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The working title of this film was The Twins. According to Hollywood Reporter news items, William Powell was initially set to co-star with Greta Garbo, and skiing exteriors were shot near Reno, NV. Although a production still from the film indicates that actor George Cleveland was in the cast, he was not in the released film. Two-Faced Woman was the last film of the Swedish-born Garbo, who came to the United States in 1925, and appeared in many critically praised M-G-M films, including Flesh and the Devil, Anna Christie, Anna Karenina and Camille (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30; F2.1818 and F2.0130 and AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40; F3.0124 and F3.0578). According to news items in Hollywood Reporter, Two-Faced Woman was the last film under Garbo's M-G-M contract and subsequent to the film's completion, she announced that she would not make films for any other studio. Although she was mentioned at various intervals throughout the next decade as the possible star of several projects, none materialized. Despite her absence from the screen, Garbo remained an internationally recognized celebrity known for her reclusive private life. In 1990, she died in New York City, at the age of eighty-five.
Shortly after the press previews of Two-Faced Woman, controversy arose surrounding its condemnation by the National Legion of Decency, a Roman Catholic organization that rated films for their content. Information contained in Hollywood Reporter news items, articles in various New York newspapers and memos and letters in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library reveal the following information: In a press conference held on November 24, 1941, the Legion of Decency issued the following statement: "The National Legion of Decency announced today that the motion picture Two-Faced Woman has been rated as 'C' or 'Condemned' for the following reasons: Immoral and un-Christian attitude toward marriage and its obligations; impudently suggestive scenes, dialogue and situations; suggestive costumes.'"
Archbishop Francis J. Spellman, head of the diocese of New York City, also publicly denounced the film with the following written statement: "Because of this specific condemnation, the Archbishop warns the faithful that the witnessing of this picture May be an occasion of sin and that the film is a danger to public morality." According to a December 7, 1941 New York Times article, in an "unprecedented" move, Spellman advised Catholics in New York not to see the film and, according to articles in Hollywood Reporter, requested that all pastors in his diocese mention the film's "C" rating at Mass on Sunday, November 30, 1941. According to the same New York Times article, members of the Hollywood community generally did not react to the condemnation of the film, with the exception of Melvyn Douglas, who was quoted as saying that the picture was "harmless."
During the course of the next several weeks, many members of the Catholic hierarchy joined Spellmen in his condemnation of the film. The Catholic newspaper The Catholic Register published an editorial in which the paper stated: "If all prints of Two-Faced Woman are not recalled by the producers and re-edited by the Motion Picture Production Code, this writer will be among the first to petition congress to take firm steps in forcing Hollywood to clean house." Hollywood Reporter publisher W. R. Wilkerson published an editorial on December 10, 1941 criticizing MPAA head Will Hays for not addressing the issue. Wilkerson complained that Hays "who is paid royally to represent this business" failed to defend the film and "shoved the duties he is being paid to administer over onto the lap of M-G-M, which is now trying to meet the demands of the Catholic body, even though that body stands alone in its condemnation of the picture."
MPAA/PCA letters and memos reveal that a partial script was submitted to the PCA on June 12, 1941. By July 1, 1941, the script for the film was approved following a suggestion on 17 June to "lean backwards to avoid any objectionable details or lines that might emphasize the sex suggestive features of the finished picture." Various changes in the script and retakes were approved without incident throughout the film's shooting schedule. A PCA file memorandum dated November 26, 1941, two days after the condemnation of the film by the Legion of Decency, stated the following: "The original story idea was told verbally to Mr. [Joseph I.] Breen [head of the PCA] by Mr. [Bernard] Hyman of M-G-M and rejected by Mr. Breen. The reason for the objection was that the story contemplated the situation of a man having a sex affair with a woman whom he thought was his wife's twin sister, getting her pregnant, and then discovering that it was his wife whom he had impregnated all the time...this was sometime in 1940." The final script had no indication that the character of "Karin" was pregnant, and a certificate was issued for the completed film on October 6, 1941. The November 26, 1941 memo also stated, "please note particularly the review from Motion Picture Herald of October 25, 1941, in which no exception is taken to the moral content of the picture."
A letter in the PCA file, dated November 1, 1941, to Hays from New York Congressman Martin J. Kennedy stated that Archbishop Spellman had publicly condemned the picture and asked the motion picture industry "to clean house." It went on to state: "True Americanism required clean thinking, clean living, and clean pictures...I call upon you, Mr. Hays, to immediately stop the distribution of this picture." In order to receive a less inflamatory "B", or "adults only" rating from the Legion of Decency, M-G-M made revisions and cuts in the film. A December 5, 1941 telegram sent from M-G-M vice-president and general counsel J. Robert Rubin to M-G-M executive produced E. J. Mannix suggested the insertion of an additional scene to show "Larry" calling the ski lodge and discovering that his wife left Idaho for New York a week before. This scene was included in the viewed print. Various news items indicate that M-G-M had refused to publicize the film by using the controversy as an exploitation tool and issued this statement to the press on December 18, 1941: "The original version will be withdrawn from circulation following existing contractual comments, and the revised version will be made available in all future bookings." That same day, members of the Legion of Decency viewed the revised picture and officially took it off the "condemned" list.
Garbo and Douglas co-starred in two previous M-G-M films, As You Desire Me in 1932, and Ninotcha in 1939 (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40; F3.0180 and F3.3147). The first film based on the Ludwig Fulda play was the 1925 First National picture Her Sister from Paris, directed by Sidney Franklin and starring Constance Talmadge and Ronald Colman (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30; F2.2451).