December 18, 2013

Christmas Present: Greta Garbo in ROMANCE

In 1930, Greta Garbo absolutely dazzled in her second MGM talking picture, Romance. Exquisitely photographed by William Daniels and directed by  the Oscar-nominated Clarence Brown it is truly a Christmas gift worthy of being under any tree.


A stunning period piece, Romance tells of Opera Diva Rita Cavallini, who, during the Christmas season, faces a personal crisis. She is falling in love with an earnest young clergyman Tom Armstrong (Gavin Gordon), who does not approve of her lifestyle.

Madame Cavallini has led the life of a free spirited artist, including a long standing affair with millionaire Cornelius Van Tuyl (Lewis Stone).

As always, Garbo shone in the gowns and furs by Adrian. Eugene Joseff designed the jewels, including what might be the longest string of pearls in existence. George Hurrell, one of the masters of glamour photography, did many of the stills. Garbo's incandescent beauty was enhanced with hair and makeup by George Westmore.

The Adrian-designed hat below, with a feather plume on one side, created a fashion sensation. Dubbed the "Empress Eugenie" hat, it was widely copied--at the time of the Great Depression--a tribute to both the costumer and Garbo's style and panache.

The film opens with an amazing scene where Rita jokingly teases young Armstrong, who doesn't realize her identity. Garbo is luminous in an off the shoulder gown and chandelier earrings. This ensemble and scene have inspired many colorized versions, including the ones below.

Rita and Tom are soon sharing some winter fun, as both fall in love. Here, a fur-clad Garbo for a sledding scene.

Madame Cavallini attempts to change her way of life, even with the disapproval of Armstrong's family.

Increasingly despondent over her conflicted emotions, Rita begins to lose interest in her singing career.

Sensing that he has lost Cavallini, Van Tuyl exits gracefully on New Years Eve, to allow the lovers to be together. The rest is cinematic history.

This is Greta Garbo's movie all the way. Once you get past the concept of the husky-voiced Garbo as an operatic soprano, it is a wonderful experience.
Garbo's warm, witty and touching performance garnered her a well deserved 1930 Academy Award nomination.

So,  treat yourself to a little Romance this holiday season.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from film, fashion & frivolity!


August 19, 2013

Camille "a la" Nazimova - Chapter 2


Law student Armand Duval (Rudolph Valentino) met Parisian courtesan Marguerite Gautier, (Alla Nazimova) and was instantly attracted to her.  At her post Opera party, he was horrified by the hangers-on with whom she surrounded herself, as well as by the serious illness she attempted to conceal.
Marguerite's consumption (tuberculosis), exacerbated by her party lifestyle, was slowly killing her. Armand, now totally in love, begged Marguerite to quit Paris, saying he would care for her.  Touched by this sincere and caring young man and falling in love herself, Marguerite banished the partygoers from her apartment and had some time alone with Armand.



Armand, having convinced Marguerite to leave Paris and live in the country, visits, giving her a book, Manon Lescaut, which she treasures, although the story gives her a foreboding of doom.

 Marguerite's health has improved she is enjoying this new life with Armand. He reads Manon Lescaut to her under the flowering Spring orchard.
 Manon Lescaut is a love story that mirrors their own romance. Armand inscribes the volume for Marguerite, proclaiming his love, and it becomes her most prized possession.
Colorized frame of Marguerite and Armand 
A visit from Armand's father (William Orlamond) brings the bliss to a grinding halt. Citing the honor of the Duval family, he tells Marguerite she must let Armand go--permanently. 
Devastated, Marguerite pens a note on the Count de Varville's (Arthur Hoyt) calling card, to leave for Armand and returns to Paris and her former life.
Marguerite, back with de Varville as her "protector", resumes Parisian nightlife. The Lady of the Camellias is back. 
No longer any need to sell off her possessions, Marguerite resumes a life of luxury, fine clothes and parties. 
Believing that Marguerite no longer loves him and that their love was just a dalliance for her, Armand hits the Paris scene with a bang. At a trendy new Casino, he takes up with courtesan du moment, Olympe (Consuelo Flowerton). His friend Gaston Rieux (Rex Cherryman), knowing that he is acting out of hurt and pain, keeps a watchful eye on Armand. 

Inevitably, one night Marguerite arrives at the Casino with de Varville.  Gentlemanly Gaston, who is now engaged to Nichette (Patsy Ruth Miller), greets the lady in what might have been an awkward moment. 
At the gaming table, de Varville mocks Armand--saying that he has 'beginner's luck'.  In spite of this, Armand breaks the bank, while Olympe fawns. 

Seeing Marguerite sitting alone, Armand approaches her in an attempt to change her mind and resume their relationship. He is still in love with her and she with him. 
The tenderness fades when Marguerite recalls her promise to Armand's father. She  lies to Armand, telling him that she loves the Count de Varville. 
Armand's ardor turns to rage and he publicly humiliates a shattered Marguerite. 

Unable to look into the pained, angry eyes of the man she loves, Marguerite turns her head away.  Their great love seems to be truly over. 
 De Varville's interests wander and Marguerite gives up life as a courtesan, as her health plummets.  Soon, she is destitute and bedridden, accompanied only by her devoted maid (Elinor Oliver). Newlyweds Gaston and Nichette come to call, horrified by the condition in which they find Marguerite. All of her possessions have been taken away to be sold at auction, save her volume of Manon Lescaut, which she pleaded with the collectors to keep.
Armand's father, in a moment of guilt, reveals his part in what has happened to Marguerite. Armand is shocked and remorseful.
Marguerite begs her maid and visitors, "Let me sleep. I am happy." as she clutches Manon Lescaut to her bosom. 
*Be sure to read PART ONE of my blog re this wonderful film. Also, check out my blog post on Natacha Rambova, who did all the Costumes and Art Direction. Rudolph Valentino and Nazimova give amazing performances. See the DVD, for the full effect, if you can! 

July 11, 2013

Camille 'a la' Nazimova

In 1921, actress Alla Nazimova teamed with designer Natacha Rambova to  film a modern dress version of  'La Dame aux camelias' by Alexandre Dumas fils. Nazimova had been a smash hit on Broadway, starring in Ibsen's A Doll's House and Hedda Gabler--even having a theatre named after her.


Alla had met Rambova when Natacha took her sketches to the Metro Studio for the planned film, Aphrodite.  When Aphrodite was shelved due to censorship fears, Alla Nazimova needed a hit movie--badly. 

The two talented women went to work on a new project: a modern dress version of "La Dame aux camelias". Natacha would be responsible for the sets and costumes. Nazimova would play Marguerite and a handsome young actor named Rudolph Valentino would play the key role of Armand Duval.

The Film:
Chapter One: The Opera and Marguerite's Party

Marguerite Gautier is a Parisian courtesan whose life of parties, nightlife and suitors is often interrupted by bouts of consumption (tuberculosis) from which she is suffering.

Alla Nazimova as Marguerite Gautier

Sincere young Law student Armand Duval (Rudolph Valentino), first sets eyes on Marguerite at the Opera, with his best friend, the sophisticated Gaston Rieux (Rex Cherryman).

"...across a crowded room"-Rudolph Valentino spies Nazimova

Gautier is surrounded by an entourage, including the wealthy Count de Varville (Arthur Hoyt). Nevertheless, Armand is immediately attracted to the flashy party girl. 

Valentino, Rex Cherryman, Nazimova and Arthur Hoyt

Camellia covered wrap by Natacha Rambova

Marguerite whispers into the ears of de Varville  when she notices Armand looking over at her.

The entourage returns to Marguerite's apartment for a post-Opera party.  The Deco-inspired design of these two rooms is considered a cinematic coup, even today. 
Marguerite's apartment: all Art Deco curves and Camellias

Feeling ill, Marguerite retires to her bedroom until the cough subsides. Note the camellias on the bed, vanity and even on the wall.  Rambova used them everywhere.
Marguerite recovers from a coughing spasm in her bedroom
Time to return to the guests (note the round bed!)

Prudence brings Gaston and Armand to the party
Marguerite hams it up while de Varville and Armand look on
Marguerite asks de Varville and his hangers-on to leave
Detail of the above...
Once they are alone, Marguerite and Armand...


 To be continued...