Fate takes a hand in the lives of Russian ballerina Grusinskaya, gentleman thief Baron Felix von Geigern , dying accountant Otto Kringelein, grasping industrialist Preysing and gold-digging stenographer Miss Flaemmchen in a Berlin hotel.
The only film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture without receiving any other nominations was based on novel and a play by the German author Vicki Baum, which was translated for Broadway by William A. Drake. MGM producer Irving G. Thalberg paid $13,500 for the rights and set about assembling an all-star cast. However, none of his quintet approached the project with any enthusiasm, with Greta Garbo convinced she was too old and ungainly to play a ballerina and Wallace Beery angered that such a wholly unsympathetic character as the scheming industrialist would damage his reputation for bullish geniality.
Thalberg wisely appointed Edmund `the Lion Tamer' Goulding as director and he keeps the action under creditable control, introducing the principals with impressive efficiency in the opening scenes. He may have failed to prevent Garbo and John Barrymore from occasionally resorting to silent melodramatics during their love-making, but he did manage to keep Beery, Lionel Barrymore and Joan Crawford's notorious scene-stealing antics in check. He was less successful, however, in avoiding behind-the-scenes feuds, particularly between Crawford and Beery, although Garbo and Barrymore seem to have struck up rapport that belied the Great Profile's casting over Garbo's companion, John Gilbert. Despite her misgivings, Garbo gives a superb performance as the fading star who wants to be alone from the pressures of fame and the responsibilities of her art. Indeed, her entire physique seems to change as Barrymore's charlatan abandons his bid to rob her to coax her out of suicidal despair. By the time he departs to face his destiny, Garbo has ceased to be a prima diva and is simply a woman in love, whose melancholy has been replaced by the lightness and charm of a dancer. Her co-stars have their moments, but this is Garbo's picture. It may not have aged wonderfully well, but its interweaving of individual storylines into a satisfying dramatic whole made it the first soap and its formula has been endlessly repeated ever since.
Creaky, Aged and utterly enchanting. One to be seen on a proper print if you can.