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TWO-FACED WOMAN (1941), directed by George Cukor, was Greta Garbo's second comedy and last picture. Although she lived another half-century, the sultry Swede never went before the cameras again, living out her famous statement from Grand Hotel, "I want to be alone." It was not a planned retirement; Garbo had one of her major box office and critical successes with Lubitsch's Ninotchka (1939), a joyous comedy co-written by Billy Wilder. Two-Faced Woman was the run-of-the-mill sequel. Whereas the earlier film sparkled like champagne, this movie is a drink gone flat. Re-unitted with her Ninotchka co-star Melvyn Douglas, Garbo dances, laughs, and mugs it up as s chilly ski instructor who is warmed up by playboy magazine editor Douglas. While you could make a whole film on the defrosting of Garbo (hey, they did; it's called Ninotchka), Two-Faced Woman jumps over the defrosting and posits the idea: What happens after the initial romance? The story lacks the sophistication of Lubitsch and the wit of Wilder; it simply presents us with intelligent people doing silly things. Why does Douglas' magazine editor switch on and off to Garbo? Can he really prefer Constance Bennett? Garbo playing her own sister may have seemed inspired on paper but feels contrived and absurd on screen. And having Douglas recognizing the deception almost immediately takes away the naughty side of the story; imagine if he didn't know he was trying to have an affair with his own wife! Now that would have been something.
SMART WOMAN (1931), from director Gregory La Cava (Stage Door, My Man Godfrey), which originated as a stage production, looks stagy but is entertaining nonetheless. Mary Astor, long before she was the duplicitous femme fatale in The Maltese Falcon), here plays Nancy, a wronged innocent. Returning from a boat trip abroad, Nancy finds her husband, Don (Robert Ames), has been philandering and wants to leave him for a pretty golddigger, Peggy (Noel Francis). Rather than play the outraged wife, Nancy pretends to accept it all and presents a lover of her own. Naturally, she makes her husband jealous and reveals Peggy as a scamp in the process. It's all a load of predictable nonsense, but it's got Astor and the great Edward Everett Horton as well, so it's worth a tumble.
September 21, 2012
DOUBLE WEDDING (1937) Director: Richard Thorpe. Cast: William Powell, Myrna Loy. One of the Powell-Loy non-Thin Man combos shows that the pair has chemistry, even when the script is at the programmer level. This one, by frequent Capra collaborator Jo Swerling, has Powell as a free-spirited bohemian type (a bit of miscasting there) and Loy as the woman who hates him, a hoity-toity control freak who thinks Powell wants to marry her sister (he's really using that as a ploy to get hooked up with Loy). The story is predictable, with more farcical elements than The Thin Man series, but Powell and Loy's comic timing is as impeccable as ever. She also gets to play an even more intelligent and capable character (shades of Emma Peel) than she does as Nora. Sidney Toler appears as a bumbling detective-butler in his pre-Charlie Chan days; and Mary Gordon is a housekeeper before she became Holmes' landlady. 1/13/00