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Sunday, 23 September 2012

Flesh and the Devil (1926) - Star of the month... Greta Garbo

"You know... when you blow out the match... that's an invitation to kiss you" - Greta Garbo (as Felicitas von Rhaden in 'Flesh and the Devil')

'Flesh and the Devil' (1926) is a silent romance-drama produced by MGM, directed by Clarence Brown and starring Greta Garbo, John Gilbert, Lars Hanson and Barbara Kent. 

The film is based on the play 'The Undying Past' by Hermann Sudermann.

In 2006, 'Flesh and the Devil' was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant."

Leo (played by Gilbert) falls in love with the beautiful Felicitas von Rhaden (played by Garbo). Felicitas does not tell Leo she is already married, and the pair are shortly caught in bed together by her husband, Count von Rhaden (played Marc McDermott). Infuriated the Count challenges Leo to a duel, and is killed by Leo. As punishment for killing the Count, Leo is sent to Africa for five years, and before leaving Leo asks his best friend Ulrich (played by Hanson) to care of Felicitas while he is away. As Leo returns from Africa, he finds Felicitas and Ulrich married, and Felicitas finds herself in love with both men.

Greta Garbo & John Gilbert fell in love off-screen when making this film

Garbo & Gilbert: A love story

'Flesh and the Devil' was the first film Greta Garbo & John Gilbert made together, and shortly after meeting the pair fell in love off-screen. Before the film was complete, the pair had already moved in together and shortly after the pair became engaged to be married. However, Greta Garbo never showed up to the wedding, and left poor John Gilbert waiting at the alter.

The church scene

One of my favourite sequences within 'Flesh and the Devil' is the scene in the church. I like this scene for a number of reasons:

Firstly, I think it was clever of Clarence Brown to position Felicitas and Ulrich on one side of the church, and position Leo on the other side. The aisle between them is a metaphor of the division separating Felicitas and Leo.

Secondly, the priest delivers a very passionate sermon on David seducing Uriah's wife, which is a result of the priests observations of Leo pursuing Felicitas.

Thirdly, while taking holy communion, the priest hands Felicitas the chalice to drink from it immediately after Leo. Felicitas twists the chalice and places her lips directly where Leo's lips had just moistened the chalice. This is metaphorical for her desire to kiss Leo inside the church.

Did you know...

  • The first of 8 Greta Garbo films directed by Clarence Brown
  • Lillian Gish was originally considered to play the role of Felicita, however at $1 million per film she was deemed to expensive - the role was then given to recent hire Garbo, who was payed $450 per week
  • The film was such a success for MGM and Great Garbo, that Garbo was considered 12% of the entire studios value by the end of 1927
  • Greta Garbo had initially refused to appear in the film due to her sister's recent death from cancer - MGM sent her a sternly worded telegram threatening deportation and Garbo soon agreed to appear in the film

Closing remarks

'Flesh and the Devil' is an enjoyable Greta Garbo silent film to watch. The image of Greta Garbo lighting her cigarette in her first scene is pure magic, and seeing the two Hollywood lovers (Garbo & Gilbert) falling in love with each other before my very eyes is just as magical, if not more.

What makes this film so brilliantly crafted is it's ability to communicate a story with images. If you were to edit out the title cards throughout the film and remove the music, it would still be possible to follow the story as the film is so well directed and acted.

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