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Camille

Camille(1937)

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The following written prologue follows the opening credits: "1847: In the gay half-world of Paris, the gentlemen of the day met the girls of the moment at certain theatres, balls and gambling clubs, where the code was discretion-but the game was romance. This is the story of one of those pretty creatures who lived on the quicksands of popularity-Marguerite Gautier, who brightened her wit with champagne-and sometimes with tears in her eyes."
       The Alexandre Dumas, fils novel was adapted into a play that was first produced in Paris in 1848. Information contained in a September 1937 feature article on Camille in Picturegoer Weekly notes that Dumas based his fictional heroine on Alphonsine Plessis, a French woman with whom he had had a relationship for eleven months. Plessis, who changed her name to Marie Plessis, died heavily in debt on February 3, 1947, at the age of twenty-three. According to a news item in Daily Variety, at one time M-G-M considered changing the setting of the Dumas story to modern times. Writer Ernest Vajda was the first screenwriter assigned to the project according to a November 8, 1935 Hollywood Reporter news item, but Vajda's name is not included in credits after production began and the extent of his contribution to the completed film has not been determined. News items in Daily Variety and Hollywood Reporter on July 25, 1936 note that John Barrymore was originally cast in the role of "Baron de Varville," but a bout of pneumonia prevented him from working on the picture. Barrymore's brother Lionel was scheduled to replace John in the role; however, a few days later, it was reported that a change in casting resulted in Lionel Barrymore's assignment to the role of "Monsieur Duval," and Henry Daniell's assignment to "Baron de Varville." Photographer William Daniels is mistakenly listed as a cast member in early Hollywood Reporter production charts.
       A note in Hollywood Citizen-News on February 4, 1937 advises readers that the music played on the Herbert Stothart soundtrack during the scene in which "Armand" carries "Marguerite" into the barn of their country cottage is "Makin' Whoopee!" [by Gus Kahn and Walter Donaldson]; in fact, though the first few notes of the Stothart melody is very similar to the opening bars of the Kahn-Donaldson song, the Stothart music is played at a much slower tempo and immediately changes to an entirely different melody. This was Greta Garbo's first film since Anna Karenina, released on September 6, 1935. A programme for the Plaza Theatre in New York's premiere of the film indicates that opening night tickets sold for $5.50. Camille marked the screen debut of actress Joan Leslie, who appeared under her real name, Joan Brodel.
       Modern sources credits Jack D. Moore and Henry Grace with set decoration and Joan and Eugene Joseff with creation of the costume jewelry word by Garbo. According to a biography of director George Cukor, he agreed to do retakes on the film at the personal request of M-G-M production head Irving Thalberg whom he regarded highly. The biography quotes Cukor as calling Thalberg "the most brilliant, the most creative producer that I worked with. That includes everyone. Garbo was thirty-one when she made Camille and Robert Taylor was twenty-five. She earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for the picture but lost to Luise Rainer for The Good Earth. Garbo was named Best Actress by the New York Film Critics and was named one of the Best Actresses of the year by the National Board of Review. The film was also selected as one of the best of the year by the National Board of Review, and was included in the "Ten Best" list of New York Times. Contemporary critics praised Garbo's performance as perhaps her best. The Variety reviewed said, "Miss Garbo has never done anything better. Her impersonation of Marguerite Gautier is sure to go down among her best portraits." Frank S. Nugent of New York Times wrote, "Miss Garbo has interpreted Marguerite Gautier with the subtlety that has earned her the title 'first lady of the screen'....and mark her as one apart....it is her performance in the death scene-so simply, delicately and movingly played-which convinces me that Camille is Garbo's best performance." Many modern critics have also pointed to Camille as Garbo's best performance. Dumas' novel was the basis for the 1853 Giuseppe Verdi-Francesco Maria Piave opera La Traviata. Among the many films which were the based on or inspired by the Dumas novel are, a 1907 Danish short entitled La dame aux camlias; a 1915 Shubert production, entitled Camille directed by Albert Capellani and starring Clara Kimball Young and Paul Capellani; a 1917 Fox film, also entitled Camille, directed by J. Gordon Edwards and starring Theda Bara and Albert Roscoe (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20; F1.0580 and F1.0579); and a 1984 British-made television movie, directed by Desmond Davis and starring Greta Scacchi and Colin Firth.