Last year I wrote the final review for my 2014 10 Classics list on February 1st. My last review for the 2015 10 Classics list will beat that by one day. Perhaps 2016 will be the year I finish this annual project by New Year's Eve!
The final film seen from my 2015 list was the Greta Garbo-John Gilbert silent film FLESH AND THE DEVIL (1926). FLESH AND THE DEVIL also starred Barbara Kent, enjoyed last year in the wonderful LONESOME (1928).
FLESH AND THE DEVIL was an elegant, beautiful film which continued to deepen my appreciation of silent cinema; it contained moments which will long linger in my memory.
Gilbert and Lars Hanson play Leo and Ulrich, soldiers who have been friends since childhood. Ulrich's sweet little sister, Hertha (Kent), crushes on Leo and dreams of attracting his romantic attention.
Leo instead falls for Felicitas (Greta Garbo), not realizing that she's married. We're shown a lingering (and rather hot) love scene, just before Felicitas's husband (Marc McDermott) comes home unexpectedly and catches Felicitas and Leo together in her bedroom.
There's a duel, and then things get really complicated when Leo is banished to serve in the army in Africa for five years. Felicitas, who had pledged to wait for Leo, sets her sights on wealthy Ulrich...
In essence it's the simple tale of a wicked woman coming between two friends, while a good woman looks on helplessly and prays. But, as is so often the case, it's the telling that makes the difference.
There are some incredible visuals, such as Leo lighting a match for Felicitas in a dark garden; Gilbert was actually holding a tiny spotlight, and it's movie magic the way it lights up their faces.
The duel is done entirely in silhouettes, foreshadowing the look of some scenes in NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955) decades later. All that is seen is the guns fired and the seconds running to the two men...fade to Felicitas trying on a widow's veil, smirking. In that moment, thanks to Garbo's expressions, we first begin to comprehend Felicitas was not just a woman carried away by passion, but something rather more evil.
The ending is rather wild but nonetheless appropriate, as Hertha's prayers are answered in an unexpected way.
My favorite scene of all was when Leo and Felicitas say farewell before he leaves for Africa, just because it looks so striking; it's dusk and cold, the pavement is wet and the lamplighter walks by lighting the street lamps. Exquisite.
The gorgeous photography was by William Daniels, with direction by Clarence Brown. The film runs 112 well-paced minutes.
FLESH AND THE DEVIL is available as part of the TCM Archives Garbo Silents Collection. That Silents Collection is also included within the Greta Garbo Signature Collection, which is a much better deal, many more films for about the same price as buying the silents alone!
The film on this DVD contains a superb score by Carl Davis. Extras include a commentary track, featurette, and an alternate ending. I read the director didn't care for the alternate ending, but seeing it left me a more satisfied viewer.
I'm especially glad that my 10 Classics lists have pushed me to try more silents over the last few years, as it's wonderful to have an entirely new world of movie watching opening up before me!