Sunday, November 22, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Two-Faced Woman (1941) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Greta Garbo and Melvyn Douglas costar in Garbo's last film, TWO-FACED WOMAN (1941), available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

Douglas also starred with Garbo in her previous movie, the classic Ernst Lubitsch comedy NINOTCHKA (1939).

While TWO-FACED WOMAN, directed by George Cukor, isn't on the level of NINOTCHKA, I found it entertaining, and perhaps better than its reputation suggests.  It's gotten short shrift from some, being in the shadow of NINOTCHKA and written off as Garbo's final, rather innocuous film, but I was pleasantly surprised.

TWO-FACED WOMAN is an edgy marital comedy which reminded me in tone of the same year's MR. AND MRS. SMITH (1941).  Garbo and Douglas play Karin and Larry, who marry in haste but then wonder if they're meant to be together for the long haul.

Karin is a non-drinking, non-smoking, non-dancing ski instructor who loves the simple, outdoorsy life.

Larry is a New York magazine editor who quickly returns to the big city from the resort where he met his wife.  As Larry becomes re-acclimated to his former life, he sends Karin increasingly distant telegrams.  She decides to surprise him in New York, only to realize that he may be having a fling with Griselda (Constance Bennett), a playwright.

To save face in front of Larry and his colleagues (Roland Young and Ruth Gordon), Karin pretends to be her own identical twin sister, Katherine -- which allows her to adopt a completely different personality, not to mention be incredibly blunt with Griselda.  

Larry realizes almost from the start that Katherine is actually his wife, but he goes along with the pretense as he enjoys his wife's new, free-spirited incarnation. 

There are some wonderful moments, most especially when Karin, who doesn't know how to dance, finds herself on the dance floor as "Katherine" and ends up creating a dance, performed with the film's choreographer, Robert Alton.  It's a delightfully happy sequence which put a smile on my face.  The famous tag line for NINOTCHKA was "Garbo laughs!"  Perhaps here it should be "Garbo dances!"  For me that scene was worth the price of admission, so to speak.

I also enjoyed the Garbo and Douglas as their characters pull together, then push back multiple times as they move toward her big "reveal" (which really isn't one) and reset their marriage.

The supporting cast is superb, starting with the always-excellent Constance Bennett, who has a habit of screaming to let out frustration and stress.  In a hilarious ladies' room scene, Garbo exits and Bennett walks up to a mirror and screams -- startling a pair of young ladies, one of whom is Gloria DeHaven!

Roland Young is always welcome, and Ruth Gordon does a nice job as Larry's sympathetic (if sometimes confused) secretary, Miss Ellis, who tries her best to help Karin.  Robert Sterling also costars, but it's a throwaway part of no consequence.

The frenetic ski scenes which open and close the movie are a bit over the top, although I appreciated the rather modern elliptical storytelling at the opening of the movie, in which one minute Larry is having a ski accident and then next he and Karin are returning from their honeymoon.  Otherwise it's quite smoothly done by Cukor and company, running a just-right 90 minutes.

The black and white cinematography was by Joseph Ruttenberg.  Garbo's gowns were created by Adrian.  

The Warner Archive DVD is a nice print; it's a bit soft at some points, but overall it's quite good, without noticeable scratches or jumps.  The disc includes the trailer.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.


Blogger dfordoom said...

I think TWO-FACED WOMAN is very underrated. Garbo really was good at comedy. Even screwball comedy.

4:37 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Glad to know you also found it underrated! I was pleasantly surprised given some of the negative comments I've read over the years. Enjoyed Garbo and the entire cast.

Best wishes,

10:20 AM  

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