“He’s in love.”
When any classic film buff is asked about the great Greta Garbo the first thing they may say is she was mysterious and gorgeous. Garbo’s roles of the late 1920s when she came to Hollywood from Sweden to the mid-1930s were usually of a vamp whose beauty tempts men to do something wrong for her and then in the end to save the man she loves she sacrifices herself. Yeah, those are some pretty heavy roles but Garbo tackled them like a pro and looked beautiful doing it. So guaranteed if you only know that Garbo did dramatic roles and uttered the immortal line “I want to be alone” you do not know that she actually made two comedies. The first one was Ninotchka which is considered one of the greatest comedy films of all time (and it is I loved it) and her second comedy Two-Faced Woman happened to be her last film.
Larry Blake (Melvyn Douglas) is a business man from New York on a vacation in the mountains. An employee asks him if he would like to ski and at first he says no but once he gets a look at the beautiful ski instructor he changes his mind. He asks for a private lesson with her and gets his way. The instructor’s name is Karin Borg (Garbo). Larry is not good at all on skis he is terrible to every inch of the word. Karin gets a little frustrated with him after a while. Larry is so bad he manages to lose control and fall off the side of a huge snow drift.
That night Larry and Karin are nowhere to be found. His work partner O.O. Miller (Roland Young) has been called in. Finally the instructor and the instructed come back and with a surprise. Larry tells O.O. that they have been away all day because they have gotten married! O.O. is not happy at the marriage at all, for some reason he does not like Karin. He gives Larry a magazine that has not been printed right and decides to head back to New York the next day. In their bedroom Larry tells Karin that he wants to go back. This news leads to a very heated argument of them going back and forth between going and not going. Each is very adamant about their decision. They do make up and go to bed happy.
The next morning though, all is not right between the couple yet again. Larry thought that Karin agreed to go with and Karin thought Larry was going to stay. They argue again but Larry eventually leaves. Weeks go by before Karin has had enough of not seeing Larry that she calls his secretary Miss. Ellis up telling her she is coming to New York and not to tell Larry.
Miss. Ellis tells Karin that Larry is at the theater watching rehearsals for his ex-girlfriend’s play. The ex-girlfriend, Griselda Vaughn (Constance Bennett), was not happy at all when she found out Larry had gotten married on vacation but she seems to be dealing with it in the theater… mostly because Karin is not around. Karin sneaks into the theater. Unfortunately they do not see her and Larry and Griselda walk out of the theater arm in arm. Now she definitely does not want Larry to know she is in New York she wants to go back home. At that moment O.O just happens to pull up to the theater as Karin and Miss. Ellis are leaving. The two women run into the theater and Karin hides. Miss. Ellis covers for Karin saying that Karin is actually Katherine, Karin’s twin sister. O.O is amused and is immediately taken by “Katherine.”
Karin plays Katherine with a sexy, outgoing personality. O.O is immediately taken with “Katherine.” He takes her out to dinner and cannot take his eyes off of her. Larry is at the restaurant where O.O and “Katherine” are with Griselda by his side. Larry cannot believe his eyes seeing Karin in New York but she manages to play off Katherine really well and Larry is completely taken by her as well. But not believing in Katherine he calls the snow lodge where Karin is and they say she is not there she is in New York.
Since Larry knows Karin’s game he plays along and falls in love with Katherine. Katherine is alluring and sensual. She stays out all night with O.O and a young man named Dick. Karin sees that Larry wants a vamp not a nice quiet woman like her. This is something Karin cannot handle.
Eventually Larry and Karin make up.
I did not in any way make this story sound interesting or funny but believe me it really was. The reason it is funny and why this double-identity plot works so well and does not get boring is because of Garbo. As I said many people know her image of this beautiful, mysterious, and serious woman that they do not know she made two comedies. She was fantastic as Karin/Katherine and this is because she was such an incredible actress, she was very versatile. But I guess what it comes down to is that since Garbo made mostly dramatic films that seeing her in a comedy is surprising and seeing her play a comedic role catches you off guard. I love this in an actress or actor because it shows just how good and believable they are. This is only the second Greta Garbo film I have seen and I have to say I adore her and I truly understand why she is praised like she is. As I said about Norma Shearer in Lady of Chance the reason she was popular is because she was watchable. The same with Garbo she was so watchable you cannot take your eyes off the screen when she is in a scene.
My favorite scene in the film is when Karin drunks calls Miss. Ellis. She has been living it up as Katherine and went out drinking Champaign with O.O and Dick. I forget what exactly she tells Miss. Ellis but she was so funny. Oh and Garbo also dances. Apparently she was really embarrassed having to dance but she just looks so natural and like she had a good time. It is not funny I just had to mention it.
I have not seen Melvyn Douglas in too many films yet but the more I see of him the more I adore him as well. His character was brutish and very much a man of the late 1930s early 1940s with that he-is-the-man-and-should be-listened-to-and-be-obeyed shtick. I love Douglas though I do not know why but I do I always love to see him in a film.
Constance Bennett in her few scenes was funny. When Larry tells Griselda that he is married she covers the phone and screams then calmly gets back on the phone and talks to him, but as she calmly talks to him she throws things. I died laughing when Griselda talks to “Katherine” in the ladies room at the restaurant. She thinks that Katherine is in love with Larry so she just wants to make sure. When Karin leaves Griselda looks in a mirror and screams. Bennett was just as biting and witty and beautiful as she was in her earlier films.
Two-Faced Woman, depending on what reviews and stories you read, got a lot of slack and is cited as the reason why this was Greta Garbo’s last film. Some reviewers say that the film did not do well because the US was officially in WWII and was not what people wanted to see and that the poor reviews embarrassed Garbo so much she did not want to make any more films. Bull on that, during the War she went back to Sweden and had the chance to make another film when she returned but it fell through and that really embarrassed her into never making another film. Two-Faced Woman is very witty, funny, and entertaining. I enjoyed every minute of it.