Camille (1936)

“If you don’t stop being so easy-going with your money, you’ll land in the gutter before you’re through or back on that farm where you came from, milking cows and cleaning out hen houses. “

‘Camille’, directed by George Cukor in 1936, is an American adaptation of ‘La Dame aux Camélias’ by Alexandre Dumas, fils. Greta Garbo plays Marguerite Gautier, a low born woman who mixes in high society Paris. She is funded by the Baron de Varville, played by Henry Daniell, an older man who is wealthy a besotted with her. When she falls in love with a younger man, Armand played by Robert Taylor, she finds her contrived security to be put at risk. It’s a lavish film, but the highlight is the performance by Garbo. As in ‘Queen Christina’, she plays her part with a strength and an ironic sense of humour, initially presenting her character as a flighty and frivolous person, but as her fortunes change and when tragedy strikes in the final movement of the film, she switches elegantly to underplayed seriousness. It’s a film that floats effortlessly between comedy, drama and sadness, but pleasingly one that focuses not on the male characters, but on the central female one. The performances are perfectly pitched and the historical detail is exquisitely drawn.

Watch in a double bill with Vincente Minnelli’s ‘Gigi’, a musical that has the same narrative and historical setting, but a completely different tone and trajectory.

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