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The Temptress
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The Temptress

The Temptress

In the midst of a Paris masked ball, South American engineer Robledo (Antonio Moreno) encounters a beautiful woman, Elena (Greta Garbo), who changes the course of his life. Dropping their masks, the two fall instantly in love, until Robledo discovers that his stunning seductress is married to a wealthy friend, Torre De Bianca (Armand Kaliz), and has made a pastime out of breaking men's hearts. In her most recent peccadillo, Elena has even driven a wealthy man, Fontenoy (Marc McDermott), to financial ruin and suicide.

Robledo returns to his native Argentina to complete a dam-building project thinking he is rid of this destructive woman. But Elena and her husband arrive in Argentina where Elena entices and agitates the local male populace, creating intense rivalries among Torre's men. Duels are staged in which Robledo and his arch enemy Manos Duras (Roy D'Arcy) pummel each other bloody with whips, men die, dams break, as the community falls victim to the cataclysm that is woman in a hyperbolic, sexually charged finale.

Garbo did not enjoy the pigeonholing MGM offered her in The Temptress (1926), her second American film after a successful featured role in Torrent (1926). The studio had already cast the actress as a predatory vamp in her Hollywood debut Torrent, and seemed determined to continually typecast her as a man-eater.

While Garbo was never happy with her performance in The Temptress audiences and critics were mesmerized by her compelling screen presence. Writing home of her own sense of awkwardness in Hollywood, Garbo wrote, "They don't have a type like me out here, so if I can't learn to act they'll soon tire of me, I expect."

Quite the opposite. Critics tended to wax enthusiastic and their copy suggested the emergence of a great star. Life magazine's critic effused "I want to go on record as saying that Greta Garbo in The Temptress knocked me for a loop." Surpassing even that praise, Dorothy Herzog in the New York Mirror commented upon how Garbo's "alluring mouth and volcanic, slumbrous eyes enfire men to such passion that friendships collapse."

Garbo's problems with typecasting at her studio were exacerbated by MGM's decision to fire her mentor, the Swedish director Mauritz Stiller -- who had a three-year contract with the studio -- after only 10 days on the job. Stiller's poor English, his flamboyant direction and inattention to budget suggested to the studio that he might be another Erich von Stroheim in the making.

Eventually directed by Fred Niblo, director of Blood and Sand (1922), starring Rudolph Valentino, The Temptress was adapted from popular silent era novelist Vicente Blasco-Ibanez, author of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Years later Stiller was fired for his difficult ways by another studio, Paramount, a gesture that effectively ruined the director, and haunted Garbo for years. The actress might not have been so sympathetic had she known how mercenary Stiller had been during his direction of The Temptress in order to achieve the desired melancholy effect in the society masquerade scene. Stiller withheld for 24 hours a telegram announcing Garbo's sister's death from tuberculosis until she was on the set then pretended to have it delivered, thus capitalizing on her grief-stricken expression.

Director: Fred Niblo
Screenplay: Dorothy Farnum based on the novel La Tierra de Todos by Vicente Blasco-Ibanez, translated as The Temptress by Leo Ongley
Cinematography: Gaetano Gaudio, William Daniels
Production Design: Cedric Gibbons, James Basevi
Cast: Greta Garbo (Elena), Antonio Moreno (Robledo), Roy D'Arcy (Manos Duras), Marc McDermott (Mons. Fontenoy), Lionel Barrymore (Canterac), Virginia Brown Faire (Celinda), Armand Kaliz (Torre De Bianca).
BW-107m.

by Felicia Feaster

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