Greta Garbo made a smashing American film debut as a Spanish peasant who becomes an opera diva in TORRENT, a well-made and poignant love story based on the novel by Vincente Blasco-Ibanez.
Spanish aristocrat Don Rafael Brull (Ricardo Cortez) falls in love with Leonora Moreno (Greta Garbo), the beautiful daughter of one of his family's peasant tenants. His cruel mother Dona Bernarda (Martha Mattox) tries to break up the romance by dispossessing Leonora's family. Rafael promises to
come to Leonora's aid, but his mother forbids him to meet with her. Leonora goes to Paris to pursue a singing career and she becomes a phenomenally successful opera star called "La Brunna." Rafael is pushed into a career in politics by his mother and is forced into a loveless engagement with
Remedios (Gertrude Olmsted), the daughter of pork king Don Mattias (Mack Swain).
Leonora returns home to visit her family and Rafael tries to rekindle his romance with her, but she's still angry with him for abandoning her earlier, and bitterly rejects him. After Rafael marries Remedios, the town is hit by a torrential storm and Rafael risks his like to save Leonora. She
admits her love for him and they plan to leave for Paris together, but his mother once again coerces him into leaving Leonora. Years go by and "La Brunna" has become the idol of Paris, while Rafael settles down into an unfulfilling routine of marriage and public service. They meet one more
time--when the gray and middle-aged Rafael goes backstage after an opera performance and Leonora barely recognizes him. He leaves to return to his wife and three children, and as the tearful Leonora gets into a limousine, she hears a fan say "She must be very happy. She has everything."
From the very first moment that Garbo appears in TORRENT, it becomes immediately apparent why she became such a huge star, and eventually, a legend. More than just physical beauty, she possesses a kind of innate sadness, and her mysterious and exotic looks seem to be hiding unknowable secrets
about the tragedies of life. The role of Leonora is a perfect showcase for Garbo's paradoxical qualities of glamorous sexuality and shy innocence, and her love scenes with Ricardo Cortez have a raw carnality and animalistic sensuality unseen on the American screen at the time. When she brushes his
body with her tousled hair and wraps her long arms and legs around him with reckless abandon, the result is electrifying.
The film itself is very handsomely mounted, featuring stylish art deco sets and an impressively staged flood sequence. It's also beautifully photographed by William Daniels, filled with lovely soft-focus shots of orange-blossom trees and nocturnal trysts in the shimmering moonlight. Daniels, one
of Hollywood's greatest cinematographers, whose career stretched from the 1920s to the '70s, would become Garbo's favorite cameraman and trusted collaborator. He shot the majority of her films and his contribution to her allure and mystique is often overlooked, but impossible to overstate. Though
the specifics of the plot may be dated and melodramatic, its themes of lost dreams and the choices one makes in life, are timeless and still touching, and Garbo makes the whole thing seem fresh and alive. (Adult situations.)
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