The Mysterious Lady


1h 25m 1928
The Mysterious Lady

Brief Synopsis

In this silent film, an Austrian officer unwittingly falls in love with a Russian spy.

Film Details

Genre
Romance
Spy
Silent
Adaptation
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Aug 4, 1928
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Der Krieg im Dunkel by Ludwig Wolff (Berlin, 1915).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 25m
Sound
Silent
Color
Black and White
Film Length
7,652ft (9 reels)

Synopsis

Tania, an exotic St. Petersburg spy, falls in love with an Austrian captain, Karl von Heinersdorff, while taking some important documents from him. Karl is imprisoned for the loss of the papers but escapes to find Tania, to whom he affirms his love. Tania then turns traitor and delivers to Heinersdorff some papers formerly in the possession of her superior, General Alexandroff. The general discovers the theft, and Tania shoots him, after which she and Karl escape to Austria.

Film Details

Genre
Romance
Spy
Silent
Adaptation
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Aug 4, 1928
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Der Krieg im Dunkel by Ludwig Wolff (Berlin, 1915).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 25m
Sound
Silent
Color
Black and White
Film Length
7,652ft (9 reels)

Articles

The Mysterious Lady


By 1928, Greta Garbo was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. Her mentor, Swedish director Mauritz Stiller, had returned to Sweden, and Garbo was on her own, working with MGM's leading directors and stars. Her supposed offscreen "torrid affair" with John Gilbert, her co-star in Flesh and the Devil (1926) and Love (1927), was the hottest topic in the fan magazines. And critics and audiences alike were clamoring for more Garbo pictures. Nineteen twenty-eight was one of her busiest years, with the release of three films: The Divine Woman, A Woman of Affairs, and The Mysterious Lady.

In The Mysterious Lady, Garbo plays a World War I Russian spy who falls in love with the object of her espionage, Austrian officer Conrad Nagel. Complicating matters is Gustav von Seyffertitz, as her spy boss. According to Antoni Gronowicz's biography of Garbo, which the author claims is actually an autobiography based on his conversations with the star, Garbo told him that Gilbert was supposed to play the Nagel part. But their romance had cooled, and she asked the studio for a different leading man.

The director of The Mysterious Lady was Fred Niblo, who had a reputation for being able to handle complicated and expensive projects, like The Mark of Zorro (1920), Blood and Sand (1922), and Ben-Hur (1926). He had also tackled another difficult task - taking over the direction of Garbo's The Temptress (1926) after MGM fired Mauritz Stiller. Garbo had threatened to quit the film, but Niblo's patience and solicitude had won her over. When that film ended, she gave him a photo inscribed, "to Fred Niblo, with a piece of my heart."

According to Gronowicz, Garbo's relationship with her co-stars on The Mysterious Lady was equally cordial...maybe too much so. Supposedly, Nagel made advances, she rebuffed them and spent time with von Seyffertitz, who had no such romantic inclinations. Nagel confronted von Seyffertitz, a fistfight ensued, and they challenged each other to a duel. Garbo told them she wasn't romantically interested in either of them, and all she wanted was to finish the film. The duel never happened...and maybe this story didn't either, but it adds to the mystique of Garbo as irresistible siren.

In spite of all the acclaim and attention, or maybe because of them, Garbo was moody and tense during the making of The Mysterious Lady. Stiller had dominated her life for years, and even though there was some relief at being free of him, there was also sadness. She was bored with Gilbert, and annoyed at the public's fascination with their relationship. Worn out physically and emotionally, she suffered from various aches and pains that may have been psychosomatic. Yet, according to critic and biographer Alexander Walker, William Daniels' cinematography and Garbo's skill managed to make her exhaustion look like "romantic agony." Walker adds, "no film so clearly shows that, for Garbo, passion was a form of tragic depression." The Garbo legend of aloofness and solitude had taken root and would grow to mythic proportions over the next decade.

Director: Fred Niblo
Screenplay: Adaptation by Bess Meredyth, based on the novel War in the Dark by Ludwig Wolff; titles by Marian Ainslee and Ruth Cummings
Editor: Margaret Booth
Cinematography: William H. Daniels
Costume Design: Gilbert Clark
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Music: Vivek Maddala
Cast: Greta Garbo (Tania), Conrad Nagel (Karl von Heinersdorff), Gustav von Seyffertitz (General Alexandroff), Edward Connelly (Colonel von Raden), Albert Pollet (Max), Richard Alexander (General's Aide).
BW-90m.

by Margarita Landazuri

The Mysterious Lady

The Mysterious Lady

By 1928, Greta Garbo was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. Her mentor, Swedish director Mauritz Stiller, had returned to Sweden, and Garbo was on her own, working with MGM's leading directors and stars. Her supposed offscreen "torrid affair" with John Gilbert, her co-star in Flesh and the Devil (1926) and Love (1927), was the hottest topic in the fan magazines. And critics and audiences alike were clamoring for more Garbo pictures. Nineteen twenty-eight was one of her busiest years, with the release of three films: The Divine Woman, A Woman of Affairs, and The Mysterious Lady. In The Mysterious Lady, Garbo plays a World War I Russian spy who falls in love with the object of her espionage, Austrian officer Conrad Nagel. Complicating matters is Gustav von Seyffertitz, as her spy boss. According to Antoni Gronowicz's biography of Garbo, which the author claims is actually an autobiography based on his conversations with the star, Garbo told him that Gilbert was supposed to play the Nagel part. But their romance had cooled, and she asked the studio for a different leading man. The director of The Mysterious Lady was Fred Niblo, who had a reputation for being able to handle complicated and expensive projects, like The Mark of Zorro (1920), Blood and Sand (1922), and Ben-Hur (1926). He had also tackled another difficult task - taking over the direction of Garbo's The Temptress (1926) after MGM fired Mauritz Stiller. Garbo had threatened to quit the film, but Niblo's patience and solicitude had won her over. When that film ended, she gave him a photo inscribed, "to Fred Niblo, with a piece of my heart." According to Gronowicz, Garbo's relationship with her co-stars on The Mysterious Lady was equally cordial...maybe too much so. Supposedly, Nagel made advances, she rebuffed them and spent time with von Seyffertitz, who had no such romantic inclinations. Nagel confronted von Seyffertitz, a fistfight ensued, and they challenged each other to a duel. Garbo told them she wasn't romantically interested in either of them, and all she wanted was to finish the film. The duel never happened...and maybe this story didn't either, but it adds to the mystique of Garbo as irresistible siren. In spite of all the acclaim and attention, or maybe because of them, Garbo was moody and tense during the making of The Mysterious Lady. Stiller had dominated her life for years, and even though there was some relief at being free of him, there was also sadness. She was bored with Gilbert, and annoyed at the public's fascination with their relationship. Worn out physically and emotionally, she suffered from various aches and pains that may have been psychosomatic. Yet, according to critic and biographer Alexander Walker, William Daniels' cinematography and Garbo's skill managed to make her exhaustion look like "romantic agony." Walker adds, "no film so clearly shows that, for Garbo, passion was a form of tragic depression." The Garbo legend of aloofness and solitude had taken root and would grow to mythic proportions over the next decade. Director: Fred Niblo Screenplay: Adaptation by Bess Meredyth, based on the novel War in the Dark by Ludwig Wolff; titles by Marian Ainslee and Ruth Cummings Editor: Margaret Booth Cinematography: William H. Daniels Costume Design: Gilbert Clark Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons Music: Vivek Maddala Cast: Greta Garbo (Tania), Conrad Nagel (Karl von Heinersdorff), Gustav von Seyffertitz (General Alexandroff), Edward Connelly (Colonel von Raden), Albert Pollet (Max), Richard Alexander (General's Aide). BW-90m. by Margarita Landazuri

The Mysterious Lady on DVD


The Greta Garbo silent The Mysterious Lady (1928) is the definition of a romantic Star Vehicle. Its minimal espionage story imagines a lady spy falling in love with her intended target. Several men orbit around the temptress but there are no other significant female roles. Every physical and cinematic effort is directed to showcasing the allure of the star - even when she's not holding the camera in a close-up embrace, we're thinking about nothing else. Garbo taught the movies that movie glamour knows no limits. 1928 audiences could be forgiven for indulging the illusion that the love goddess on the screen was fixing her seductive eyes directly on them, personally.

Synopsis: Maneuvered into a vacant seat in an opera box by his friend Max Heinrich (Max Heinrich), Captain Karl von Raden (Conrad Nagel) is captivated to behold the ravishingly beautiful Tania Fedorova (Greta Garbo). Instantly in love, he accompanies the cultured lady to her home. Karl's uncle Eric (Edward Connelly) warns him that Tania is a Russian spy, but before he knows what has happened, secret documents are stolen and Karl is court-martialed and imprisoned for treason. With the help of his uncle, Karl breaks jail and heads for Moscow, to find Tania and retrieve the military secrets. Is she a cold-hearted Mata Hari, or will she admit that she's truly fallen in love?

Silent movies had the ability to zero in on one aspect of a story, or even a single emotion in a story, unencumbered by the literal 'realism' that sound brought to the screen. Despite the fact that all that transpires between the lovers of The Mysterious Lady are smoldering looks and a kiss or two, the film is a heady erotic experience. The stream of expressions that flow across Greta Garbo's eyes as her mood changes from knowing calculation to unrestrained desire is an education in itself.

The slender Garbo could be extremely photogenic in wide shots but her forte was the close-up. Aided by William Daniels' specially diffused lens, the tight shots of Garbo making eye contact with her lover have an immediate intimacy that seems to leap off the screen - no wonder the censor wags of the 1920s were ready to strike down the entire medium of the movies as immoral. She completely overpowers the dreamy-eyed Conrad Nagel, who plays most of their first love encounter staring at Garbo in rapture. He can't believe this is happening to him (the thrill of love is like that) and seems to turn to Jello before our very eyes. Tania and Karl fall into an immediate, passionate love affair.

The Mysterious Lady is putatively about espionage and betrayal but quickly boils down to simple trust between two lovers. Karl rejects Tania when he suspects she's after his secret documents, and only later do we find out what frame of mind she was in when she took them. Stripped of his medals and insignia by the German army -- ever try a 'true love' defense at a courts-martial? -- Karl embarks on a mad mission to Moscow disguised as a pianist. There he finds Tania being pressured by her spymaster General Boris (mustachioed, sinister Gustav von Seyffertitz), who seems to like the idea of bedding an agent who serves her country by bedding foreigners. Dangerous intrigues, personal jealousy and the entire Russian army take a back seat to the invisible bonds of passion between the two lovers, and not even firing squads can keep them apart.

The Mysterious Lady is a slick entertainment that doubtlessly left 1928 audiences gasping for their breath. Director Fred Niblo focuses almost entirely on the reactions, body language and expressions of the characters. Garbo's naturalistic continental acting style makes the stage-derived methods of most of the big Hollywood stars appear old-fashioned; although the story may be naïve, The Mysterious Lady is modern in its look and feel. Seventy-seven years later, it still plays as an emotionally valid experience.

Warners' DVD of The Mysterious Lady is one of three features in The Garbo Silents Collection and shares space on one disc with Flesh and the Devil and The Temptress. The feature is intact but was obviously recovered just before an existing print or negative succumbed to old age - it's covered with fine scratches and several early scenes show signs of emulsion deterioration. None of these flaws dull the impact of the images, which are steady and sharp. We can appreciate the enormously flattering effects of William Daniels' photography, and continuity seems unbroken.

Greatly enhancing the silent-film experience is a new (2002) score by Vivek Maddala, a lush symphonic accompaniment graced by a love theme to match the passion on screen. Conrad Nagel plays the same piano tune several times in the movie, and Maddala provides a song that fits perfectly. The TCM Young Composers program is revamping many silent films with classy new scores and producing excellent results.

Film historians Tony Maietta and Jeffrey Vance's spirited commentary is divided evenly between informative facts (The Mysterious Lady was produced in the queasy period when silents were being phased out) and fannish passion for the screen goddess Garbo. Also associated with this feature is a presentation of one reel of her lost 1928 film The Divine Woman; all that survives is nine interesting minutes of a battered Russian print.

For more information about The Mysterious Lady, visit Warner Video. To order The Mysterious Lady, go to TCM Shopping.

by Glenn Erickson

The Mysterious Lady on DVD

The Greta Garbo silent The Mysterious Lady (1928) is the definition of a romantic Star Vehicle. Its minimal espionage story imagines a lady spy falling in love with her intended target. Several men orbit around the temptress but there are no other significant female roles. Every physical and cinematic effort is directed to showcasing the allure of the star - even when she's not holding the camera in a close-up embrace, we're thinking about nothing else. Garbo taught the movies that movie glamour knows no limits. 1928 audiences could be forgiven for indulging the illusion that the love goddess on the screen was fixing her seductive eyes directly on them, personally. Synopsis: Maneuvered into a vacant seat in an opera box by his friend Max Heinrich (Max Heinrich), Captain Karl von Raden (Conrad Nagel) is captivated to behold the ravishingly beautiful Tania Fedorova (Greta Garbo). Instantly in love, he accompanies the cultured lady to her home. Karl's uncle Eric (Edward Connelly) warns him that Tania is a Russian spy, but before he knows what has happened, secret documents are stolen and Karl is court-martialed and imprisoned for treason. With the help of his uncle, Karl breaks jail and heads for Moscow, to find Tania and retrieve the military secrets. Is she a cold-hearted Mata Hari, or will she admit that she's truly fallen in love? Silent movies had the ability to zero in on one aspect of a story, or even a single emotion in a story, unencumbered by the literal 'realism' that sound brought to the screen. Despite the fact that all that transpires between the lovers of The Mysterious Lady are smoldering looks and a kiss or two, the film is a heady erotic experience. The stream of expressions that flow across Greta Garbo's eyes as her mood changes from knowing calculation to unrestrained desire is an education in itself. The slender Garbo could be extremely photogenic in wide shots but her forte was the close-up. Aided by William Daniels' specially diffused lens, the tight shots of Garbo making eye contact with her lover have an immediate intimacy that seems to leap off the screen - no wonder the censor wags of the 1920s were ready to strike down the entire medium of the movies as immoral. She completely overpowers the dreamy-eyed Conrad Nagel, who plays most of their first love encounter staring at Garbo in rapture. He can't believe this is happening to him (the thrill of love is like that) and seems to turn to Jello before our very eyes. Tania and Karl fall into an immediate, passionate love affair. The Mysterious Lady is putatively about espionage and betrayal but quickly boils down to simple trust between two lovers. Karl rejects Tania when he suspects she's after his secret documents, and only later do we find out what frame of mind she was in when she took them. Stripped of his medals and insignia by the German army -- ever try a 'true love' defense at a courts-martial? -- Karl embarks on a mad mission to Moscow disguised as a pianist. There he finds Tania being pressured by her spymaster General Boris (mustachioed, sinister Gustav von Seyffertitz), who seems to like the idea of bedding an agent who serves her country by bedding foreigners. Dangerous intrigues, personal jealousy and the entire Russian army take a back seat to the invisible bonds of passion between the two lovers, and not even firing squads can keep them apart. The Mysterious Lady is a slick entertainment that doubtlessly left 1928 audiences gasping for their breath. Director Fred Niblo focuses almost entirely on the reactions, body language and expressions of the characters. Garbo's naturalistic continental acting style makes the stage-derived methods of most of the big Hollywood stars appear old-fashioned; although the story may be naïve, The Mysterious Lady is modern in its look and feel. Seventy-seven years later, it still plays as an emotionally valid experience. Warners' DVD of The Mysterious Lady is one of three features in The Garbo Silents Collection and shares space on one disc with Flesh and the Devil and The Temptress. The feature is intact but was obviously recovered just before an existing print or negative succumbed to old age - it's covered with fine scratches and several early scenes show signs of emulsion deterioration. None of these flaws dull the impact of the images, which are steady and sharp. We can appreciate the enormously flattering effects of William Daniels' photography, and continuity seems unbroken. Greatly enhancing the silent-film experience is a new (2002) score by Vivek Maddala, a lush symphonic accompaniment graced by a love theme to match the passion on screen. Conrad Nagel plays the same piano tune several times in the movie, and Maddala provides a song that fits perfectly. The TCM Young Composers program is revamping many silent films with classy new scores and producing excellent results. Film historians Tony Maietta and Jeffrey Vance's spirited commentary is divided evenly between informative facts (The Mysterious Lady was produced in the queasy period when silents were being phased out) and fannish passion for the screen goddess Garbo. Also associated with this feature is a presentation of one reel of her lost 1928 film The Divine Woman; all that survives is nine interesting minutes of a battered Russian print. For more information about The Mysterious Lady, visit Warner Video. To order The Mysterious Lady, go to TCM Shopping. by Glenn Erickson

Quotes

Trivia

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1928

Released in United States on Video June 19, 1991

Released in United States 1928

Released in United States on Video June 19, 1991