19 September 2010 | marcin_kukuczka
Refreshing Content and Nice Performances
Before I will comment on this significant film with Greta Garbo and Nils Asther, let me make a short biographical notion.
Many biographers of Greta Garbo, including Barry Paris and Karen Swenson, note that she came to Hollywood with her mentor Mauritz Stiller in September 1925... Although she was already a trained actress (having made two significant projects in Sweden and Germany), what she found in MGM was very different from what she experienced in Europe. The roles she was given, though being sometimes very successful roles (including the ultra popular Felicitas in FLESH AND THE DEVIL), were in majority the roles of vamps and temptresses. But Garbo...she disliked playing 'bad women.' When, in her prolonged contract, Garbo started to have a word in the roles she played and rejected some unattractive ones, more sophisticated projects appeared...
One of such refreshing projects was, undeniably, THE SINGLE STANDARD. One the one hand, a movie appears to be ignored in many analysis of her film career (it appears to be forgotten by some Garbo fans as well); on the other hand, the movie is strangely an 'oldie' that many modern viewers find entertaining and appealing.
It seems that the reason why this film is, at least, "known" among the fans of silver screen productions, is the pairing of Greta Garbo and Nils Asther. Indeed, both give tremendously convincing performances that still, after those decades, maintain their desirable authenticity. Who can possibly skip their unforgettable moments on the islands of eternal sunshine? How can we ignore their memorable chemistry when experiencing the Philosophy of Love? Who can ignore the perfect tension when the hearts are there but duties elsewhere...? Yes, Nils Asther appears to be one of the best co-stars Greta Garbo could ever play opposite.
Another reason, I think, is Greta Garbo herself and her unforgettable moments throughout the film. Although the close-ups are not that outstanding like in her top productions of the 1930s, there are pretty pearls that should not be skipped at least by Garbo fans. For instance, this is the moment of her walk in rain when she humorously states: "I want to walk alone..." These are her unforgettable facial expressions when 'naughty men' come filled with wit having dated their delicious mistresses. This is, generally, the feeling she put in any kind of portrayal she did before the camera. But, here, let me concentrate more deeply on the role of Ms Stuart that Ms Garbo so beautifully portrays since there is one more rarity about the Swedish Sphynx: the power of THE SINGLE STANDARD lies specifically in the "refreshment" of Garbo's masterful acting.
Arden Stuart is a woman who, on the other hand, wants to be independent from men but, on the other hand, learns to understand what living for others means. Although she wants to walk alone, she does not live her life all alone (though she has some great time on All Alone ship). She does not accept any "half measures" and treats life seriously being very genuine in what she does. As a free woman, Arden opens her heart to...love. However, this love will make her stand before the most important decision of her life... Among many scenes that remain in one's memory, including Arden's scenes with her child, I would like to share one moment with you, the moment that truly left a trace in my mind and in my heart. This is the moment when Arden has a trip with a chauffeur and she says that there is no difference whether it's a girl, a man but both have right to... life. It is the viewpoint that very well fixed to Garbo, to her powerful belief in personal freedom and happiness. Although some say that "Garbo plays a normal woman" in THE SINGLE STANDARD, I would say more: "Garbo plays a sophisticated human being" in THE SINGLE STANDARD, a human with her fears, her feelings, her decisions and reflections, her heart.
Other aspects are, perhaps, not greatest merits of the movie (with some exceptions). It is true that the cinematography is not of top quality. The same may be said about some supporting roles. But here, two things may also work well for the film nowadays: firstly, it is the short length of THE SINGLE STANDARD which does not bore people; secondly, it is the tension - the viewers' attention is kept thanks to the wonderfully roused interest.
At the end of my review, I would like to add one thing from me, personally. I would like to ask you not to treat my words as the ones said by a Garbo fan who tries to convince viewers to see yet another "oldie" with the greatest actress of all time. Although I consider myself a great Garbo admirer, I say it with all my heart: you do not have to be very knowledgeable about Greta Garbo and you may still see this film with great pleasure finding something for yourself. That is what I wish you from my heart. I rate the film 8/10