Sunday, May 30, 2010

What’s The Matter Mata?

Mata Hari. 1931

What’s the matter Mata? Well for starters Garbo who plays the famous spy Mata Hari is about to be shot at sunrise by a French firing squad for her not so nice activities spying for Germany during World War I. And on top of that Ramon Novarro playing a Russian pilot with a strong Mexican accent ( If M.G.M. said that he was Russian then he was Russian) falls for her in a big way and because of her spying and dirty deals he goes blind in a airplane accident (not shown) while he’s trying to deliver top secret documents to Russia not knowing that Mata/Greta has played him big time to get her hands on those secret documents so she can hand them over to Germany. And you ask what’s the matter Mata? And did I mention that Garbo shoots Lionel Barrymore who plays her co-conspirator as he’s attempting to turn her in to the French authorities because she’s spurred his romantic affections. Barrymore is jealous of the love she has for Ramon and who could blame her for falling in love with Ramon and for shooting Barrymore. She should have shot Lionel in the head for his dreadful hammy acting and his chewing up of every piece of scenery and every stick of furniture that comes his way. In fact I only liked Lionel (the least interesting and least talented of the Barrymore dynasty) when he was in his wheelchair playing the crusty Dr. Gillespie in all those wonderful Dr. Kildare B movies that M.G.M put out in the 1940’s. I wanted to see this film because I had just read a bio of Novarro and was curious to see him in action, to try to understand why for a short period of time he was such a big star. And happily he’s actually pretty good in one of his few talkies. Small, compact, dark and very handsome with big beautiful eyes he was also very easy on my eyes. Navarro swoons over Garbo who also as usual was marvelous and simply gorgeous in her gowns by Adrian. What breathing man or woman would not fall for her? Although the film takes place during World War I its Art Decoville all the way with beautiful sets and moody cinematography by Garbo’s favorite cameraman the great William Daniels. Garbo enters the film doing an odd dance with silver pagodas on her head, and we know at that point that we are in never neverland and if you are seeking the true facts of Mata Hari you had better look somewhere else. Made in 1931 before the dreadful Hays Office had its reactionary way with our movies, it’s sexy and short running only 89 minutes with smooth direction by George Fitzmaurice who began making movies in 1914. The dvd transfer is just as gorgeous as it’s two stars.


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