Our look at the TCM Archives “Garbo Silents Collection” concludes today with a look at 1928’s The Mysterious Lady, directed by Fred Niblo and based on the novel “War in the Dark” by Ludwig Wolff.
Garbo stars as Tania, a character TCM describes as “a Russian spy who seduces her victims” on the back cover of the DVD set. It is true that Tania is a spy, assigned to steal a few very important documents from a man named Karl (Conrad Nagel). But to say that she “seduces her victims” is to imply that she’s a heartless lady. Not the case – Tania falls quite hard for Karl, and he loves her as well, complicating their relationship as spy and spied-on.
The Mysterious Lady is presented in The Garbo Silents Collection with original music by Vivek Maddala. The print is a bit rough at times, visually, but overall very watchable, and Maddala’s score is a nice complement to all of the drama that comes along with a spy’s romantic life.
Garbo is as magnetic as ever in her role of Tania, glamorously styled and serving up a very easy, natural performance. Like most Garbo films, this one belongs totally to her, Nagel fading into the background throughout most of the story, despite the fact that he’s the leading man. Poor Karl comes across as a bland ol’ fellow, but that’s okay, as the audience cares only about Tania.
Should anyone steal the film from Garbo, it would not be a “someone” but a “something”: the photography. The film is beautifully lit and features a few little photographic tricks – a scene where the lights flicker as Garbo sings, leaving her glowing dramatically; a scene using double exposure. I mentioned above that visually there are a few rough moments of grain and damage, but these do nothing to hide the film’s often-striking visual beauty.
In terms of plot, The Mysterious Lady isn’t Garbo’s most gripping film, despite the fact that she portrays a spy. The story’s turns are at times predictable and often seem contrived. It may not have a masterpiece script, but I personally still enjoyed watching the film and found that it never lost my interest. What it lacks in story it more than makes up for between Garbo’s performance and the fact that it’s a very stylish spy caper.
Having finished watching(/re-watching) the titles in The Garbo Silents Collection, Flesh and the Devil remains my favorite of these three Garbo-starring tales of romance and temptation, but The Mysterious Lady is still well worth a watch for fans of the magnificent actress.