Garbo Before She Was Garbo

This film is mostly well known today because it’s the film that launched the career of Greta Garbo. Hollywood actually wanted the director Mauritz Stiller and were taking Greta along with him. It wasn’t until she showed up that they realized what they had in her. However, her role is quite small, with only a handful scenes–like the one above–where Garbo looks into our face and we just melt in place.

It’s about a clergyman named Gösta Berling (Lars Hanson) who begins the story by being defrocked. From there he drifts into the life of a large estate filled with more characters then you can keep track of without a pencil and paper. Redemption underlies the film and we see Berling’s journey from the depths of alcoholism to the head of a new secular flock.

The film was supposed to be the big budget blockbuster of silent Swedish cinema and it was, but since Stiller, Garbo, and Hanson jumped ship afterwards it also became the end. There are some really beautiful scenes like the fire and the chase across the ice, but the story can make it tough to enjoy. It’s worth a look, if only for Garbo’s starmaking performance.

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