Camille (1936)
Camille (1936)

Genre: Romantic Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 49 min.

Release Date: December 26th, 1936 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: George Cukor Actors: Greta Garbo, Robert Taylor, Henry Daniell, Lionel Barrymore, Elizabeth Allan, Lenore Ulric, Laura Hope Crews, Jessie Ralph

 


 

I

n gay Paris in 1847, the gentlemen of the day met the girls of the moment at discrete establishments, where the game of romance was played. Marguerite Gautier (Greta Garbo) is one such popular woman, whose trip to a dance hall becomes a careful arrangement by matronly Prudence (Laura Hope Crews) to meet the extremely wealthy, white-gloved, top-hatted Baron de Varville (Henry Daniell). But there’s a mix-up; instead, she exchanges fateful smiles from her theater box with Armand Duval (Robert Taylor), who has seen Marguerite from afar on several occasions but never found an opportunity to introduce himself. And so, he professes his love for her. Nevertheless, the Baron eventually locates Marguerite and the two disappear into the night. “You’re as good as a baroness already.”

Six months later, still continuing a jealous rivalry with friend Olympe (Lenore Ulric), who lost out on her chance at the Baron, Marguerite reunites with Armand at an auction, realizing that, during a spell of an illness that confined her to her home, Armand anonymously sent flowers and visited her place routinely to check on her wellbeing. While the Baron is away in Russia, she invites Duval over for a birthday celebration, where the dancing and revelry reveals that she hasn’t fully recovered, succumbing to fits of coughing. Once again, Armand insists that he loves her, arranging to come back later when she’s alone. But the Baron returns unexpectedly, again preventing the younger suitor from doing anything but looking like a fool.

“I’m afraid of nothing except being bored.” It’s a classic tale of two romantic paths, not unlike “Anna Karenina” from a year before, also starring Garbo. Here, Gautier’s addiction to limitless riches for her extravagant whims compete against her simpler desire for quiet but genuine love (that of a “sentimental schoolgirl,” according to Prudence). And again, she has difficult decisions to make concerning financial independence and greed versus peaceful normalcy (which isn’t even close to poverty; it’s not the stark contrast of “Wuthering Heights”). “You need love more than you need money.”

Although Marguerite gets a taste of both worlds, she can’t quite escape the convenience – and the comfort – of considerable affluence. And neither man can be content without exclusive rights to her affections. After a time, just when she’s convinced herself of a higher moral standard, she must combat the disapproval from those around her, including Armand’s father (Lionel Barrymore), who believes in the damaging reputation of this unpresentable companion. “I knew I was too happy!”

Garbo gives a breathtakingly moving performance, making the most of scenes in which she sacrifices personal happiness for someone else’s potential; during close-ups of great emotional pain, shedding completely believable tears; and during soul-shattering reunions – or confrontations – full of purposeful lies and inevitable tragedy. Rarely is the screen treated to such a potent love story in which the most suitable players are kept apart in devastating ways for excruciating stretches of time. But the conclusion is remarkable, satisfying, and absolutely tear-jerking.

– Mike Massie

  • 10/10