Thursday, October 4, 2012

Camille (1936)

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director: George Cukor

In one of her most heartbreaking performances Greta Garbo stars in MGM’s romantic feature Camille. Based on the often adapted French novel La Dame aux Camelias by Alexander Dumas, fils, the story told in Camille would be a popular tale for fanciers of romance pictures. Garbo, the highly self-contained and very private actress, would fall very much into place as the troubled lover who also suffers from repeated battles with illness. With romance coupled with tragedy the film features one the more heartbreaking endings that leaves the picture as one of the higher revered love stories in American cinema history.

Camille is a romance about a woman that out of affection must push away her lover to save him from ruin. Living in the high circles of society Marguerite (Greta Garbe) is known as Dame Camille as she lives lavishly while adoring men pay for her lifestyle. While courting and being funded by the rich and powerful Baron de Varville (Henry Daniell) Marguerite falls in love with the handsome, less financially prosperous Armand (Robert Taylor) and is more than willing to live a simple life with him. After a plea from Armand’s father (played by Lionel Barrymore) Marguerite realizes that Armand could only be brought to ruin by the illness and debts she carries and comes to decide that she must push him away despite how much the negative façade breaks both of their hearts. As Marguerite falls into ruin and deeply into illness Armand returns to her side once more, only to tragically watch as she dies in his arms as they profess their everlasting love for each other.

Although beautifully shot with some fabulous settings, at times the film is very much driven by the actors on screen, ever draw to focus on the tragic character of Camille. Garbo who already brings with her a presence of sorrow even in happiness fulfills well the role of a character that to never seems to be without sadness even at times of great joy. It makes for a tragic love story that many who have seen it come to cherish.

Coming off an equally tragic tale Romeo and Juliet director George Cukor appears to have more creative freedom in the filming of Camille than the Shakespearian classic. Romeo and Juliet was a huge studio picture with big names attached to it and high expectations of which it fell well short of. Here in Camille the setting feel more open, not enclosed as if produced within the walls of a studio as seen in the before mentioned Shakespeare adaption.  With a large number of credits to his name with various styles of pictures Cukor is shown to be one of the very best directors at MGM, and here in this romance he is only able to make a film that looks wonderful, but also whose surrounding can easily be overlook because of the story and performance of its actors.

Garbo was one of those stars whose names already brought audiences and intrigue with her performance, which perfectly accents the character and earned her a third career Academy Award nomination for best actress.  To play the very important role of her lover was co-star Robert Taylor. Taylor had only made his cinematic debut in 1934, but quickly rose to become a leading man. His performance of a man so in love even through the hurtful ways of Marguerite making him feel insignificant stirs you believe that he is a man deeply in love, willing to do anything for a woman that needs someone to actually love her for herself and not just a pretty face. They together make such a convincing deep romance inspired the names of Taylor and Garbo to be written into a song "I'll Love Like Robert Taylor, Be My Greta Garbo" by Milton Benjamin.

Henry Daniell provides a villainous character of the Baron that loves Marguerite, but comes to resent and humiliate her. Daniell would make a career of such villains through the years. Fellow members of the supporting cast included Lionel Barrymore, or the famous Barrymores in the role of Armand’s father, and Laura Hope Crews as the very loud comedic side character Prudence. Both were long time veterans of the screen and made fine careers as character actors after their primes.

Camille would be a box office success and beloved by many at its release and some years later for its romantic nuances. In 2002 the feature would be included on AFI’s list if top American cinematic love stories, honored with 33rd spot on the all-time list. In 2005 Time Magazine would go further to claim Camille as one the best 100 movies of all time and not just in the category of romances. Garbo would be remembered for her performance as the dying lover and stands as one of her best performances in her long career on screen.

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