Friday, January 10, 2014

Film Review: A Woman of Affairs

"A Woman of Affairs"  *** (out of ****)

Garbo (one of the few remaining artist of the silent era we can still refer to by only the last name and audiences still know who you are speaking of) peaked before my grandmother's time, still, she showed me the great Garbo when I was a child eventually passing along her admiration for the silent film star on to me.

Greta Garbo, for me, is the greatest of all the female silent film stars (although Louise Brooks comes in at a very close second). Few other actresses during her time were able to captivate the screen. To take full control of our attention. She always presented herself as a mystery and because of that we accepted her in every role. Who was the real Greta Garbo? How different was she from the characters she played?

In the past I have discussed two films she appeared in; "The Kiss" (1929) and "The Single Standard" (1929), made at a time when silent films were coming to an end. Now we shall discuss "A Woman of Affairs" (1928), a movie about decency and honor. A film which presents conservative morals. Every character does what they feel society would have them do in the name of honor even if it means leading a life of misery.

Garbo and John Gilbert (the two co-starred in "Flesh and the Devil" (1926) and "Queen Christine" (1933) star as lovers who have known each other since childhood. She is Diana, he is Neville. Diana, and her brother, Jeffry (Douglas Fairbanks Jr., can you beat this cast!) come from an old wealthy family, the Merricks. They are the spoiled children of wealth. Neville does not come from such a family (though you could have fooled me). Given the difference in social rank and stature it is not advised for them to socialize.

And that leads us to one of the over-arcing themes of "A Woman of Affairs". This is a tale of a love which could not be. Two people from different sides of the tracks. Two people who do what society tells them, preventing them from sharing their love. They try to defy conventions and get married but when Neville's father (Hobert Bosworth) finds out he sends his son to Egypt.

The years pass and soon Diana marries a man who has loved her from afar. He has been patient. He knows of Diana's love for Neville. Still he hoped against hope that one day Diana may notice him. He is David (Johnny Mack Brown). Jeffry idolizes David, as he views him as a man of decency. He approves of this marriage, as Jeffry never liked Neville.

On the day of the wedding, David dies. He has committed suicide. Due to this Diana and Neville are brought back together. But still society tells them they can never be together as again, with the passing years, Neville is now engaged to Constance (Dorothy Sebastian, who appeared in another tale of morality, "Our Dancing Daughters" (1928) with Joan Crawford, which I have reviewed).

Without giving much away the film tells its story with great melo-drama, forever raising the emotion stakes. Always seeming to draw the characters together, due to various misfortunes, only to pull them apart at the last moment.

The performances across the board are effective though it is Garbo and Gilbert who steal the show.

Garbo doesn't play the temptress, the mysterious woman here. She plays a good girl with a bad reputation, always finding herself in the gossip columns. One of the reasons Neville's father objects to the two being together is because of Diana's reputation. She is not a woman of decency. But are the stories of her true? And, if so, does it change how she feels about Neville?

The movie was directed by Clarence Brown. He directed Garbo in "Flesh and the Devil"and "Anna Christine" (1930) her first "talkie". He also directed Joan Crawford and Clark Gable in "A Free Soul" (1931) and "Possessed" (1931) one of my favorites. As a result he was nominated six times for a best director Oscar for films such as; "National Velvet" (1944), "The Yearling" (1946) and "Romance" (1930). He never won.

Still Brown was a major force in early Hollywood. His films would dare to challenge society. There is a lot of sarcasm in "A Woman of Affairs". It pokes some holes at society's ideal of "do the right thing". Trying to conform to society's expectations. For its trouble the film received an Oscar nomination for its writing. It didn't win.

"A Woman of Affairs" is an emotionally charged, finely acted film with much to recommend. I wish it would have been edited a bit more, as I found some sub-plots and scenes unnecessary, still this is a film worth seeing.