Cast & Crew
In Moscow, during the late 19th century, Anna Arkadyevna Karénina, the wife of distinguished statesman Alexei Alexandrovitch Karenin, arrives from St. Petersburg by train. Stiva, Anna's brother, greets Anna at the train station, where he introduces her to his friend, Count Vronsky, a young officer of the guards. Although he is aware that Anna is married and has a child, Vronsky immediately falls in love with her. Before leaving the station, Anna and Stiva witness the accidental death of a railroad inspector when he is swept underneath the wheels of a moving train, a tragedy that Anna calls "an evil omen." Soon after arriving at her brother's house, Anna makes peace between Stiva and his wife Dolly, who was angry with him for being a philanderer. Then, Kitty, Dolly's sister, confides in Anna that she is secretly in love with Vronsky and that she has become disenchanted with her sweetheart, Konstantin Dimetrievitch Levin. Later, at a ball, Kitty despairs when Levin proposes to her and she is asked to dance the mazurka by undesireable men. When Anna leaves Moscow for St. Petersburg, she soon discovers that the smitten Vronsky has followed her. Despite her attempts to dissuade him from making entreaties for her affections, Vronsky persists in courting Anna and disembarks with her in St. Petersburg. Anna is met at the St. Petersburg train station by Karenin, and because Vronsky is at her side, she is forced to introduce him to her husband. Anna adores her young son Sergei and asks about his well-being. Later, when Vronsky visits Anna and she tells him that she loves him, Lidia, a friend of Karenin, informs Karenin of his wife's affair. Karenin, who is mostly concerned about the effect that the publicity of Anna's affair will have on his career and his son, angrily accuses Anna of destroying their family. In response, Anna accuses Karenin of being concerned only with appearances and not loving her. News of Anna's affair soon reaches Vronsky's superior in command, who urges him to end the affair at once or face dismissal from the army. When Vronsky returns to Anna's, he forces her to choose between him and Karenin, but she finds the decision too difficult to make. Later, at a horse race in which Karenin's horse is racing against Vronsky's horse, Vronsky takes a fall and Karenin prevents Anna from rushing to his side. When they return home, Anna tells Karenin that she loves Vronsky. Karenin then informs Anna that he will not give her a divorce and orders her to remain his wife or face banishment and humiliation. Following Kitty's marriage to Levin, Anna and Vronsky elope to Venice, although Anna says that they will be "punished for being so happy." Meanwhile, back in St. Petersburg, Karenin tells Sergei that his mother is dead. When Vronsky and Anna return to Russia, Vronsky learns that his regiment is preparing to fight in the Serbo-Turkish war, and he eagerly rejoins the regiment. Karenin denies Anna's request to visit Sergei on his birthday, but she goes anyway. When Karenin finds Anna in the house, he orders her to leave. Anna returns to St. Petersburg only to learn that Vronsky has left to fight in the war. Anna desperately tries to see Vronsky one last time before he goes into battle and follows him to Moscow. In Moscow, Anna visits Dolly, Kitty, Levin and their new baby. Afterward, Anna rushes to the train station to see Vronsky off, but as she approaches his car, she realizes he is bidding farewell to his mother and a young woman whom she does not know. Despondent, Anna ends her life by throwing herself under a moving train.
Cora Sue Collins
Carlos J. De Valdez
Otto H. Fries
S. N. Behrman
Robert J. Kern
Russian Symphony Choir
David O. Selznick
Erich Von Stroheim
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Count Andrey Tolstoy
Edwin B. Willis
Anna Karenina (1935)
Throughout the thirties, Garbo kept the idea of a re-make in mind. By mid-decade, with lavish adaptations of classic novels in vogue (in 1935 alone, MGM would mount opulent renditions of David Copperfield and A Tale of Two Cities), the actress approached the head office with a request to do a more faithful version of Tolstoy's great Russian romance tragedy.
MGM, always ready to appease their star, agreed to consider the matter. Garbo forged ahead, pushing the idea to top-ranking producer David O. Selznick, Louis Mayer's son-in-law and the force behind the recent (and highly touted) Charles Dickens MGM film adaptations. Surprisingly, Selznick nixed the idea; he saw Garbo in more modern-day dramas, not the costumed prop in period pieces. He even suggested that the actress try her hand at comedy, but admittedly could not find a proper vehicle suitable for the star. He did acquire Dark Victory, a contemporary tragedy of a woman in love, that he pitched as rivaling Tolstoy: not only does the main character suffer the joys and pain of a grand passion but she goes blind and dies from a brain tumor! Garbo was willing but, alas, the project, with George Cukor slated to direct, fell through, triumphantly emerging four years later as a Bette Davis smash hit for Warner Brothers.
Perhaps Garbo saw the Dark Victory loss as a bright omen. Her follow-up suggestions were both period dramas: Joan of Arc and what could have only been a bizarre concept of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray. Instead, Selznick and MGM reconsidered Anna Karenina, and went, albeit reluctantly, full speed ahead. Garbo was pleased: this time she would get it right.
The production was a lavish affair in the expected MGM style and teamed the actress with trusted director Clarence Brown, with whom she would ultimately make seven movies. Brown's obvious approval of the star bordered, like her public, on fascination: "Garbo starts where they all leave off. She was a shy person; her lack of English gave her a slight inferiority complex. I used to direct her quietly. I never gave her direction above a whisper. Nobody on the set ever knew what I said to her; she liked that. She hated to rehearse. She would have preferred to stay away until everyone else was rehearsed, then come in and do the scene."
Brown also was privy to star actress's strange behavior: "We could never get her to look at rushes - then sound arrived, we had a projector on the set. This projector ran backward and forward so that we could match scenes and check continuity. When you run a talking picture in reverse, the sound is like nothing on earth. That's what Garbo enjoyed. She would sit there shaking with laughter, watching the film running backward and the sound going yakablom-yakablom. But as soon as we ran it forward, she wouldn't watch it."
For her co-stars, Selznick recruited Basil Rathbone as Anna's cuckolded husband and 1931 Oscar®-winner (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) Fredric March as Vronsky, the impetuous, irresistible lover. March recalled that "During the making of Anna Karenina...Garbo was very friendly, not always reserved. We would bounce a medicine ball back and forth during breaks, and one day she stripped to the waist to take in the sun. Then she caught herself and asked if it embarrassed me. It did not." March sincerely felt that Garbo's astounding beauty was more appealing to women than to men.; however, this did not stop the well-known womanizer (a trait he had in common with his Vronsky character) from "making his move." It was here that the actor was shown, like Brown, a playful, humorous side that Garbo devotees never saw. Not wanting to encourage her hormone-raging leading man, and knowing that many a love scene was forthcoming, the actress armed herself by stuffing garlic in her mouth prior to each embrace. Effective, clever, and to the point funny, this maneuver cured March's amorous advances while providing her with an on-going case of the giggles.
But it was Garbo's notorious shunning of publicity ("I give them everything I've got on the screen - why do they try to usurp my privacy?!!") that most affected another co-star, 11-year-old Freddie Bartholomew, who portrayed Garbo and Rathbone's son. Bartholomew always remembered how the actress literally became a surrogate mother to him during production, doting on the boy, playing with him between takes. The delighted child adored his "new" mom, and would regale his actual family each night at home with recounts of games and jokes the two shared. Although Bartholomew had appeared in several movies and opposite a number of top stars, the Garbo connection was like being touched by God - especially to his movie-fan relatives. When one particularly infatuated uncle asked his nephew if the lad could obtain an autograph, the young innocent, unaware of Garbo's fierce obsession with her own privacy, shrugged and agreed.
As usual the next morning, Garbo, upon seeing Bartholomew arrive on-set, ran to her pal, covering him with hugs and kisses. When the youngster asked if he could have an autograph, he at once felt the climate drastically change. Her embrace stiffened and she pushed the child aside, walking away grim faced - much to Bartholomew's shock. Throughout the remainder of the filming, Garbo kept their relationship strictly professional - her performance unaffected during their on-screen time, but never as much as uttering a "Hello" to the adolescent off camera. To his dying day this haunted Bartholomew, who could never grasp the extreme unpredictability of Garbo's pendulum behavior ("This is my friend, I thought").
Contrary to its reputation today, Anna Karenina received mixed reviews from the critics upon its 1935 release (though it was profitable at the box office) and seemed to confirm Selznick's claim that Garbo should shy away from period pieces (although Camille would help negate the producer's statement); indeed, it wouldn't be until Ninotchka - a contemporary comedy - four years later that the actress would, once again, totally win over both audiences and critics. Nevertheless, important papers such as The New York World-Telegram begrudgingly recommended Anna Karenina, correctly citing that "There is always an excitement and interest about any role that Greta Garbo portrays on the screen...."
Producer: David O. Selznick
Director: Clarence Brown
Screenplay: S.N. Behrman, Clemence Dane, Salka Viertel, based on the novel by Leo Tolstoy
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Cinematography: William H. Daniels
Costume Design: Adrian
Film Editing: Robert J. Kearn
Original Music: Herbert Stothart
Cast: Greta Garbo (Anna Karenina), Fredric March (Vronsky), Freddie Bartholomew (Sergei), Maureen O'Sullivan (Kitty), May Robson (Countess Vronsky), Basil Rathbone (Karenin), Reginald Owen (Stiva), Phoebe Foster (Dolly), Reginald Denny (Yashvin).
BW-94m. Closed captioning.
by Mel Neuhaus
Anna Karenina (1935)
According to a Daily Variety pre-production news item, M-G-M announced plans to market this picture as "Garbo's Tenth Anniversary Picture." In a letter dated January 7, 1935 from producer David O. Selznick to Greta Garbo (as quoted in a modern source), Selznick told Garbo that he preferred a George Cukor-directed Dark Victory to Anna Karenina as a starring vehicle for her, and urged her to agree with him. One week later, in a letter to M-G-M director J. Walter Ruben, Selznick stated that he would do Dark Victory if he succeeded in purchasing the rights to the play at a reasonable cost and if Philip Barry consented to write the screenplay. Selznick pointed to the box office disappointments of Queen Christina and The Painted Veil as evidence that Anna Karenina would be an unwise choice for Garbo, and noted that actor Fredric March, who was "fed up with doing costume pictures," made it known that he would do Anna Karenina only if required to by his studio. Despite Selznick's best efforts to convince Garbo to do Dark Victory, she insisted on doing Anna Karenina, a story she had already done in 1927 as a silent entitled Love. According to a biography of Garbo, Garbo was determined to do Anna Karenina because she did not like what she had heard about Dark Victory, and because she "had immersed herself in Anna Karenina and it was now too late to make an abrupt turnabout." Furthermore, a clause in Garbo's contract gave her the option to refuse to make a film if she disliked the script.
Following Selznick's failed attempt to star Garbo in Dark Victory, the producer, in a letter to Clemence Dane (the assumed name of English playwright and author Winifred Ashton), suggested that he would assign a new director to Anna Karenina, someone "more enthusiastic than George [Cukor]." According to a January 10, 1935 Hollywood Reporter news item, production on the picture, which was originally scheduled to start that week, was postponed indefinitely due to story changes. A Daily Variety pre-production news item noted that M-G-M had planned to rush production on the film so as to finish with Garbo before 1 May and avoid having to pay "heavy overages" for her services. In an undated rough draft of a letter to M-G-M studio head Nick Schenck, Selznick stated that Anna Karenina "cost much less than Queen Christina, [but the] same as Painted Veil." Selznick also wrote: "I begged for [Clark] Gable, but I got [Fredric] March." Hollywood Reporter pre-production news items note that Alan Mowbray, who was originally cast in the part of Stiva, was replaced by Reginald Owen because he was tied up in Becky Sharp. Hollywood Reporter production charts and news items list actors Kathleen Howard, Forrester Harvey, Antoinette Lees, Mara Borisova, Richard Lancaster, Brenda Fowler, Bess Stafford, Helen Wood and David Worth in the cast, but their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed.
The file for the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library contains a memo, dated November 6, 1935, from PCA Director Joseph I. Breen, who suggested that Selznick alter the scene in which "Vronsky" returns to Moscow from Italy, to show that "Vronsky" is "definitely punished as a result of his sinful alliance with Anna." According to the memo, when Breen suggested that "Vronsky" be denied reinstatement in the Russian army and be banished from his native land, "Mr. Selznick agreed to this change." Breen also raised a number of objections to specific scenes that showed "Anna" and "Vronsky" carrying out an "adulterous" affair with impunity. In March 1935, Selznick wrote a letter to Breen, in which he sharply criticized new objections raised by the PCA to the script, claiming that Breen's "change of heart...will jeopardize a million dollar investment." Selznick went on to say that Breen's comments left M-G-M with no alternative but to make a "completely vitiated and emasculated adaptation of Tolstoi's famous classic." Following the film's release, the PCA received a letter from the Chicago Legion of Decency, which stated: "We are thoroughly disgusted to hear that you have passed Anna Karenina and Barbary Coast and shall boycott these and all others like them."
According to studio publicity records, cinematographer William Daniels, who had photographed all but one of Garbo's first twenty pictures, made it a rule never to photograph Garbo with unflattering intermediate or full-figure shots-only closeups and long shots. A Hollywood Reporter pre-release news item notes that the Russian ballet sequence was shot in shades of black and white only. No color was permitted in either the costumes or the makeup. According to a Daily Variety pre-release news item, because Garbo refused to work at night, M-G-M was forced to build a stage over the St. Petersburg railroad station set on the back lot to simulate darkness. Daily Variety also noted that the steeplechase scenes were filmed in Del Monte, CA. Actor Joseph Tozer's name is spelled "Joe E. Tozer" in the onscreen credits. Modern sources indicate that former Russian army officer Count Andrey Tolstoy, the grand-nephew of Leo Tolstoy, was the technical adviser on the regimental drinking scene in the film. Modern sources list Val Lewton as Selznick's production assistant on the picture.
Anna Karenina was named one of the ten best pictures of 1935 by Film Daily's nationwide poll of American film critics. The picture also was named the best foreign film of the year and was presented the Mussolini cup at the International Motion Picture Exposition at Venice, Italy. Garbo received the New York Film Critics award for "best feminine performance" of 1935.
Among the many films based on Tolstoy's novel are a 1915 Fox silent directed by J. Gordon Edwards and starring Betty Nansen and Edward Jose (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20; F1.0115); M-G-M's 1927 silent, Love, produced and directed by Edmund Goulding and starring Greta Garbo and John Gilbert (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30; F2.3208); a 1948 British film directed by Julien Duviver and starring Vivien Leigh and Ralph Richardson; a Masterpiece Theatre/BBC television film directed by Basil Coleman and starring Nicola Pagett and Eric Porter, which aired on the PBS network on February 5, 1978; and a Colgems Productions/Rastar television film directed by Simon Langton and starring Jaqueline Bisset and Christopher Reeve, which aired on the CBS network on March 26, 1985.
Released in United States 1935
Released in United States March 1977
Released in United States March 1977 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Double Vision-Two different classics made from the same story) March 9-27, 1977.)
Re-released in Paris June 13, 1990.
Released in United States 1935