Film review by Jason Day of Camille (1936), the romance movie based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas starring Greta Garbo as the beautiful, doomed courtesan Marguerite Gaultier. Directed by George Cukor.
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Parisian courtesan Marguerite Gaultier is the toast of the town. She is beautiful, vivacious and witty and everyone wants to know her. She is also penniless and frequently reliant on the kindness of her friends to support her, something that is of constant amusement to both herself and her social circle.
But when she meets the handsome, young and naïve heir Armand (Robert Taylor) she must choose between he who loves her and the callous, rich baron (Henry Daniell) who wants her, as her own health begins to fail.
Review by @Reelreviewer
The doctor? If you can’t make me live, how can he?Consumptive Marguerite (Greta Garbo) explains the futility of medical assistance to Armand (Robert Taylor).
A strong frontrunner for the title of best Greta Garbo movie (alongside Queen Christina, 1933)…although we don’t have many nominees to pick from as she only completed 28 feature-length films.
The script fizzes like fine champagne with deadly bon mots and wicked, archly amusing sequences.
Spying the handsome Taylor for the first time, through her opera glasses, Marguerite declares “I didn’t know that rich men ever looked like that! Later she says that “Cows and chickens make better friends than I ever made in Paris” and, given how ruthless, grasping and garrulous her so-called buddies are, it’s an accurate summation.
When her limp-dick lover Baron returns home unexpectedly, Marguerite has to swiftly hide Armand. She regains her composure impeccably, but the Baron smells a rat leading the film’s best moment. To vent his suspicion and frustration he starts playing the piano and interrogates Marguerite. As he bashes the keys with increasing ferocity, she smiles and obfuscates charmingly, all the while eyeing where Armand has been relocated.
Garbo is the mistress of this movie, throbbing with love and life under the careful, delicate, encouraging direction of famed ‘women’s director’ George Cukor. Ever the tactile actress, she nibbles and kisses Taylor during their intimate moments and toys with him with her most playful, kittenish dialogue. They say to each other:
Armand: I thought you didn’t like sad thoughts?
Marguerite: I don’t…but they come sometimes!
Garbo’s gestures delicately suggest the trauma that will soon follow. A slight, inconsequential cough in a handkerchief, then a pill imbibed so discretely, hints at the TB that is ravaging her inside.
MGM costume designer (Gilbert) Adrian masterfully reflects this. Even with the black and white ‘palate’, he dresses her in vibrant whites then progressively greyer tones before finally ending in funeral black.
If Taylor is an uncomfortable, wooden leading man, look to the supporting cast for real fun. As cinematic sparring partners go you don’t get better than high-kicking drunkard Olympe (Lenore Ulric) and gossipy, money-obsessed Prudence (Laura Hope Crews), both kept in (sort of) order by the unflappable Gaston (Rex O’Malley).
Cast & credits
Director: George Cukor. 1hr 49min/109min. MGM. (PG).
Producers: Bernard H. Hyman, Irving Thalberg.
Writers: Zoe Akins, Frances Marion, James Hilton.
Camera: William H. Daniels, Karl Freund.
Music: Herbert Stothart.
Sets: Cedric Gibbons.
Greta Garbo, Robert Taylor, Elizabeth Allen, Jessie Ralph, Henry Daniell, Lenore Ulric, Laura Hope Crews, Rex O’Malley, Mariska Aldrich.