9 December 2003 | overseer-3
Campy, but fun
"Mata Hari" is a pre-code film that took lots of liberties with the real life story of the World War One spy, but who cares? One watches a film like this to enjoy the old stars in action, including Lionel Barrymore, hamming it up sans wheelchair. Though Garbo has never been one of my favorites I enjoyed her performance here; she smiled quite a bit and never once said she wanted to be alone. Most of the time she just wanted to be with handsome Ramon Novarro, and who could blame her?
Funniest moment to me: Ramon's character is obviously Catholic (as Ramon was in real life) and he has promised his mother to keep a candle lit before this Madonna icon and never let the flame go out, because if it goes out then evil will descend upon him. So Mata (Greta) tells Alexi (Ramon) that his room is too brightly lit; he goes around and turns off all the lights -- except for the candle. So then she asks him to blow out the candle. "If I am everything to you then you will blow it out." He asks her in shock: "But why would you ask me to?" (a perfectly reasonable question she doesn't answer). He ends up rejecting the sacred for the profane, blowing the flame out and the room goes into darkness. The camera pulls away and we are supposed to know instinctively that they are making love all through the night. And of course evil descends on Ramon's character, and he goes blind, but what the heck, this is Hollywood.
Watch it for the stars, not for history. If you want history, read a book.