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The Temptress (1926) – The Greta Garbo Blogathon

22 Nov

Greta Garbo was only around twenty-one when she made The Temptress, her second film in Hollywood, but my heavens was she stunning. When she removes her mask at the beginning of the film, her leading man, Antonio Moreno, is visibly staggered and can only mumble something obvious about how beautiful she is.

I’ve read countless articles where authors write in reverent, semi-spiritual tones about her mystery and allure, which contrarily, has inclined me to dismiss her. I’ve seen her in only three films, all talkies (including the delightful Ninotchka), but after watching her in a silent film, I begin to see what they mean.

The Temptress is a film that is obsessed with her beauty. The plot revolves around how every man that meets her can’t help falling madly in love. Friends fight and kill each other, men ruin themselves or neglect their work or even commit suicide. And then they blame her for it all.

No wonder she looks so weary at the beginning of the film, in a brilliantly shot scene where she stands in a theater box, looking out at masked revelers. Not many twenty-one year olds can look so weary. She is approached by a man, who demands an answer to some question. She replies that she does not love him. Then she tries to leave the party, but has to fight her way through the throng, many of whom try to draw her into the revelry. One can almost imagine her saying that she wants to be alone.

Opening scene

But she is followed into the garden by one man, Manuel Robledo (Antonio Moreno) and it is love at first sight. They spend the evening making vows of love and so on. Except that she is married and another man has ruined himself for her. So Manuel is disillusioned and returns to Argentina, where he is overseeing the construction of a great dam.

The majority of the film occurs in Argentina. Greta Garbo’s character, Elena, and her husband travel to Argentina to make a new start in life after a scandal in Paris regarding Elana. But Elena is determined to win Manuel back, the only man she ever loved. Except she manages to inflame nearly all the men, including Lionel Barrymore, which gets in the way of building the dam.

Manuel believes that she is evil and resolved not to yield, despite wishing to do so. It’s high melodrama and distinctly sensational at times. Still, the film is strikingly directed by Fred Niblo, who was also responsible for The Mark of Zorro and the 1925 Ben-Hur. There is also an exciting score by Michael Picton, who wrote the original score for the film in ’26.

The film is based on La Tierra de Todos, by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez, who also wrote Blood and Sand. I am not sure exactly how the book goes, but the film appears to be skewed more towards Greta Garbo’s character, understandably. She holds the audience’s attention like no one else in the film and was well on her way to becoming one of MGM’s top stars.

Dangerous woman

Her character is not necessarily given a whole lot of development. In my sister’s analogy, she functions like the Congo River in Heart of Darkness. By going down the river, you find out what you really are like. Except in The Temptress, instead of going down the Congo, you meet her. Men suddenly find out that they are financially corrupt or have it in them to kill their friends. She basically just brings out what was already in the hearts of men.

Though it’s not at all clear that the film endorses this view. There are frequent intertitles extolling “Men’s work!” There are so many references to men and so many exclamation marks that they wouldn’t be out of place in one’s twitter feed. Women essentially get in the way. Especially Elena, who’s very beauty is presented as something of a curse which she has little control over. She certainly acts seductively, but it is suggested that it is her beauty that is the problem. She only acts the way it is expected of her to act.

It’s tough being Greta Garbo in this film. Though perhaps it was tough being Greta Garbo in real life, perhaps even why she retired at only thirty-six, having made twenty-eight feature films in her entire life.

It’s difficult to describe exactly what it was that made Greta Garbo so mesmerizing. She seems to draw you in with curiosity, but never actually satisfies that curiosity. What is she really thinking or feeling? Perhaps that is what kept audiences coming back, through silent and sound films.

This post is part of “The Greta Garbo Blogathon,” hosted by In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. Click here for more posts from the blogathon.

The opening sequence of The Temptress.

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17 Comments

Posted by on November 22, 2017 in Movies

 

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17 responses to “The Temptress (1926) – The Greta Garbo Blogathon

  1. Erin

    November 22, 2017 at 5:48 pm

    I’ve found that I generally prefer Garbo in silents to Garbo in talkies (with the exception of Ninotchka, which is indeed delightful) — maybe the silence adds to the mystery. This is one I haven’t seen, though, so I’ll have to catch it next time it shows up on TCM. Thanks for writing about it!

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • christinawehner

      November 22, 2017 at 6:07 pm

      Ah, that is an interesting point about how silence enhances the mystery. That makes sense. This is my first silent Garbo, but I would be curious to see more. Which did you like?

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • Erin

        November 22, 2017 at 6:27 pm

        Silent-wise, I’ve seen Flesh and the Devil, Love, A Woman of Affairs and The Kiss, but only once each and none of them very recently; that said, I remember Flesh and the Devil being my favorite of the bunch. Love is based on Anna Karenina (modernized, as I recall), so that’s interesting, especially considering that Garbo later starred in a talkie version of the story (which I haven’t seen).

        Liked by 1 person

         
        • christinawehner

          November 22, 2017 at 7:34 pm

          A modernized Anna Karenina sounds rather interesting. I saw her later talkie version, but that was quite a while ago. It would be fascinating to see the silent version. Will definitely have to try Flesh and the Devil, too. Thanks!

          Liked by 1 person

           
  2. Michaela

    November 22, 2017 at 7:24 pm

    Excellent post, Christina! I’m a big fan of Garbo, mainly because I find her so stunning. When she’s on the screen, I can’t look anywhere else. The things she could suggest with just one look! Unfortunately, she wasn’t always paired with the best material, so it can be tough sometimes to get through her filmography, especially since it’s essentially one tragic drama after the next.

    That being said, I would recommend Flesh and the Devil (her electric first pairing with John Gilbert), Queen Christina (her fascinating final pairing with Gilbert), and Anna Karenina with Fredric March and Basil Rathbone.

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • christinawehner

      November 22, 2017 at 7:38 pm

      Thanks for the recommendations! I will definitely have to see those. I have read so much about John Gilbert and Garbo, but have unbelievably yet to see them together.

      That’s a good point about how she was not always given the best material to work with. I wonder why that was or if they just felt so confident in her and her abilities that it made them a bit lazy about providing her good material. I agree – it’s nearly impossible to look at anyone else when she is on screen.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  3. Le

    November 24, 2017 at 11:16 am

    I have watched Greta in another 1926 film, but not The Temptress. And, wow, I’m already past the 21 mark and I can’t believe how such a young woman could be so beautiful. And I agree: our curiosity for her is never satisfied!
    Great article! Kisses!

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • christinawehner

      November 24, 2017 at 6:21 pm

      I know what you mean! I watch these films and feel like actresses like Greta Garbo, though younger than I am now, seemed so much more adult than I feel. 🙂

      Like

       
  4. Elizabeth

    November 28, 2017 at 2:06 am

    Great post and great film! You’re so right about Garbo. Her allure is very mysterious and it’s difficult to put a finger on what exactly makes her so intriguing. But she is most definitely intriguing and draws you in. I enjoyed reading your post!

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • christinawehner

      November 29, 2017 at 1:01 pm

      Thanks! It is interesting how some stars seem to have that mysterious quality that works so well on screen. I wonder if it was only on screen for Greta Garbo or if she would have had the same quality on stage. People are always talk about her eyes, which couldn’t be seen on stage.

      Like

       
  5. Carol

    December 5, 2017 at 6:25 am

    ‘She seems to draw you in with curiosity, but never actually satisfies that curiosity.’ Spot on.

    Liked by 1 person

     
  6. amycondit

    December 15, 2017 at 12:34 pm

    I have some video cassettes (!) of TCM Garbo marathons, and don’t think I’ve watched this one over the years. Will have to remedy that! I recently recorded “The Single Standard”, and am sure I’ll enjoy that one.

    I appreciate the silent mystique of Garbo, but also appreciate her acting talents in talkies like “Anna Christie” and especially “Grand Hotel”.

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • christinawehner

      December 15, 2017 at 10:14 pm

      Wow, that’s impressive! I can’t play video cassettes anymore, but often wish I still could.

      A marathon of Greta Garbo would be lovely! I finally watched her in Camille and thought she was excellent, but have yet to see Anna Christie. Definitely want to, though.

      Like

       
  7. In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood

    December 21, 2017 at 3:22 am

    Hey Christina. I’m really sorry for the late reply. I’ve been meaning to reply, but I’m back in my home state visiting family, and I’ve been at my grandparents for the past few weeks who live in the bush. The internet has been so bad. It’s hard to get online, and even then it keeps conking out. Anyway, I want to thank you for participating in the blogathon with such a great post.

    I announced another blogathon before I went away, and I’d love to invite you to join in. The link is below with more details.

    https://crystalkalyana.wordpress.com/2017/11/10/announcing-the-elizabeth-taylor-blogathon/

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • christinawehner

      December 21, 2017 at 11:16 am

      I totally understand how that goes with the internet! 🙂

      It was a pleasure to be able to see Greta Garbo during the silent era. Thanks for the invite! I am definitely going to participate, but need a little time to consider the topic.

      Like

       

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