This week’s mystery movie was the 1926 MGM film of Vicente Blasco Ibanez’s “The Temptress,” with Greta Garbo, Antonio Moreno, Marc MacDermott/McDermott, Lionel Barrymore, Armand Kaliz, Roy D’Arcy, Robert Andersen, Francis McDonald, Hector V. Sarno and Virginia Brown Faire.
Scenario by Dorothy Farnum.
Titles by Marian Ainslee, settings by Cedric Gibbons and James Basevi, wardrobe by Andre-Ani, photographed by Gaetano Gaudio and William Daniels. Edited by Lloyd Nosler. Assistant director H. Bruce Humberstone.
Personally directed by Fred Niblo.
A Cosmopolitan Production.
“The Temptress” is available on DVD from Warner Archive.
“The Temptress” was supposed to be the American debut of director Mauritz Stiller, who directed Garbo in “The Saga of Gosta Berling” (1924). He arrived with her by train at the Pasadena station and was rumored (per Variety) as being her fiance. Stiller was replaced by Fred Niblo; the official reason, according to Picture-Play Magazine (August 1926), was Stiller’s difficulty in communicating with the cast in English. Supposedly, instead of yelling “Cut,” he cried “Hello, hello, hello!” Another time when he wanted extras to applaud, he yelled “Explode!”
Mr. Stiller is an artist. He does not understand about the American factories. He has always made his own pictures in Europe, where he is the master. In our country it is always the small studio. He does not understand the American business. He could speak no English. So he was taken off the picture. It was given to Mr. Niblo.
How I was broken to pieces, nobody knows. I was so unhappy I did not think I could go on. I could not understand the English directions. Week in, week out from seven until six. Six months on the story. More than twenty costumes to try on over and over. That is why I do not care about clothes. There are so many clothes in every picture. I cannot think of them when I am away from a picture.
I never missed a day. I was never late to work. It is not true that I have refused to work and have said “I will go home” as the papers have said about me.
When I had finished “The Temptress,” they gave me the script for “The Flesh and the Devil” to read. I did not like the story. I did not want to be a silly temptress. I cannot see any sense in getting dressed up and doing nothing but tempting men in pictures.
Trivia note: A plot point in “The Temptress” is construction of a dam that is dynamited by a villain. The film used footage of the construction of St. Francis dam, which collapsed in 1928, causing a devastating flood that left nearly 200 dead and about 170 missing, according an early story in the Los Angeles Times. Later stories in The Times put the death toll at 450.
I picked “The Temptress” as a small tribute to Mrs. Emmons, our Friday mystery guest. She appeared in many early films and turned in a memorable performance in the Little Rascals’ “Mush and Milk” (1933). Brain Trust members Mike Hawks and Jenny Lerew had a long-running campaign to identify her and Mike eventually found her name on the back of a still photo. Once Mrs. Emmons was identified, Jenny found out when she died and tracked down her unmarked grave at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, and thanks to Mike and Jenny she now has a marker.
A behind the scenes photo from Motion Picture Magazine (November 1926) showing the overhead camera position in “The Temptress.” This shot doesn’t appear in the film as far as I can tell.
Writing in Motion Picture Magazine (January 1927), E.G. said:
It must be admitted that “The Temptress” is a bore. It would seem to be the story of a woman whom all men love and whose curious fate it is to destroy all men who love her — not thru her own will, but as an inevitable consequence of her fatal lure. This she refers to as “God’s legacy.” She at length atones by destroying herself to save the one man she really loves. This theme is somewhat obscured in a typically movie-esque treatment which emphasizes a Paris revel — two Paris revels to be exact — an Argentine revel, the breaking of a dam, and similar scenes in which all the extras and studio contrivances can be used. Greta Garbo as the unhappy Temptress has a role which requires of her precisely nothing. Antonio Moreno’s role calls for a little more.
Writing in the New York Times (Oct. 11, 1926) Mordaunt Hall said:
Greta Garbo, the accomplished Swedish actress, who graced the pictorial translation of Blasco Ibanez’s “Torrent,” wins new honors at the Capitol in the screen version of another story by the Spanish author. This current offering is titled “The Temptress,” and it is concerned with the beguiling beauty of a selfish siren, a sinuous creature whose conscience knows no guilt. In many respects this picture is a distinguished piece of work, wherein Fred Niblo, the director, keeps the audience on the qui vive. It is a photodrama in which the producers do not pander to popular appeal by portraying a happy ending. The backgrounds of Paris and the Argentine plains are unusually fine, carrying with them that sterling asset, atmosphere accuracy.
For Monday, we have a mystery woman and mystery child. She does not approve of such goings-on.
Update: This is Inez Gomez.
For Tuesday, we have a mystery gent offering a toast. He does not approve of such goings-on.
Update: This is Marc MacDermott/McDermott.
And we also have this mystery gent.
Update: This is Roy D’Arcy.
Here’s a better image of Tuesday’s second mystery gent.
Update: Another shot of Roy D’Arcy. He is a silent-movie villain. Can you tell?
For “Hm Wednesday,” we have a mystery structure, which is a first.
Update: This is construction of the St. Francis dam.
Here’s another photo of concrete being poured in our mystery structure.
And here is a third photo of our mystery structure under construction.
And here’s mystery gent No. 1.
Update: This is Hector V. Sarno.
Mystery gent No. 2.
Update: This is Francis McDonald.
And mystery gent No. 3.
Update: This is Robert Anderson.
Brain Trust roll call: Mary Mallory (mystery movie, all mystery guests and waiting for You Know Who), Howard Mandelbaum (mystery movie, all mystery guests and waiting for You Know Who), Anne Papineau (mystery movie and Tuesday’s mystery guests), Sheila (mystery movie and Tuesday’s mystery guests), Mike Hawks (mystery movie and Tuesday’s mystery guests), Patrick (Tuesday’s mystery gent No. 1), Dan Nather (mystery movie, Tuesday’s mystery gent No. 2 and mystery cast), Sylvia E. (mystery movie, all mystery guests and waiting for You Know Who).
For “Aha Thursday,” we have this mystery gent.
Update: This is Armand Kaliz.
And also this non-mysterious chap.
Update: This is Lionel Barrymore.
Where is You Know Who? She’s coming Friday.
Brain Trust roll call: Mary Mallory (Wednesday’s mystery guests), Floyd Thursby (mystery movie and Tuesday’s villain), Howard Mandelbaum (Wednesday’s mystery guest No. 1 and mystery dam), Mike Hawks (Wednesday’s mystery guest No. 2), Diane Ely (Wednesday’s mystery dam), Dan Nather (Tuesday’s mystery villain, Wednesday’s mystery guest Nos. 2 and 3) and Sylvia E. (Wednesday’s mystery guests and mystery dam).
For Friday, we have an experiment that may or may not work. Let me know if you approve of such goings-on.
And finally: Antonio Moreno and Greta Garbo react as Marc MacDermott/McDermott face-plants, followed by Mrs. Emmons selling papers. Also Louis Mercier as a newspaper vendor.
Brain Trust roll call: Howard Mandelbaum (Thursday’s mystery guests), Mary Mallory (Wednesday’s mystery dam and Thursday’s mystery guests), Patrick (mystery movie and mystery leading lady), Mike Hawks (Thursday’s mystery guests), Dan Nather (mystery dam and Thursday’s mystery guests), Roget-L.A. (mystery movie and Thursday’s mystery guest No. 2), Blackwing Jenny (Thursday’s mystery guest No. 2), Sylvia E. (Thursday’s mystery guests), L.C. (mystery movie, mystery cast and mystery dam) and Allie Francis (mystery movie).