20 January 2008 | marcin_kukuczka
Skaal Greta Garbo! Skaal Marie Dressler!
78 years ago...the premiere of "Anna Christie" advertised by the slogan "Garbo Talks!" The film runs for 16 minutes and the viewers reach the climax of curiosity: Greta enters the bar and gets through a long awaited transfer from silence into sound: a few seconds closing her silent era and, at last, Greta Garbo says a historic line: "Gimme a whiskey, ginger ale on the side and don't be stingy, baby!"
"Anna Christie" (1930) is the movie by Clarence Brown that introduced a great silent star Greta Garbo to talkies. Nowadays, we can only imagine what serious transfer it was for actors and actresses. The careers of many were bound to end - something we hardly or not at all see at present. And it was no coincidence that it was Clarence Brown who directed the first talkie with the Swedish beauty. Garbo trusted the director after two of his great silent productions, FLESH AND THE DEVIL (1926) and A WOMAN OF AFFAIRS (1928): movies that achieved a smashing success at the box office, both with Garbo in the lead.
But we are in 2008 and that fact about the movie, now purely historical, appears to be of minor importance. The question for today's viewer is not what Garbo's voice sounds like but if the movie is still watchable after these 78 years. In other words, we all strive to answer the question if the movie has stood a test of time. Has it?
When I recently watched it, I came into conclusion that, except for some minor technical aspects, including static camera, "Anna Christie" is still very entertaining. It's, on the one hand, a wonderful story of a life, of a reality that the young woman faces (being based on Eugene O"Neill's play), and, on the other hand, an artistic manifestation of true magnificence in the field of direction and acting. Let me analyze these two aspects in separate paragraphs.
CONTENT: Chris Christopherson (George F Marion), a heavy drinker, lives a life of a sailor, on a barge. Although his days are filled with sorrows, he is consoled by a letter from his daughter Anna (Garbo) whom he hasn't seen for 15 years. She says that she will come back to him. He starts to change everything for better; however forgets that his daughter is no longer a child lacking experience but a 23 year-old woman who has got through various sorts of things on a farm in Minnessota where she lived and worked. Moreover, he forgets that she has a right to accept another kind of male love in her life... This brief presentation of the content not from the perspective of the main character but the one which is introduced to us sooner than Anna (her father Chris) makes you realize how universal it is. Simply no letter from the whole text that life appears to be has been erased after all these years. Cases discussed here in 1930 are still meaningful and valid...
PERFORMANCES. There are not many characters in the movie, but there are two that really shine in the roles. It is of course Greta Garbo herself who did something extraordinary in her 15 year-long phenomenon, the presence that strongly marked the history of early cinema (something I have already discussed in many of my earlier comments on her films). But here, Garbo is slightly different. I admit that there are moments in this movie when she does not feel very comfortable with her role. That seems to be caused by her new experience with sound in English; however, her performance is, as always, genuine and unique. But that is what everyone has expected from Garbo. The true surprise of the movie for the 1930 viewers and also for us is Marie Dressler as Marthy. She is excellent in her facial expressions, in her accent, in the entire portrayal of a drinking woman who looks at life from the perspective of "hitting the bottle." Her best moments include the conversation with Anna Christie in the bar preceded by her hilarious talk with Chris. The rest of the supporting cast are fine yet not great whatsoever (here the German version makes up for it). Particularly Dressler, except for Garbo herself, constitutes an absolutely flawless choice.
If you asked me what I like about "Anna Christie" nowadays, that's what I would tell you: it's a classic movie. However, there is one more thing that I must mention at the end. It is humor, wonderful wit that is noticeable throughout. Although the content is quite serious and "Anna Christie" in no way carries a comedian spirit (the only Garbo's comedy was NINOTCHKA), there are such moments when you will split your sides. Don't skip, for instance, Anna and Matt's visit in the fun park, particularly at the restaurant where he orders milk for her thinking how virtuous and innocent she is, beer for himself and where suddenly Marthy joins them by chance...
"Anna Christie" is a perfect movie for classic buffs and a must see for all at least a bit interested in the true magnificence of performance. If you are fed up with many of those modern starlets, seek such movies out and you shall be satisfied. Very worth your search!
Skaal Greta Garbo! Skaal Marie Dressler! Let us drink a toast to the great jobs you did in the movie! Skaal after all these years when wine tastes much better and your spirits are with us in a different sense...