15 February 2010 | lugonian
"Love Me or Leave Me"
THE TORRENT (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1926), titled "Ibenez' Torrent," a Cosmopolitan Production directed by Monta Bell, taken from novel by Vicente Blasco-Ibanez, stars Ricardo Cortez in a melodramatic story about lost love. As his co-star is Greta Garbo making her American screen debut. A native from Sweden with "Peter the Tramp" (1922), "The Story of Gosta Berling" (1924) and "The Street of Sorrow" (1925) and a few others to her screen credit, Garbo's introduction to the American screen casts her as a Spanish peasant girl with operatic talent. It is she who makes her screen presence prior to Cortez's introduction, wearing beret, riding his horse like a dashing hero, but by the film's end, it would be Garbo whom audiences and critics remembered best of all. With first impressions being vital for newcomers to the screen, TORRENT became the turning point for an actress whose name would become legendary.
Opening title: "Spain - Springtime under the blue skies of Valencia - cobbled streets and hanging balconies - hot sunlight and orange blossoms - the soft air drenches with sweetness." Leonora Moreno (Greta Garbo), a young girl instructed how to sing by Cupido (Lucien Littlefield), the town barber and singing master, loves Don Rafael Brull (Ricardo Cortez), and he in love with her. His mother, Dona Bernarda (Martha Mattox) has other plans for her son, none having to do with his proposed marriage to Leonora. Because she holds a mortgage on the Moreno farm, Bernarda arranges for Don Andres (Tully Marshall) to have Leonora and her parents, Pedro (Edward Connelly) and Dona Pepa (Lucy Beaumont). Homeless ("Thank God for tragedy. It forces us to go forward," replies Pedro), Leonora relocates to Paris with her father while her mother remains behind, earning a living scrubbing floors. Before leaving, Leonora sends a note for Rafael to meet with her, but his mother, who doesn't want her to disgrace the family name, forbids him to ever see her again, an argument that forces Rafael to tear up Leonora's note and throwing it into a pig sty. As for Leonora, she learns the truth and leaves without saying goodbye. Years later, Leonora, whose father has since died, has become the renowned opera singer La Brunna, the idol of Paris, with Salvatti (Arthur Edmund Carewe) as her mentor, while Rafael rises from deputy to a political career with Remedios Matias (Gertrude Olmstead), a new romantic interest whom mother approves. Longing to return to her old village and see her mother, Leonora meets with Rafael once again, leading to further developments including a disastrous rain storm, a dam burst leading to a severe flood causing destruction to the town, and worse, the interference of Rafael's mother in keeping the two lovers apart by demeaning her good name.
Ricardo Cortez, reportedly born Jacob Kranz in Vienna, Austria, is quite convincing as a Spaniard, though one wonders what current heart-throb Rudolph Valentono might have done with his role in this MGM production? There are times Cortez resembles Valentino, which was probably intentional. Interestingly, as Cortez's character is allowed to age through the passage of time, the one of Garbo's does not, at least not much. Their characters, very much in love, equally balanced with ambition to succeed, only to realize success means nothing in their separate lives. The flood sequences midway through the story is well constructed for its time, but unlike other disaster movies, this one doesn't up enough time to turn this 88 minute production into a two hour spectacular.
For Garbo's initial Hollywood role, her physical presence appears more like the current style of either Norma Shearer or a Carol Dempster. Regardless of hairstyle and trend, the Garbo technique is evident, especially during its latter part of the story.
Others members of the cast include Mack Swain (most notable for his work opposite Charlie Chaplin in 1925s THE GOLD RUSH) as Olmstead's father, "the pork king" who loves his hogs; Lillian Leighton as Isabella; and Mario Carrillo as The King of Spain.
Seldom shown since its initial premiere, THE TORRENT was finally brought back in circulation when cable television's Turner Classic Movies premiered this rare find on June 8, 1997, with new score composed by Arthur Barron. The orchestration is fine, depicting the culture and background of Spain, but not something one's accustomed to by way of organ or piano accompaniment, which really isn't a bad thing in this case, though. THE TORRENT may not live much to its title, but Garbo certainly lives up to her promise as MGM's latest addition to its cavalcade of stars. (***)