31 May 2009 | dglink
Vintage Garbo in Predictable Silent Drama
While "Wild Orchids" is not a major classic, the film does illustrate the magic of the Silents at their peak. Within a few minutes, director Sidney Franklin establishes the vulnerable relationship between Lewis Stone, a businessman with an interest in commerce and hunting, and Greta Garbo, his younger and neglected wife. The couple embarks on a sea voyage to Java in search of tea plantations, and competition for Garbo's affection soon appears in the guise of an exotic prince. Stone's apparent and puzzling preoccupation with business over his beautiful wife is hard to fathom. Garbo could be described as Stone's trophy wife, and trophy she is. As garbed by Adrian and photographed by William H. Daniels, Garbo would be a prized trophy for any man or woman anywhere any time.
Once aboard ship, with the same economy of style used to illustrate the marriage of Lillie and John Sterling, Franklin quickly sketches the character of Nils Asther, the Javanese prince. Garbo watches in horror as Asther whips a servant outside his cabin, and his dark eyes and pencil-thin mustache speak volumes. Although too pretty and occasionally fey to be totally convincing as a Lothario, Asther works hard at befriending Stone and seducing his wife. Unfortunately, Stone's indifference towards his wife only helps propel this film down a familiar road.
The Danish Asther as the Javanese Prince De Gace is as Asian as the realm he rules, which was conjured in the frenzied minds of MGM's art directors. The welcome banquet is reminiscent of the feast in "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," but without the snakes and eyeballs. At one point, Garbo dons a local costume and, although she fails to charm her husband, she does presage her subsequent appearance, opposite Stone once again, as Mata Hari. Despite Asther's occasional lapses, the performances of the three leads are naturalistic. Stone is always solid and dependable, and Garbo, well, she is always captivating whenever on screen. While not among her greatest, "Wild Orchids" is vintage Garbo, representative of silent films at their best, and worthy entertainment.