Anna Christie

Gasser 

Anna Christie (1930)

     With the 1930 release of Anna Christie the world heard Greta Garbo speak for the first time. What was her first line? “Gif me a visky, ginger ale on the side, and don’ be stingy, baby.” Garbo’s face and performances on the silent screen had already established her as a legend, but when audiences heard that husky voice it only sought to further her appeal.

     The first image we see of Garbo in this film is equally impactful (below). A weary Anna is revealed behind the door to a New York bar, slouching and casting a wounded glance toward the waiter that opened the door. She next surveys the room and her expression shifts to disappointment before she saunters in.

     Anna has traveled from Minnesota and hopes to find her father at the bar, the address at which she has been writing him during the 15 years they have been apart. She was sent to a farm to keep her away from the rough life at sea the father, Chris (George F. Marion), enjoys as a barge captain. Life was not as pleasant in the simple town of St. Paul as Chris would have expected, however, and Anna reveals to a drunken woman with whom Chris has been living (unbeknownst to Anna) that she hates men because of an incident involving her cousin.

     When Chris shows up, Anna hides her alcohol and accepts his offer for a sarsaparilla. She joins him living on a coal barge after expressing much disgust with the idea before his arrival. Anna soon finds she enjoys being at sea, although Chris is still worried she will marry a sailor and be subjected to the unpleasant life a seaman’s wife endures. That fate does seem to be approaching when the barge picks up several men adrift and Anna makes an instant connection with Matt (Charles Bickford) who tries to force a kiss out of her but later softens his approach.

     Matt remains on the barge and he and Anna continue to kindle their romance and for once the young woman thinks she can love a man. Things are inching toward marriage but Anna’s sordid past becomes a hurdle when her man starts talking about how pure she is. She ultimately reveals her former place of employment and Matt dumps her.

     I certainly did not foresee a happy ending in this story about a rather depressed young woman, but the action finds a way. The plot and actors are pretty underwhelming excluding Garbo. The camera clearly loves the gal as somehow she seems to be shot more clearly than her fellow actors. In some scenes the camera remains transfixed on her face while engaged in conversation with others. She brings more telling emotion to her facial presentations than all the other actors combined, making Garbo the only redeeming factor for this flick.

     Anna Christie is based on the Eugene O’Neill play and was also filmed in German, with the latter version being the performance Garbo preferred. The movie was nominated for Best Actress, Director and Cinematography but won none of the awards.

Source: TCM.com

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