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Erich von Stroheim
An attractive woman going by the name Marguerite lives in Paris and is a courtesan, kept by the rich aristocrat Baron de Varville. When the handsome young Armand sees her for the first time, he immediately falls in love. Camille is not so easy as to fall for his charms immediately. She lives a comfortable life, after all. As she comes to have feelings for him, Armand's father intervenes asking her not to cast a shadow on his son's future prospects and she agrees. In her greatest time of need however, the loving Armand returns to her.Written by
Garbo and Taylor are both great, if still a hair stiff in their transposition to 1800s France
This melodramatic tale of true life in the face of the strictures of social reality is tried and true. You feel for both the male lead (Robert Taylor, who is quite good) and the female (Grate Garbo, of course, who is excellent). That's the whole point. These are two people who are not quite appropriate because they come from different social levels, but there is a sense they could make it work if they wanted to.
But outside forces get in the way. Chief among them is the man's father, who wants to save his son from a marriage that will ruin both husband and wife. This is a key role in the film, and a critical if brief 10 minutes or so. The father is played, importantly, by Lionel Barrymore, who does little else int he movie. But here he makes his case to the Garbo with amazing force. It's a great scene, even if you wish Garbo would leap up and say, no, no, I'm going to follow my heart.
But exactly what happens is what the movie is about. The rules of the culture of the time (1800s France) prevent an honest sense of two people marrying out of simple love for one another. In a way, that's the whole point of continuing the old Dumas story, which has resonated for decades into the Hollywood era. I'm not sure it would work now, except as an historical drama. This is set in the period (around 1850) and feels legit. Unlike the curious (and not bad) 1921 silent version, which sets it in a 1920s culture, this one transports us back to the original. Fair enough!
There is a contrived quality to the plot, for sure, partly because of its origins. While this doesn't ruin the whole enterprise, there is a slight feeling of being led along the whole time. Garbo and Taylor are both terrific, however, and we feel some honesty to their feelings for one another. It's on that basis that the movie works. And it really does, even through the over the top drama in the last scene. Moving and beautiful overall.
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