“A spy in love is a tool that has outlived its usefulness.”
If anyone has ever heard the name Mata Hari it has most likely been said along the lines of a woman being beautiful and alluring and also someone who likes to spy. I believe the first time I ever heard of Mata Hari is when Ingrid Bergman mentioned the name in Hitchcock’s Notorious. Naturally I had to look the woman up after hearing that line and several people in the extras mentioned how perfect it was that Bergman’s character mentioned the name in the film. Since I have been on somewhat of a Greta Garbo kick (or maybe it is a Swedish kick since I have been dying to go on an Ingrid Bergman binge?) lately, I decided the next films of hers I would view was Mata Hari. What actress past or present could do any better than playing an exotic, mysterious, alluring, beautiful spy better than the great Greta Garbo?
Young Russian aviator Lt. Alexis Rasonoff (Ramon Novarro) has just flown from London to Paris on his way back to his country. He meets with his superior officer General Shubin (Lionel Barrymore) who takes him to a nightclub to see a show by the exotic Mata Hari. As soon as Alexis sets his eyes on the gorgeous woman he becomes obsessed with her. He pesters Shubin to introduce him to her but Shubin brushes him off that he could not possibly set a meeting up with her she is a very popular woman. But apparently Shubin knows Mata on a personal level meeting with her in her dressing room and speaking to her very comfortably.
That night Alexis follows Mata to a gambling house then back to her house. She tells him goodnight but he does not want to go. All that is between her bedroom and the living room are curtains which she only closes halfway.
The next day Mata meets with Shubin. He knows that she is a spy who has been working with a man named Adriani. He also knows that she is supposed to be gathering important Russian secrets to give to Adriani. Their meeting in interrupted by a man named Dubois who accuses Mata of being a spy. Jokingly Shubin says yes of course Mata is a spy all of Paris knows it just to embarrass Dubois further for walking in on them. A few minutes later Alexis walks in to receive his orders from Shubin. Alexis will not even look at Mata after she kicked him out of her apartment that morning.
On her way back to her place Mata notices she is being followed. She manages to get away and goes to Alexis’s apartment he keeps in the city. Alexis is so completely in love with her that he says she comes before God and country to him. Above the bed he has an icon of the Virgin where he keeps a candle lit at all times underneath it. Mata says that if he loves her that much he will blow it out and after some hesitation he does. During the night a man comes in and steals the secrets Alexis is supposed to be taking to Russia, has them photographed, and returns them.
Dubois goes to Shubin to try to rile him up to spill about Mata. Dubois knows the general is in love with the woman and tells her he saw her with Alexis that she went to his place last night and left in the morning. When Mata comes in later Shubin confronts her in a rage. He says he will call the embassy to confess to her being a spy which is exactly what Dubois wanted him to do. Mata shoots Shubin dead. She tries to make it seem as if he killed himself but Dubois knows that she killed him.
Mata has to go into hiding under Adriani’s orders. She hears that Alexis was hurt in a plane crash and is in the hospital. Mata has fallen for Alexis and risks her life to see him. Alexis has been blinded. When she gets her car to leave Dubois is waiting for her.
If you want to know what happened to real Mata Hari look her up. The ending to the film is outrageously melodramatic.
Garbo, Lionel Barrymore, and Ramon Novarro were excellent. Garbo was the perfect choice to play Mata Hari; she was gorgeous and she was not called the Mysterious Greta Garbo for nothing. I find the more I watch Garbo’s films the more I love how she expresses so much with her eyes or should I say her eyebrows, well both actually. Novarro played kind of the same character he played in The Barbarian where he chased Myrna Loy all over the desert, his character was obsessed with a woman and he just chased after her until the woman started chasing after him. In the films I have seen Novarro in he played the love sick little boy. He definitely had the look for it. Lionel Barrymore was nothing to shake a stick at his character was alright.
Mata Hari is pure melodramatic fluff with very little actual historical accuracies… but would expect anything else from MGM during the 1930s? Didn’t think so. I just loved how pre-code the film with both Mata and Alexis staying over the others places for the night and Mata using Alexis’s sexual desire for her to get what she needed. Mata Hari is not Greta Garbo’s best film but it is good and one I would suggest seeing sometime.