A Woman of Affairs is a 1928 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer drama film directed by Clarence Brown and starring Greta Garbo and John Gilbert.
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The film, A Woman of Affairs was released with a synchronized score and sound effects, was based on a 1924 best-selling novel by Michael Arlen, The Green Hat, which he adapted as a four-act stage play in 1925. The Green Hat was considered so daring in the United States that the movie did not allow any associations with it and was renamed A Woman of Affairs, with the characters also renamed to mollify the censors. In particular the film script eliminated all references to heroin use, homosexuality and syphilis that were at the core of the tragedies involved.
The film stars:
Diana Merrick (Greta Garbo), Neville (John Gilbert) and David (Johnny Mack Brown) were playmates as children, members of the rich British aristocracy. Diana and Neville are in love, but his father (Hobart Bosworth) opposes the match, disapproving the Merrick family’s lifestyle. Neville is sent to Egypt for business purposes and to become wealthy.
Diana, after waiting in vain for two years for Neville’s return, finally marries David, who is also in love with her and good friends with her brother Jeffry (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.). During their honeymoon to Paris and after the arrival of police inspectors, David commits suicide without an explanation. Diana does not explain the reasons behind her husband’s action. Jeffry, who was deeply connected to David, blames his sister for his friend’s death; he falls deeper into alcohol as his sister starts a reckless life, seducing man after man.
Years later, Neville returns to England to marry Constance (Dorothy Sebastian). Jeffry is now gravely ill, and Diana brings Dr. Trevelyan, a family friend, to his bedside and then leaves since Jeffry still refuses to see her. As she starts to drive away, she sees Neville who has followed her and Dr. Trevelyan in a cab. Diana and Neville go to his apartment, realize they are still in love, and spend that one night together. During the night Jeffry dies. Dr. Trevelyan goes to Neville’s apartment in the morning to give him the news and discovers that Diana has spent the night there. Three days later, Neville marries Constance.
About nine months go by: Diana falls ill (in the script she is supposed to have suffered a miscarriage, but because of censorship, this couldn’t be mentioned) and is visited by Neville. Diana professes her love for him before realizing Constance is in the room.
The reason for David’s suicide is revealed: he was a thief, pursued by the police. Diana, realizing that her and Neville’s love will ruin Neville, tells him that his wife is pregnant and sends him away. Diana drives her car into a tree, in front of which she and Neville had fallen in love and sworn eternal fidelity.
Diana (Garbo) is recovering from an miscarriage, but this it couldn’t be mentioned because of censorship, so everything is implicit in her magnificent interpretation. The way she embraces the flowers like her baby and speaks to them is really poignant. This is one of my favorites scenes.
TCM’s Robert Osborne introduces the film to the TCM viewers:
This film is a heartbreaker and one of the last great silent films. Garbo is outstanding here as the socialite, Diana Merrick Furness who only tries to do good when she wants to clear up the debts that her husband left her with. It is such a shame to me that Gilbert didn’t live longer or survive the transition to talkies because he and Garbo on the screen together were just magnificent.
Playing the Garbo character’s lifelong love who is married but still holds the torch, Gilbert excels as the lover. His film audiences enjoyed him alongside Garbo and they sure had lots of chemistry. When he goes Garbo‘s bedside, when she becomes very ill, we’re glad he finally wakes up to the fact that his wife is a wonderful woman for letting him visit.
Douglas Fairbanks Jr. is truly the youngest I’ve ever seen him in a film. He was quite handsome here and very good in his part. It’s sad that he never reached the stardom of his famous father. Still, I was glad to see him in this and many of his later films.
If you can find this film somewhere, I highly recommend viewing it. Gilbert was a huge talent who had a lot of bad luck, but at least we have his films to remember him by.
Some photos courtesy of “DoctorMacro”