Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Mata Hari (1931)

Mata Hari is a film very loosely based on the story of erotic dancer and courtesan Margaretha Geertruida Zelle MacLeod aka Mata Hari and her rumored espionage activities.
Having already seduced the Russian General Sergel Shubin (Lionel Barrymore) into giving her the information she needs, Mata Hari (Greta Garbo) has now set her eyes on Lieutenant Alexis Rosanov (Ramon Novarro) in order to get her hands on secret documents in his possession. When Mata Hari spends the night with Rosanov she secretly acquires the documents she needs and something more, love. However, there is no room for love in a spy’s life and with the secret police already on her trail, a besotted and enraged Shubin discovering her affair with Rosanov, and an innocent man to protect, things are about to get mighty sticky for Mata Hari.

I wasn’t really impressed by Mata Hari despite the powerhouse of actors in it. The storyline was interesting enough but somewhat already done- think The Mysterious Lady (1928) with Garbo and Conrad Nagel. The whole espionage side of the film came off shabby and false due to Garbo playing an indifferent spy who makes her own rules, the erotic dancing which probably drew the crowds in at the time the film debuted was short, choppy and not at all stimulating, and the ending was filled with so much contrived emotion that it just dragged on. Oh, and Novarro as a Russian? Nice touch. I thought the best part of the film was Adrian’s creations.

Side note:
The story of Mata Hari is an interesting one, she was accused and convicted of spying for Germany and consequently causing the deaths of at least 50,000 soldiers. On October 15, 1917 she was executed by firing squad, at the age of 41. In 2017 the French army is expected to release court documents about Mata Hari's trial and execution, it will be interesting to see if it's proven she really was a spy or a convenient scapegoat by the head of French counter-espionage.

Tonight on TCM!
Road House (1948) A nightclub owner frames a romantic rival for murder. Cast: Ida Lupino, Cornel Wilde, Celeste Holm, Richard Widmark Dir: Jean Negulesco

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