Goldwyn pumped a fortune into this overblown vehicle for his new discovery, Russian actress Sten, but despite its lavish appearance and very real costs, NANA was a miserable failure and Sten went on to become what the industry sneeringly called "Goldwyn's Folly." Zola's story of a famous,
beautiful whore was toned down considerably to conform to the dictates of the newly established Hays censorship office, and, as such, made for a curious, tepid rags-to-riches tale. Discovered by Bennett, a theatrical impresario, Sten is promoted from street girl to ravishing musical revue
entertainer who becomes the rage of 1870s Paris. Every male who meets the beauteous Sten falls under her amorous sway, including a Grand Duke, Grant, and two vying brothers, Holmes and Atwill. In the end, the noble lady commits suicide in order to bring the feuding brothers back together again.
(She dies slowly of smallpox in the novel.) Though Arzner's direction, much influenced by Mamoulian and Sternberg, is deft and well-constructed, the main drawback is Sten, who is overweight, unconvincing, and a poor imitation of the women Goldwyn envisioned in shaping her screen persona--Garbo and
Dietrich. She sings one Rodgers and Hart song, "That's Love," in the same throaty manner as Dietrich, but her Russian accent is so thick that this and all her lines are nearly incomprehensible. The Russian-born, Stanislavsky-trained Sten (real name Anjuschka Stenski) had appeared in Pudovkin's
STORM OVER ASIA and TEMPEST opposite Emil Jannings. Her English was so bad that it inspired Cole Porter to write a clever and unpublished verse for his tune, "Anything Goes": "If Sam Goldwyn can with great conviction / Instruct Anna Sten in diction / Then Anna shows / Anything goes." Goldwyn first
saw Sten in a German version of THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV (DER MORDER DIMITRI KARAMASOFF, 1931), and originally thought to redo this Russian classic with Sten in the leading role, then opted for NANA and brought in his favorite director, George Fitzmaurice. But the production dragged and Fitzmaurice
could do nothing with Sten and her interfering husband, Dr. Eugene Frenke. Halfway through the production, Goldwyn looked at the footage and exploded. He fired Fitzmaurice, scrapped all the film shot to date, and hired the expeditious Arzner. Still, Sten never learned English, spoke in rote
patterns, and showed none of the spontaneity she had exhibited in THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV. Goldwyn, who had spent a fortune on the film, decided to throw good money after bad and tried to buy an audience for the film, spending tens of thousands of dollars on publicity. It almost worked. He packed
viewers into theaters premiering NANA but audiences soon dwindled and the film fizzled. Goldwyn persisted, putting Sten into two more expensive bombs, WE LIVE AGAIN (1934) and WEDDING NIGHT (1935), but the Russian actress was wholly rejected by American audiences and she went into eclipse.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: Goldwyn pumped a fortune into this overblown vehicle for his new discovery, Russian actress Sten, but despite its lavish appearance and very real costs, NANA was a miserable failure and Sten went on to become what the industry sneeringly called "Goldwyn's… (more)