Silence of the Garbo
Earlier this month a crowd filled the Orpheum Theatre, not the Bartlett Building's new adult video store, for the 1926 Greta Garbo-starring film Flesh and the Devil.Photo by Gary Leonard.

When the devil cannot reach us through the spirit… he creates a woman beautiful enough to reach us through the flesh."

-Flesh and the Devil, 1926

First of all, this Greta Garbo is a pistol. That face. Those lips. The quiet snarl. I mean, the nearly sold-out crowd at the dazzling Orpheum Theatre went positively wild when she simply wrapped her mouth around a communion cup in one rather saucy church scene. Her facial expressions have facial expressions.

This woman could make calculus sexy.

Garbo, or as today's tabloids would call her, "La Garbo," appeared before a Downtown Los Angeles audience earlier this month when she starred in the 1926 MGM classic Flesh and the Devil, presented as part of the L.A. Conservancy's "Last Remaining Seats" series. I almost arrived late for the film since, in light of the title, I assumed they were screening it at the Bartlett Building's new adult video store on Seventh Street. Luckily, one of the nice residents over there pointed me toward Broadway. People can be so helpful when they're trying to save their neighborhoods (and property values) from falling into the abyss.

(And not just any neighborhood. I was pleased to read in a recent Downtown News article that Downtown L.A. is now the "third bloggiest neighborhood in America," even though certain bloggers scoffed at me after I dared mention the phenomenon way back in January. It's not easy spotting trends.)

Now, here's my review of Flesh and the Devil, not that anyone asked. Note, this review first appeared on my 1926 blog in which I predicted both the Great Depression as well as the Rosie O'Donnell-Donald Trump feud:

"The standard love triangle gets a new twist thanks to Hollywood's real-life 'It couple' of the moment, Greta Garbo and John Gilbert. Garbo plays Felicitas, a young woman whose sole purpose is to wreck as many lives as possible within the confines of a two-hour film. Leo (Gilbert), meantime, is a German soldier who returns from war only to lock eyes with Felicitas and fall in love immediately - and really, who could blame him?

"Unfortunately, she's married to a powerful count. Thus, the two men are forced to solve this dilemma by doing what men did before the advent of "Montel," where you could just make a quick appearance and let the studio audience decide. Instead, these two go out and hold a duel with Felicitas' love and honor at stake - during which Leo kills the count.

"Outraged, the military sends Leo to Africa for three years. However, the L.A. County Sheriff's Department takes pity on Leo and shortens his sentence to just 72 hours, sending him home with an ankle bracelet and a warning to stay out of West Hollywood nightclubs.

"While Leo's away, his childhood pal and best friend in the entire world, Ulrich (Lars Hanson in a role reminiscent of his work in Ocean's 1), somehow unaware of Leo's blossoming romance, also falls in love with Felicitas, and eventually marries her. Amazingly, neither Ulrich nor Felicitas sends clueless Leo as much as a text message letting him know that he had better search for a new girlfriend upon returning from his African exile.

"Once Leo sails home, all sorts of mayhem and hilarity ensue. Felicitas constantly shoots him seductive glances and makes all kinds of suggestive remarks, sending him into a hormonal tizzy, while oblivious husband Ulrich can't figure out why Leo doesn't want to come over and hang out with the newlyweds more often. Later, there's another duel where the two childhood friends, both in love with Felicitas, further spin out of control for the sake of this woman with the world-class lips.

"It's another winner from producer Irving Thalberg, who will no doubt win the Academy's very prestigious Irving Thalberg Award (if he hasn't already).

"Also, splendid work from Robert Israel and the Robert Israel Orchestra, which provided the live music for both the main feature and the preceding short subject Moonland. This film made little sense, but did feature a cute dog.

"Verdict: Two thumbs way way way up!"

I only wish the Conservancy could stage the thoroughly enjoyable Last Remaining Seats series more often. It's an opportunity to show off the city's majestic old theaters (like the amazing Orpheum, which also made its debut in 1926) while giving local audiences a rare chance to see vintage films on the big screen complete with live music. And most important, we can all experience what it must have been like to stroll down Broadway early last century to enjoy the moving pictures.

Back in those fun, innocent times when you could win a gal's heart by shooting her current husband at 25 paces.

Party of One appears every other week.

page 6, 6/18/2007

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