22 October 2010 | blanche-2
Garbo as Anna Karenina for the second time
Greta Garbo first tackled Anna Karenina in the film "Love," which she made with John Gilbert. That film, however, did not follow the novel totally. Under Clarence Brown's direction, she now plays the role again opposite Frederic March as Vronsky and Basil Rathbone as Karenin.
Having seen the Vivien Leigh version as well, it's hard not to make comparisons. This version certainly moves along better than the Leigh version. Here, the Levin-Kitty (Maureen O'Sullivan) romance is no longer really a subplot, but a very minor part of the film. The production values are tremendous, as they were also in the Leigh Anna Karenina.
What the Vivien Leigh version had that this does not is Ralph Richardson's portrayal of Karenin, which is magnificent. Though Basil Rathbone is very good, no one can hold a candle to Richardson in this role, in my opinion. Rathbone is cold and authoritarian; Richardson is cold and authoritarian but pathetic, as a man who cannot love. He is also frightening. The scene where Anna sneaks in to see her child and meets Karenin upon leaving had much more tension in the Leigh film because of Richardson's quiet menace. What Rathbone does with a clipped voice and cold expression, Richardson does internally.
Apparently, for some reason, casting an appropriate Vronsky missed in both films. This is a man for whom Anna gives up the most precious thing in her life, her child, and forgoes her reputation. Frederic March, outgoing and charming, isn't quite right. Vronsky is a soldier, but he also has an element of passivity about him. Given Anna's controlling husband, she would be attracted to that. I didn't pick that up with March, and in the Leigh film, Kieron Moore was TOO passive. Also, I think Vronsky should be drop-dead gorgeous. I mean, if you're going to dump your marriage, your child, your reputation, Vronsky really ought to be a dreamboat. Since this is an MGM film, perhaps Robert Taylor would have been better: handsome, strong in voice and appearance, charming, romantic with just a touch of wimp.
The production values are magnificent, and Garbo is extremely effective in the role - beautiful, ethereal, and tragic. If she lacks anything, it is perhaps the vulnerability needed for Anna. Freddie Bartholemew is adorable as Anna's son.
I was much more involved with the characters in this Anna Karenina than in the Leigh, which was a very detached experience. This film was directed with more warmth. Very good.