AS YOU DESIRE ME
US, 1932, 70 minutes, Black and white.
Greta Garbo, Melvyn Douglas, Erich von Stroheim, Owen Moore, Hedda Hopper.
Directed by George Fitzmaurice.
As You Desire Me is a brief melodrama. It is based on the play by Luigi Pirandello (at least the skeleton outline of the play).
The setting is central Europe between the wars. Greta Gabo plays Zara, an alcoholic singer in Budapest who is living with the writer Karl Salter (allegedly based on the playwright Ferenc Molnar – The Swan). Her husband is a brutal man, sadomasochistic and Zara wants to leave the partnership. When a young man arrives (Owen Moore) claiming that Zara is really Maria who has suffered shellshock loss of memory during an incident in World War One and is really married to his friend Count Bruno (Melvyn Douglas), Zara takes the opportunity to escape, to relate to the count, to be pursued vindictively by Salter. However, a woman from a mental institution is also brought to the castle and it is claimed that she is the true Maria.
As with Pirandello’s stories about identity, the audience is left to look at the characters and try to work out what is the truth.
The film is an early talkie and has Garbo with her accent – not a particularly good performance, striking because of her ability to throw her head backwards at an almost ninety-degree angle to her neck. Erich von Stroheim seems to be completely exaggerating the melodramatics of his role (and his peculiar accent). Melvyn Douglas is not particularly good at all. He was to appear with Garbo ten years later in Two -Faced Woman, her last film. Columnist Hedda Hopper also has a role.
1.An early talkie? The limitations of film-making at the time?
2.Pirandello’s work, ambiguous characters, the search for identity? The whittling down of his plot and characters and dialogue?
3.Black and white photography, the studios for central Europe, Budapest, the castle, the countryside?
4.The issues of World War One and shellshock? The aftermath? Amnesia and identity?
5.Greta Garbo as Zara, her life, singing, her audiences, her drinking? Her relationship with Karl? The brutality? Her wanting to leave? The encounter with Tony, her escape, Karl’s pursuit and his vengeance? Bruno, the relationship? The other Maria and her decisions about her true identity?
6.Erich von Stroheim as Karl Salter, his screen presence, eccentricity, accent, over-the-top performance? His character’s relationship with Zara, his jealousy, her going, his pursuit, the confrontation with Bruno?
7.Melvyn Douglas as Bruno, a poor performance? Suave, married to Maria, his wealth, welcoming Zara, the confrontation with Karl? The woman being brought from the institute? His decision as to who was the true Maria?
8.Tony, his camp style, his news about Bruno, with Zara, taking her to Bruno?
9.The background of the Budapest clubs between the wars? The contrast with the country estates and their wealth?
10.A curiosity item from the early days of talking movies?