Thursday, August 7, 2008

Mata Hari (1931) - Film Review

Plot Summary - Romance and intrigue in war-ridden France, 1917, where spies and traitors are shot by firing squad and Mata Hari (Greta Garbo), exotic dancer, spy, and clotheshorse, uses her seductive charms to bewitch men and steal important dispatches. Slinking around in a bevy of tight-fitting silk, satin, and metallic lame sequined gowns, dangle earrings, and bejeweled skull caps, she is pursued by a Russian general (Lionel Barrymore) who seduces her with iced caviar and chilled champagne - but - a Russian flyboy/spy arrives in Paris who interests her even more: youthful Alexis (Ramon Novarro) who starts chasing her around like a lovestruck schoolboy, and it works out for him 'cause he's mighty handsome indeed. Mata Hari has been warned by the leader of her network of spies that "a spy should never fall in love", so she stays the night with Alexis a couple of times, only to hurt his feelings the next day by giving him the brush-off. Troubles in the big wide world of espionage to follow.

Review - This is an entertaining pre-code film that went by fast - the story features a lot of "spy business" that's a little hard to follow, but the film is quite appealing for it's visual style and mostly for Garbo, who looks gorgeous and dominates the screen in every scene she's in. I love seeing the variety of fantastic outfits she appears in, the costumes (done by Adrian) are definitely one of the more interesting aspects of this film - - though I do have to say, in the way often done in films made at this time, her clothes are more thirties style than WWI. The cinematography and atmospheric lighting in the film is well done, enhancing Garbo's beauty as she lights up the screen in some extreme facial close-ups. Silent era heartthrob Ramon Novarro is still looking pretty hunky here too, I must say, and - okay, he's meant to be a Russian, but speaks with a cute Spanish accent. A slightly campy, fun to watch film. Rating - 8 stars

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