There have been so many classic films I have enjoyed so much and found out they are not available on DVD (Test Pilot being the ultimate). A Woman of Affairs if one of them and honestly I am so shocked this is not available on DVD because it is a Greta Garbo film and one of her silents. Of the Garbo films I have seen A Woman of Affairs is the most outstanding. From beginning to end I was taken with it. The story is very melodramatic but the acting and the cinematography and the direction are incredible to the point where I feel that this should be shown in a film class.
Diana (Garbo), Neville (John Gilbert), and David (Johnny Mack Brown) have all been friends since they were kids. Diana and Neville have loved each other in all that time. Diana and her brother Jeffry (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) are wealthy and reckless and Neville is poor. His father does not like Diana’s family and will not have his son be with Diana. Meanwhile, Jeffry hero worships David and wants his sister to be with him. Neville tells Diana one day that he is leaving for Egypt for a new job and will be away for two years. Diana is angry because she knows his father is sending him so far to be away from her. Neville and Diana plan to marry the night before he leaves but his father talks him out of it and he speaks to Diana himself.
Two years go by and Diana has been reckless. David has always been at her beck and call. He eventually gets her to marry him. On their honeymoon in London, two men come. David gets a wild look of fear of desperation in his eyes he runs towards the window and jumps. Everyone believes David’s death was an accident that he had been drinking. Jeffry is there and he says his sister is lying David never drank. Diana confesses that he killed himself for decency because she had been with men before him. For years everyone accepts her story and she wanders around Europe.
Seven years later Diana returns to London. Neville is now happily engaged to a woman named Constance (Dorothy Sebastian) and they are to be married in three days time. Diana goes to Neville’s house because he knows an old family friend and doctor named Hugh will be there. She needs Hugh’s help for her brother who is now seriously ill. Hugh tries to excuse himself but no one believes his lie so he tells them about Diana being back and Jeffry being ill. All of Neville’s old feelings for Diana storm his emotions. He tells Constance he loves only her that he was with Diana a long time ago. Not being able to handle his feelings for Diana any longer he leaves the party and finds her in the street outside Jeffry’s apartment. Neville takes Diana back to his apartment. She sees a photograph of Constance, comments that Constance’s eyes are true and clean unlike her own. Their feelings of love and compassion and longing take over and they spend the night together. The next morning Hugh comes by the apartment and tells them both Jeffry has died.
Months later, Constance and Neville are happily married. Neville gets a letter from Hugh who is writing from a hospital in France. He writes that Diana is very ill and delirious and calls out his (Neville’s) name constantly. Hugh feels that if he comes Diana will have the will to live. Neville tells Constance he has to go as an old friend and asks her to come with him. At the hospital Neville is told that Diana has had a miscarriage and has no will to live. At first she does not recognize Neville as she lays in her hospital bed. She does when she comes out of her room panicking looking for her flowers. Diana turns to David and tells her how much she loves him. She turns around and recognizes Constance. At once Diana feels terrible she can see how much Constance loves Neville.
Back in England Neville has become impossible. He is irritable and snaps at Constance. Neville drives out to Hugh’s place not knowing that the doctor has brought Diana back to England. He tells his old friend that he is in love with Diana. The doctor sends Neville up to Diana. Neville says to Diana that all he wants is their happiness, she asks about Constance. Neville replies that Constance knows about his love for her (Diana). They plan to run away to South America the following night.
Diana receives a letter from Neville’s father asking to meet with him. Almost as soon as Diana shows up Neville comes with Constance. Neville is sick and tired of everyone seeing Diana as a villain who killed David for her indecency. He tells the truth that David was a thief he had embezzled thousands and was about to be arrested the night he died. Rather than go to jail he killed himself. Diana as David’s wife paid off his theft. Neville’s father sees Diana much differently and better now. Diana does not stay she goes to leave and Neville follows. He comes back though saying that she had told him that Constance was going to have a baby. Constance says that is not true she told him that to get him back in the house. Neville, Hugh, and the father race out to reach Diana but it is too late, she crashed her car into the tree where she and Neville proclaimed their love for eternity.
Greta Garbo… honestly I do not know even know what to say she was so brilliant. She was outstanding. I can see why Garbo was such a huge box office draw even in silent films she had such a magnetism. I could not look away from her whenever she came on the screen. Of the Garbo films I have seen her acting was so raw and incredibly emotional and she never looked more beautiful. I like hearing Garbo speak I like her accent but it was interesting not hearing her speak and just watching her facial expressions they said more than words ever could. I loved Garbo's chemistry with John Gilbert. There was a scene where they kiss at the beginning that you can completely tell they were in love with each other off screen the kiss and the embrace were so real. John Gilbert was so handsome and so good. Dorothy Sebastian nearly stole the film from Garbo (in my opinion). She was so pretty. At the end where Constance is at Neville’s father’s house, Sebastian acted the hell out of that scene she was amazing. Douglas Fairbanks Jr. in his few scenes is excellent. Jeffry was a tortured character right from the beginning with this awful rage and pain and Fairbanks just took off with it that you would swear he was not acting at all. I must mention that Fairbanks was only nineteen years old!! And he pulled this role off to perfection!
Of the silent films I have seen so far A Woman of Affairs was stunningly and amazingly directed to the point where, as I mentioned, it should be shown in film classes. I have seen some of Clarence Brown’s other films but never have they caught my eye like this one. I felt like I was watching a really good German or French silent film not an American one. There were some amazing close ups and tracking shots. I do not know the technical terms for the shots I wish I did to better describe them. This is a perfect example of how the direction greatly enhances a film and its story.
I must also praise Adrian for his costumes. To me in the other films I have seen Garbo in her outfits mostly look awkward on her or she looks awkward in them. This film was different she was in the flapper fashion of the time with the cloche hats, the skirts, and the shoes and she looked beautiful. Garbo looked comfortable in the clothes they did not dominate her or distract from her.
A Woman of Affairs is silent filmmaking perfection. I was so surprised that this was made at MGM during the silent era, I cannot pinpoint why but I just am. I was blown away with how stunning this film was made and acted. The day I find out A Woman of Affairs is coming out on DVD (whenever that will be) I will be so happy and will be buying it the day it is released.
You watch the film here