Anna Karenina Review

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Anna, the pampered wife of a government official, sacrifices her luxurious lifestyle and contact with her son to be with her soldier lover, Vronsky. However, his ardour cools when Russia goes to war.


Greta Garbo and John Gilbert were at the peak of their powers as cinema's principal paramours when they made Love in 1927. However, Edmund Goulding's updating of Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina was to prove their penultimate silent, as The Jazz Singer introduced Talkies later that year and Gilbert's career collapsed as his reedy voice didn't match his dashing image.

Consequently, his boots were filled by Fredric March for MGM's lavish and reasonably faithful (if much condensed) adaptation, although he was highly reluctant to embark upon another Russian venture, having just completed We Live Again (1934), which was based on Tolstoy's Resurrection. Nowadays an unjustly forgotten actor, March gives a typically accomplished performance as the swaggering swain who fails to understand the depth of Anna's passion and discards her when something more exciting comes along.  

Then Hollywood's sternest villain, Basil Rathbone is equally persuasive as the coldly cruel aristocrat, who allows social convention rather than assailable emotion to dictate his actions.  

But, as with each of her pictures, this was all about Garbo. Overriding producer David O. Selznick's suggestion of George Cukor, she demanded and got both her favourite director, Clarence Brown, and cinematographer William Daniels, who knew just how to light her enigmatic beauty. She even succeeded in having all her scenes filmed on a closed set. But her divaish demands were a small price to pay for her impeccable display of amour fou, which she seems to know all along is ruinously reckless, yet she's unable to resist her fate.  

 It's dismaying to think that Garbo was overlooked by the Academy, especially as only Bette Davis's Oscar-winning turn in Dangerous came even close to her magisterial exhibition, which outclassed the subsequent efforts of Vivien Leigh in Julien Duvivier's 1953 rendition and Jacqueline Bisset in Simon Langton's woefully inadequate 1985 teleplay.

Garbo is enthralling and there's a decent 'bad' guy from Basil Rathbone