It’s tempting to spend this whole post talking about Greta Garbo and how amazing she is in this movie, but I’ll try to share the love.
So Ms. Garbo plays Camille, a French courtesan who’s been supported financially for years by the Baron de Varville. She’s basically a kept woman and therefore not free to fall in love with anyone else, which is of course exactly what she does. Her new lover, played by the gorgeous Robert Taylor, wants to take her away from the corruption of Paris, and for a while he succeeds. But his father convinces Camille that being with her will ruin his reputation, so she makes herself push him away. The story is classic Hollywood melodrama, and all the actors except Garbo are Americans trying, with varying degrees of success, to fake a French accent and demeanor. But I will freely admit none of that bothered me. George Cukor, who also directed one of my favorite movies of all time, The Philadelphia Story, is the master at telling an emotionally complex story without letting it get sappy; and Garbo is flawed, believable, and enchanting. Solid gold.
I was extremely hung over when I watched this, which might have heightened the movie’s general air of creepitude for me, but I found this extremely weird in a retro 70s sort of way.
The story starts out predictably — gauche American family moves to an English manor house that turns out, along with the woods surrounding it, to be haunted — and gets interestingly complicated. The older sister, Jan, starts seeing a blindfolded girl instead of her own reflection whenever she looks in a mirror; and the younger one, Ellie, pulls lots of The-Shining-style stunts like writing things backward and occasionally letting a spirit (the titular Watcher) speak through her. The blindfolded girl turns out to be the daughter of their creepy elderly neighbor (played by Bette Davis) who disappeared during a solar eclipse thirty years ago and has never been found. I feel like this movie would have scared the daylights out of me as a kid — it’s a Disney movie and therefore billed as a family film, but it’s still quite suspenseful and scary, partly due to the sinister-looking English forest it was shot in. That element of it holds up pretty well for a movie that came out the same year I was born, but most of the acting (with Ms. Davis as the notable exception) is pretty bad. Lynn Holly-Johnson, who plays Jan, was apparently a famous figure-skater, and she gives it the good old college try but never manages to dial down the whiney-ness. The special effects are also pretty good for the time — they’re obviously dated but still pretty effective. Watch it in a group and do a shot every time Jan roams through the forest shouting, “Ellie! Ellie!”
Great, bloody fun.
I don’t really have to convince y’all to see this, do I? I’m not sure how it stacks up against other renditions of the same musical since this was my first time seeing it (for shame!), but I did appreciate that they avoided all the weird staging that made me dislike the movie adaptations of Dreamgirls and Chicago. Johnny Depp is the man, as always, and Helena Bonham Carter is for once playing a role she could easily have been cast in even if the director wasn’t her hubby (not that she ever gives a bad performance — I just question his choice to cast her as his leading lady in some of his other movies). I also want to give some love to Alan Rickman, who I think is one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood. His duet with Johnny Depp while the latter is shaving him gave me chills.