Greta Garbo gives one of her greatest performances in A WOMAN OF AFFAIRS, which is also one of her finest silent films, despite being bowdlerized from Michael Arlen's notorious novel "The Green Hat," about an English socialite who becomes a prostitute.
Diana Merrick (Greta Garbo) and her childhood sweetheart, aristocrat Neville Holderness (John Gilbert), plan to get married, but his disapproving father Sir Morton (Hobart Bosworth) breaks up their engagement. After two years of reckless living, Diana marries David Furness (John Mack Brown), a
friend of her drunkard brother Jeffrey (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.). On their honeymoon in France, however, David inexplicably jumps out of a window and commits suicide when the police come to his room. Jeffrey blames Diana's sordid past for David's death, and she embarks on a wild spree across Europe,
having affairs with one man after another. Seven years later, Diana returns to England upon receiving word from family friend Dr. Hugh Trevelyan (Lewis Stone) that her brother, now a hopeless alcoholic, is dying. When Jeffrey refuses to see Diana, she visits Neville, and spends the night with him
despite his engagement to Constance (Dorothy Sebastian).
After Jeffrey dies, Diana leaves England and Neville marries Constance, but he goes to see Diana in France after getting a telegram from Hugh stating that Diana is seriously ill. She recovers after seeing Neville, and sends him back to his wife, but his love for her is too great and he makes
Constance miserable. When Hugh brings Diana back to England to recuperate, Neville goes to see her and learns the truth about David's death, which Diana had kept secret for years: he killed himself because he had been embezzling funds and the police had come to arrest him, and Diana then "ruined
her life" in order to earn money to make restitution for David's crimes. Neville and Diana plan to go away together, but when Neville's father tries to stop them and Neville tells him the real reason for David's suicide, an angry Diana flees in her car and is killed in a crash.
A WOMAN OF AFFAIRS is a very classy production that's exceptionally well directed by Clarence Brown (who also helmed six other Garbo films, including FLESH AND THE DEVIL and ANNA CHRISTIE), and is beautifully shot by her favorite cinematographer William Daniels. Brown's use of constant camera
movement to indicate emotional or psychological states is superb, such as during the crane shot when David jumps out the window, the dreamy tracking shot through the long corridors of the hospital where Diana is staying, and the rapid pull back from a locked door to a liquor bottle to reveal
Jeffrey's dissolute, alcohol-ravaged face. Daniels's lighting is exquisite, whether in a romantic vein, such as in the misty dawn when Diana stands next to the tree under which she and Neville shared their first kiss, and which she crashes into at the end, or the atmospheric night shots of
headlights cutting through the thick London fog.
The story follows along the basic lines of Garbo's US debut, THE TORRENT (1926), in which her love for a wealthy boy was broken up by his mother for the sake of "his honor." This time it's the father's meddling which propels Garbo's martyr character into a life of decadence in order to forget her
one true love, to which is added the novel's prostitute angle, which is never directly stated, but subtly, though clearly obvious. Garbo's one-time lover John Gilbert, the handsome silent matinee idol who gradually drank himself to an early grave when his career faltered during the transition to
talkies, gives a fine performance, and Garbo is extraordinary, decked out in a fabulous array of Adrian gowns and going from rapture to sadness within the course of a single scene and always seeming to be true. (Sexual situations, violence.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Rating: NR
- Review: Greta Garbo gives one of her greatest performances in A WOMAN OF AFFAIRS, which is also one of her finest silent films, despite being bowdlerized from Michael Arlen's notorious novel "The Green Hat," about an English socialite who becomes a prostitute. Di… (more)