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It's one of the most highly anticipated entrances in movie history: Greta Garbo slinking into a sleazy waterfront bar and ordering whiskey. Well, "visky." A huge silent star, Garbo was speaking her first lines in her first talking picture, Anna Christie, and audiences were breathless with anticipation. As The New York Times put it, "The low enunciation of her initial lines, with a packed theater waiting expectantly to hear her first utterance, came somewhat as a surprise yesterday afternoon in the Capitol, for her delivery is almost masculine." Her sultry tones were nevertheless a hit, and anyway the Swedish accent fit the character.
Anna Christie is adapted from Eugene O'Neill's play, a piece of gloom about prostitute Anna returning to her seafaring father (George F. Marion) and falling for a sailor (Charles Bickford). The movie's fascination as a Garbo milestone and slice of early-sound Hollywood easily outstrip its actual value as a work of art, for it has not aged especially well. Under the direction of Garbo regular Clarence Brown, the dialogue tends to fall on long, dead pauses and creak with early-sound-era uncertainty. But the print for the DVD release looks very good, and despite her sometimes dodgy approach to English, it's still Garbo--odd, sexy, uncategorizable. The DVD also includes the German-language version, directed by Jacques Feyder, with Garbo and a German cast; the print quality is not as felicitous as the American version but it's an intriguing contrast, and Garbo looks slightly more comfortable in speaking. --Robert Horton