 1927)
opposite John Gilbert, the major difference between that and this first
sound remake is that this latest Garbo carnation happens to be an
improvement over the old in both style and direction.
Set in nineteenth century Russia, Count Alexei Vronsky (Fredric March), a military officer on leave from the Russian Army, enjoys himself at a gathering with the company of his regiment, one of them being his friend, Stiva (Reginald Owen), a married man and womanizer. The next morning, both Vronsky and Stiva arrive at the train station where Vronsky is to meet with his mother (May Robson) traveling from St. Petersburg, while Stiva comes to greet his sister, Anna Arkadyevna Karenina (Greta Garbo). Anna's raving beauty catches the attention of Vronsky who immediately falls in love with her. Shortly upon her arrival, Anna and the others witness the accidental death of a railroad inspector swept underneath the wheels of a moving train. Anna, quite affected by this, calls this tragedy "an evil omen." After her weekend visit with Stiva, his wife, Dolly (Phoebe Foster), their children, Tania (Cora Sue Collins) and Grisha (Buster Phelps), along with her younger sister, Kitty (Maureen O'Sullivan), Anna, on the train back to her home in Moscow, encounters Vronsky once again where he confesses his admiration for her. Although married with a son, Sergei (Freddie Bartholomew), whom she adores, Anna, quite lonely and wanting true love, turns to Alexei at the risk of he losing his position in the army. As her bureaucrat husband, Karenin (Basil Rathbone) learns of Anna's infidelity through the gossip of others, he forces his wife to make a decision that, either way, would change the course of her life forever.
Released the very same year as David O. Selznick's lavish productions of Charles Dickens' "David Copperfield" and "A Tale of Two Cities," classic literature transferred to film became the rage during that time. Selznick's edition of ANNA KARENINA is definitely no disappointment. Both Garbo dramatic ability and Clarence Brown's skillful direction make the film for what it is. Garbo's Anna Karenina (not to be confused with another titled character, "Anna Christie" Garbo portrayed in from 1930), is presented as one most people love and admire. Though she solves the troubled marriage of her brother and romantic problems for her younger sister (who happens to have a crush on Vronski), she's unable to salvage the troubles in her own. Because of her illicit affair, Anna becomes an social outcast. However, she retains one loyal admirer, Yashvin (Reginald Denny) whom she sadly tells him, "It's very generous of you not to hate me." Though Fredric March comes across well as Anna's self-centered lover, Basil Rathbone's presence simply overshadows that of the other male co-stars. At this point, Rathbone, noted for playing villains, isn't a villain here but simply a cold-hearted husband who's become the victim of a loveless marriage. Having to lie to his son that his mother is dead is further evidence of Rathbone's versatility as an actor as he brings both sympathy and vengeance within himself. His climatic scene comes as he forces Anna, after going against his wishes to visit with Sergei on his birthday, to leave. The camera captures both Anna's emotion in foreground full range at the same moment Karenin stands at a distance on the top of the stairway, twice yelling to her before the door closes, "Do you hear!"
Of the many members of the cast, including Ethel Griffies, Harry Beresford and Joan Marsh, the biggest surprise comes from the presence of Constance Collier's notable supporting performance that goes uncredited. Clarence Brown's direction should not go without mention. Nearly forgotten, his style to detail comes through the use of the camera. His backward camera tracking over the long dinner table with guests is a visual style he repeated from his silent Russian setting costume drama of THE EAGLE (United Artists, 1925), starring Rudolph Valentino and Vilma Banky.
While ANNA KARENINA may not contain every moment captured in the Tolstoy novel, it does offer enough ingredients to satisfy those who have never even read the book. Not overly long (97 minutes) for something that could have gone over two hours, over the years, the movie itself has available in both video and DVD formats. To compare with this and latter remakes, notably the 1948 British made version starring Vivien Leigh and Ralph Richardson for 20th Century-Fox, as well as the made-for-television adaptations, watch for this version the next time it turns up on Turner Classic Movies. (****)
Of the handful of astounding or classic books I've read in my life
Voltaire's Candide is top - and is apparently unfilmable. Tolstoy's
Anna Karenina is another - and has been filmed many times but none of
them coming anywhere near to doing the novel justice. This MGM Clarence
Brown effort remains my favourite attempt, although at 92 minutes long
it's still like seeing simplified and edited snapshots of the
masterwork. Of the ones I've seen the 1948 UK version had a lot going
for it but was just as edited, not as plush but if watched with the MGM
can augment the experience; the 1967 Russian version was nearly 150
minutes long but almost laughable in it's hamminess and with dodgy
English subtitles; the BBC 10 parter from 1977 was done on a low snoozy
Sunday afternoon TV budget and it showed. I wonder if the 2012 entry is
a cgi cartoon?
Anna Karenin has a loveless marriage but dotes on her young son; dashing Count Vronsky a cavalry officer falls in love with her and vice versa her husband disowns her leaving her to a life of shame and regret. It's expertly handled and amidst sumptuous Cedric Gibbons sets gives the viewer the gist of the simple perfection and satisfying elegance of the story. Only here the big problem was they got Basil Rathbone as Karenin and Fredric March as Vronsky the wrong way round - Rathbone got the sympathy but also cut a far more interesting figure than March. Veronica Lake might have cast a witches spell on Greta Garbo to get her to fancy March! A lesser problem to me because understandable was that Levin and Kitty's tales were almost completely jettisoned, including the final part of the book for a rather lame and unnecessary mini-addendum by March and Reginald Owensky. And so what if Garbo occasionally over-acted, she was as usual suitably enigmatic.
A truly valiant effort to film the book, and the one I recommend over the other versions to date.
Adapting Anna Karenina, an epic work widely considered to be the
greatest novel of all time, is perhaps an impossible feat. On the
surface it is a simple tale about a woman with an unhappy marriage who
seeks happiness with another man and is punished for it, but the novel
is actually a carefully crafted patchwork of Russian society with acute
insight into the psychology of each character (believe it or not, that
was very innovative back in the late nineteenth-century). The general
critical consensus is that this 1935 version, whilst flawed, is the
best out of the many attempts there have been to film the novel.
Greta Garbo stars as Anna Karenina, married to the cold bureaucrat Karenin (Basil Rathbone), who is much older than her. Naturally graceful and beautiful, she attracts the attention of the dashing Count Vronsky (Frederic March), and the two embark on a doomed affair. Meanwhile Vronsky's jilted lover Kitty (Maureen O'Sullivan) is pursued by farmer Levin (Gyles Isham).
Readers of the novel will know that the Levin subplot makes up a considerable part of the novel and may be disappointed to know that in this version, it is cut down dramatically and Levin and Kitty's sweet romance is used as a contrast to the Anna/Vronsky affair, without showing the many problems that Levin and Kitty have to overcome. This doesn't have a drastic impact on the enjoyment of the film and it is perhaps for the best that the focus is on the Anna/Vronsky affair, as that is the most obviously dramatic of the two.
From the iconic scene where Anna first steps off the train and Vronsky sees her emerge from a cloud of steam, we know that she is doomed. Tragedy is written all over Garbo's face but she is also graceful and seductive. In just one silent moment, Vronsky and Anna fall in love and their fate is sealed.
March is convincing as dashing Vronsky but it is Rathbone's portrayal of Karenin that is masterful, allowing the viewer to feel some sympathy towards him. Perversely, some people even find prefer Karenin to Vronsky.
Garbo portrays a sophisticated mature Anna, passionate but not in the childlike way that Anna is in the novel. How close she is to Anna in the novel depends on which elements of Anna you focus on.
As said in the first paragraph, this film is flawed. At 90 minutes, it is far too short, and so the film is very episodic. It contains almost all the scenes you'd expect to see from the Anna/Vronsky affair, except the crucial scene where Anna almost dies having Vronsky's baby. We have the Hays office to blame for that.
Tolstoy's novel Anna Karenina is a truly great one, with an interesting
story and memorable characters. True, the title character can be
selfish and unlikeable(though I have heard and still hear similar
criticisms directed towards Scarlett O'Hara from Gone with the Wind),
but she is also a moving and interesting one.
I have yet to see the Vivien Leigh and the Jaqueline Bisset versions, but while it is very condensed compared to the book, I liked this film. Why do I say it is condensed? Well the film has been described as pretty much paring the plot down to the bone, something which I have to agree with. And there are subplots that are completely eliminated here. Despite me saying this, that is not really one of the reasons why I didn't give Anna Karenina a perfect score.
One reason is that I feel the film is too short and a tad rushed as well. If they had slowed the pace down and made it longer, the more interesting parts of the story that were left out could have been incorporated without that much of a problem. My other problem is to do with one casting choice. Sadly that choice is Fredric March as Vronsky. Now I am not dismissing March as a bad actor, on the contrary, I thought he was outstanding in the title role of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. However, his Vronsky left me cold, while he was dashing in terms of looks I found him rather stiff and ill-suited to the role, not to mention Vronsky is very Americanised here.
However, Anna Karenina is gorgeous to watch. The cinematography, stunning. The scenery, breathtaking. The costumes, colourful and ravishing. Anna Karenina also has the benefit of being richly scored and the music is very pleasant and memorable and does give some dramatic weight. The direction is solid, and the script is intelligent and sophisticated. Aside from March, everyone else in the cast is very good. Greta Garbo has been considered by many as the definitive Anna Karenina, although I have to see other interpretations before I agree with or dispute this opinion, I cannot deny she is wonderful in the role. Very passionate and moving. Freddie Bartholomew is also surprisingly effective as Sergei, but the acting honours actually go to Basil Rathbone who is just superb and truly magnetic as Karenin- this role could have been clichéd but Rathbone adeptly gives it some depth and multi-layers. And I have to give a nod to the final station scene thanks to Garbo and the camera work that scene had a real dynamic sheen to it and is incredibly poignant.
All in all, definitely worth watching and very solid. 8/10 Bethany Cox
This is definitely worth seeing, but I prefer "Queen Christina" and
"Ninotchka." I've seen many other versions of "Anna Karenina," and
this, like the others, was rich with atmosphere, and in that regard
this version surpasses them, but I'm not a big fan of Frederick March,
who overacts. Garbo was splendid, as usual, but miscasting the lead
actor opposite her is a problem that crops up in many of her films.
Garbo's style was so romantically intense that few male stars of the
time could work a scene with her believably. Her remarkable intensity
tended to bring out over acting in her partners, who attempted to match
her approach. But Garbo knew just when to turn it on and off, and how
to twist a phrase at the end so the moment didn't become maudlin or
corny. Her male co-stars just stumbled over themselves trying to reach
her emotional peaks. Robert Taylor had that problem in "Camille," as
did Ramon Novarro in "Mata Hari" to name two. John Gilbert, her co-star
from many silent films, understood how she worked, and Melvyn Douglas,
who took her on in "Ninotchka" managed to maintain his own low key
acting style which was nicely offset against her specific qualities.
Unfortunately, in "Anna" March is stiff and obvious, possessing none of
the subtlety that Garbo managed to create in scene after scene, movie
To condense this massive story down to an hour and a half is a crime. The Vivian Leigh version also cut many of Tolstoy's side plots and entire characters, but somehow it seemed less rushed. A much longer mini series has a weak Anna, but does have the entire story and all the characters. It's a massive book with many characters and to do it proper justice, a mini-series or long epic film is really necessary.
Yet Garbo is always worth watching, even if the scenes she has with March don't have the power they should. The ending train scene is effective, and though it's been done better in other versions, none of the other versions have those expressive Garbo eyes that reach to the extreme depths of her soul. What a face!
As one of MGM's glossy period dramas, the magnificent sets and costumes, cinematography and art direction all contribute to a splendid recreation of an era, but like most MGM dramas based on the classics, it's very Americanized. And with the Hayes Code in place by 1935, the sheer abandon of the actual love story between Anna and Vronsky had to be toned down considerably. This may have contributed to March's over-zealous acting style, attempting to make up for what they couldn't show on screen - but on the other hand, knowing March's acting style from many other films, I doubt it.
Years ago I saw "Love," the silent version of "Anna Karenina" with John Gilbert and Garbo, which was my first experience of that story on film. Though the ending was shamefully changed from the book, I remember being impressed with how believably passionate Garbo was, and how much emotion powered her love scenes with John Gilbert. I'd like to see it again, but I've read that the TMC version Warners is selling has a horrible music track, recorded live with an audience laughing at inappropriate places.
MGM's version of "Anna Karenina" is from Greta Garbo's prime, and for that it is well worth seeing. She's beautiful and says more with a single glance than most novelists achieve with ten chapters.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Not a bad constringed version of Tolstoy's novel, given a grand
Hollywood treatment. Garbo is Anna Karenina, married to a stuffy
husband (Rathbone) and devoted to her young boy (Bartholemew).
Everything in her rather orthodox life goes askew when she meets the
Army officer Count Vronsky (March) and they fecklessly fall in love.
She makes a public spectacle of her adoration of the sexy, dashing March, and when her affair becomes obvious to Rathbone it imperils his honor, his career, and the future of their son, so he throws her out to wander the world.
March is in hot water too. Warned to cut out the adultery business, he resigns and joins Garbo in Venice for a lengthy and thoroughly disrespectable honeymoon.
Garbo doesn't mind leaving her husband but the guilt over her willing separation from her son gnaws at her. She begins to snap at March. She accuses him of wanting to get back into the Guards and fight in the Turkish-Serbian War, which in fact he DOES want, but not if it means leaving her. In the end, sufficiently provoked, he joins his friends in the regiment and takes off for the war, intending to return.
This leaves Garbo alone in Petersberg. She broods, becomes depressed, and throws herself under a train.
Garbo is okay. I never found her as beguiling as the paparazzi did. And March is always a competent actor but I never thought of him as having much in the way of dash. (He'd have made a better Karenin.) Freddy Bartholemew does a fine impression of the stiff, cold, slightly cadaverous, but honorable Basil Rathbone character.
It's Rathbone himself who gives the most memorable performance. We've seen him as many villains -- crossing swords with Errol Flynn, as Mr. Murdstone whipping Freddie Bartholemew, the kind of stern autocrat who brings pleasure whenever he goes. We've also seen him as at least a few heroes -- most notably Sherlock Holmes -- but here his character is complex, as complex as his Commanding Officer in "Dawn Patrol", and he carries it off nicely.
I absolutely love the novel Anna Karenina, but I am extremely displeased to find out that none of the movies really focus at all on the Levin/Kitty plot. There have been numerous arguments between scholars over whether or not Tolstoy had two protagonists--Anna, and Levin. To simply gloss over such a large part of Tolstoy's novel doesn't do justice to his work. And as I don't particularly like Anna or Vronsky, I definitely won't be investing my time in watching a movie entirely about them. It's a shame that people who see the many movies made about Anna Karenina won't be getting a better view of what the novel really is like.
I recorded a broadcast of this movie off of TCM and finally got around to watching it last night. The cast has many of the big names you associate with films from this era of Hollywood and while a technically proficient movie it left a lot to be desired. Garbo doesn't do much for me and casting her in the role of Anna is a bit of a stretch as I find it hard to believe she could win the attention of a dashing member of the Royal Guards. March isn't much better as her lover, as he looks very bloated. He's a lot more dashing in Anthony Adverse. Basil Rathbone gives a very strong performance as Anna's husband and comes across as both a good father, but a distant and unsympathetic husband. While I understand this movie is based on a famous novel, it surprises me that MGM would make such a depressing movie considering what was going on in the world at this time, Hollywood was definitely more upbeat during the 1930's. At the end of this movie, I couldn't help but think I was watching one of the many anti-hero movies which came out in the late 60's and 70's. I also found it disturbing that Fredric March's character got off so easy. At the very least he could have been a broken man, but instead he's lounging around with his buddy and having a few drinks.
I'm not sure why this movie is so easily obtainable at my local video
except for the fact that Greta Garbo is in it. This is one of my
novels, and it was a shame to see all Tolstoy's subtlety and care in
portraying human relationships almost completely glossed over in this
Garbo, as great as she is in other roles, got Anna right only part of the
time. I wanted to see more of Anna's sunny, yet vulnerable and ultimately
weak personality, and Garbo brought across neither the sunniness nor the
weakness (until the very end, when she played the desperate Anna quite
well). She wasn't helped, though, by a poor script adaptation and a
characterization from Frederic March as Vronsky. Basil Rathbone got
dead-on, as did Reg Owen as Oblonsky. Gyles Isham as wasn't even in the
right solar system as Levin.
The ballroom scene was embarrassingly terrible, with all the exposition taking place in stiff dialogue between the characters, making the most important and tension-filled scene in the novel into an eye-rolling squirm-fest for the viewer. The most moving scene was when Anna went to visit Sergei -- Garbo was at her best when Anna was at her weakest.
I will be investigating other film versions of this story - despite the basic failure of this movie, it felt good to see my familiar, beloved characters brought to life on screen. Hopefully, there is one out there that better serves Tolstoy's great and human work.
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