Flesh and the Devil is my favorite silent film and one of my favorite movies period. Of course, this film was the one that sparked the real life romance between Greta Garbo and John Gilbert. Motion Picture Magazine, at the time, was right on it. In the December 1926 issue, an article on Garbo and Gilbert sported the following subtitle: "When Clarence Brown Filmed the Love Scenes with Greta Garbo and John Gilbert for 'The Flesh and the Devil,' He Was Working with Raw Material." Yes, especially for its time, the love scenes are red hot (accounts from the cameramen claimed that Garbo and Gilbert kept going even when the cameras stopped). I think this film, however, is often overshadowed by the Gilbert/Garbo romance and the tragedy that would follow. I find this film to be a classic based on the relationship between the two best friends in the film, the incredible acting, and the seductive atmosphere it presents. The interesting backdrops (sometimes of a fantastical nature) lend further charm to the story.
The film seems to take place in 1800s Germany. It certainly takes place before the First World War, as there is a sense of confidence and security among the characters and their families at the beginning of the film. It was a time when the privileged classes lived in a sheltered world of their own and when honor meant everything. The two best friends Leo (Gilbert) and Ulrich (played by Lars Hanson) are from this wealthy "Junker" class. Leo is the free-spirited, spontaneous one, Ulrich the sensible, naive one. Their seemingly unassailable friendship is threatened by the "devil" herself, Felicitas (Garbo). Unaware, at the time, of the seductress' marriage, Leo soon finds himself in a duel with her husband. Leo's victory results in his 3-year military assignment in Africa, where he waits anxiously to be with Felicitas again. Only the two of them know of the passion they shared as a dispute at cards was the public reason for the duel. When Leo returns, he finds that his Felicitas is now married to his best friend. The evil enticement of Felicitas soon seizes Leo by the flesh, and he cannot resist her passion, even at the sake of his friendship with Ulrich. Will the devil cause the two best friends to meet their end in their own duel, or will the naive Ulrich prove the stronger of the characters? Suspenseful to the end, you will definitely watch this film more than once. Worth the price, especially for any Garbo, Gilbert, or silent film fan.