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Mata Hari

Screening: 23 May, 6:30pm

Scene from Matahari

USA
1931

Director/Producer: George Fitzmaurice
Production co: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Screenplay: Benjamin Glazer, Leo Birinsky
Cinematography: William Daniels
Editor: Frank Sullivan
Production designer: Cedric Gibbons
Mata Hari: Greta Garbo
Lt Rosanoff: Ramon Novarro
General Shubin: Lionel Barrymore
Andriani: Lewis Stone
Dubois: C. Henry Gordon
Carlotta: Karen Morley
Major Caron: Alec B. Francis
Sister Angelica: Blanche Frederici
Warden: Edmund Breese
89 mins
B&W
16mm (4:3)
certificate TBA

The subject of Mata Hari, the WWI Javanese-Dutch spy, was not new to film, but when Garbo agreed to play the role of the beautiful exotic dancer who traded sex for secrets, it was not only news but also cause for MGM to produce a lavish and memorable film. We first see the German spy in Paris, posing as a dancer. Her spymaster, Stone, directs her to intercept certain Russian messages involving Allied troop movements. For some time Garbo has been having an affair with Barrymore, an indiscreet general, but she meets Novarro, a lowly lieutenant, and truly falls in love with him. Then she learns that Novarro has the messages she is seeking and she betrays her love for him to serve her country, taking him to bed while her associates copy his messages. Barrymore learns of the tryst and explodes, threatening to turn Garbo in as an agent and implicate Novarro. Can she save herself?

Garbo is stunning, full of her special mystique as the exotic dancer-spy, in one scene wearing a revealing costume and snaking her body around a lascivious-looking, many-armed statue in an odd interpretive dance. Fitzmaurice directs with great style here and makes the most of the lavish production techniques available to him. Both Garbo and Novarro had accents that later caused some critics to sneer, particularly at one of Novarro's lines which sounded like "What's the mata, Mata?" Of course, little shown here is based on real events. The historical figure, Gertrud Margarete Zelle MacLeod (1876-1917), danced in Paris and stole secrets from the French for the Germans, low-level secrets at that, until she was uncovered as a spy and shot, not in Russia, but at Saint-Lazare in France on October 15, 1917.

TV Guide

Internet Movie Database listing

Preceded by:

Kodagraph Newsreel #3

10 mins
Silent

Incorporates war news, ships, planes, dukes, stunts and Miss America (in absentia).

 

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