Movie Review: Anna Christie (1930)

Anna Christie

Seen: On dvd on my laptop, rented from netflix.

So a few weeks ago I finished Frances Marion’s terrific memoir, Off With Their Heads: A Serio-Comic Tale of Hollywood. This informative and funny book is sadly out of print, but I recommend anyone who’s interested in early Hollywood history and/or in women filmmakers to try and track it down (I found a copy in my university’s library). Her many anecdotes about silent film stars reminded how many films from the 1910s-30s I still hadn’t seen, and I was motivated to finally sit down and watch a Greta Garbo movie. The Swedish actress’s first talkie, Anna Christie was also written for the screen by Marion so it fit my needs perfectly. It focuses on the titular Anna, an unhappy young woman who reunites with her father (George F Marion) after a long separation. A sea captain, he left her in the charge of farmer relations believing that they would give her a better life than he could, but she resents his abandonment. He takes her along on a voyage to reconcile, where she meets a rough-and-tumble sailor (Charles Bickford) and tries not to fall in love with him.

Filmed with a static camera and drawn-out, dialogue-heavy scenes, Anna Christie remains play-like in its style, which allows the cast to relish the script’s colorful language. Garbo is passionate and compelling, expressive in her whole body the way a silent star should be but not so exaggerated that it’s reduced to comedy. And of course, she’s also gorgeous. And stylish! I was digging her high-waisted pencil skirts paired with thick sweaters. Very fancy. Though this is very much Garbo’s film, supporter Marie Dressler almost steals the show in her few scenes, swaying and slurring like an expert fake-drunk and combining humor and pathos in a sad but weirdly dignified character. Marion wrote a lot about Dressler since they were good friends, and it was great to see her perform after reading about her.

While the performances are strong and the script is interesting enough, I didn’t love the story. It’s paced strangely with this really long opening and then halfway through a love story is suddenly inserted and rushed onward. I liked the theme of a father and daughter reconciling after their estrangement, and felt the romantic subplot wasn’t necessary, though it did encourage Anna to reveal her mysterious secret at the end. Her final big monologue at the climax is pretty great, and deals with perceptions of women in a surprisingly open way (though still is pretty anti-sex workers). I just didn’t like the actual ending, the resolution. I either expected a super depressing but realistic ending about how much all men sucked (Anna has maaaad misandry in this movie) or maybe something of her starting a completely new life separate from those who bring her pain. But instead (spoiler alert) she ends up a giddy housewife. Eh. Just too easy.

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Mmm I don’t know, haven’t thought of too many other boat-heavy dramas that might go well with this. Or maybe another Garbo film?

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