Greta Garbo's first talkie, Eugene O'Neill's ANNA CHRISTIE, was filmed in English (by director Clarence Brown) as well as Swedish and German-language versions (directed by Jacques Feyder), and after decades of obscurity, the German version has resurfaced to verify what Garbo had always
felt: it's better than the American version.
Twenty-year-old Anna Christie (Greta Garbo) comes to New York to see her father Chris (Theo Schall) for the first time in 15 years. Chris, a drunken old sailor who now lives on a coal barge with his floozy mistress Marthy (Salka Viertel), had left Anna to be raised by relatives in Minnesota after
her mother died. When Anna arrives, her father is out and she tells Marthy that she was abused by her relatives and raped by one of them, and had then become a prostitute after running away. Unaware of all this, her father believes that she is a "good girl" and takes her out on his barge for a
week. During a violent storm, they rescue some shipwrecked sailors, one of whom, Matt (Hans Junkermann), falls in love with Anna. Back in New York, Matt and Anna have a whirlwind affair, but when he proposes marriage to her, she turns him down, but won't say why. After Matt gets drunk, he comes
back in the morning and demands that Anna tell him why she won't marry him. She angrily blames her father for abandoning her to her cruel relatives and shocks them both by admitting she had been a prostitute. Anna packs up to leave and Matt signs up for service on a ship to Africa, but he can't
live without her and comes back before shipping out. They swear their love for each other and she agrees to marry him.
Garbo always said that she preferred the German-language version of ANNA CHRISTIE to the US version, and we can now see why; it's grittier and more cinematic, while her performance is much more subtle and natural. While the story is the same and many scenes (particularly the exteriors) are even
staged (though not lit) the same way, the German version is more frank about Anna's seamy past and states explicitly (using terms like "whore") what the US version only implies. The tone of the film is much darker as well, as director Feyder (who had made Garbo's last silent film, THE KISS),
creates a genuinely seedy atmosphere, shooting the dingy waterfront saloons and foggy docks in a moody and poetic style which, in the American version are all clean and brightly lit (despite both versions being shot by the same cameraman, the great William Daniels). Feyder also employs a slightly
more mobile camera than Brown, whose more stagy version is occasionally marred by shots where a character leaves the frame and the camera holds on the empty space for a good five seconds before the character enters the next proscenium-like frame.
The biggest differences, however, are the characterizations and the performances. Whereas in the American version, Chris and Marthy are played by George Marion (who also starred in the 1923 version) and Marie Dressler (replete with vaudevillian hiccups) as comical and sentimental drunks, the
German version--featuring Garbo's longtime friend and confidante Salka Viertel (billed as Salka Steuermann), who later wrote several of her movies--portrays them as pathetic and tragic figures who have ruined their lives. Similarly, with dark circles under her eyes and clad in black, Anna truly
looks like a worn out whore in the German version, while in the American version, her makeup is much more glamorous and her clothes are noticeably less gloomy. Garbo seems much more relaxed and spontaneous speaking German than she does English, and gone is her halting delivery and the hammy
mannerisms such as constantly throwing back her head and laughing. The scene where Anna bitterly denounces her father and Matt for being "dirty pigs" like all men is a perfect example of the differences between Garbo's performance in the two versions. In the German one, she's superb, powerfully
giving the impression of feeling every emotion, while in the American one, she merely seems to be reciting lines without any passion. Both versions are good, but in the final analysis, the more realistic German one is truer to the spirit of O'Neill's play, and it's also superior as cinema. (Adultsituations.)
Sign up and add shows to get the latest updates about your favorite shows - Start Now
- 1. Here's How Prodigal Son Makes Those Grisly Crime Scenes Look So Realistic
- 2. Every Classic Disney Movie That Will Be Available on Disney+
- 3. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Season 3 Trailer Teases a Gilmore Girls Reunion
- 4. Why Logan Roy May Have Been Behind That Succession Finale Twist
- 5. The Walking Dead Revealed Alpha and Beta's Gruesome Origins
- 6. Power's Latest Victim Had a Feeling Death Was Coming
- 7. Stranger Things Writers Reveal Some Movies Related to Season 4