ANNA KARENINA (1935)
Directed by Clarence Brown
Adapted from Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Starring Greta Garbo as Anna Karenina , Frederic March as Vronsky, Freddie Bartholomew as Sergei, Basil Rathbone as Karenin
Let me start by stating that I have not read the novel or the Cliff Notes, so I won't be able to talk about the adaptation. I will solely be referring to the film on its own merits and that's probably a good thing for the filmmakers since the film took an approximately 900-page book and pared it down to 95 min, cutting out all the filler.
The film starts with an old man killing himself under a train, which really sets the mood for a love story. There's nothing like gory suicides to set the stage for romance. You should be getting out the hankies at this point because the filmmakers are foreshadowing how well things are going to work out.
Our lovers are Anna, the wife of a high-ranking Russian government official, and Vronsky, an aristocrat and a solider. We see Vronsky at a party of soldiers where they drink until there's one man standing, and we're talking about amounts of alcohol that would make Foster Brooks look like a cheap date. Vronsky is our winner and all we ever see of the soldiers is them standing around talking and drinking. No wonder they fell to the Communists.
Anna is ignored and treated poorly by her husband, Karenin, so there's no surprise that she is flattered by Vronsky's attention and affection. Karenin has heard rumors of the illicit affair and is more upset about being embarrassed since he's getting some on the side. He tells Anna to choose between her lover and her family because if she leaves, she'll never again see Sergei, her son, played by the king of child actors, Freddie Bartholomew. Anna chooses love and runs off to Venice with Vronsky. I expected more conflict in Anna's decision over leaving her son, so either that scene didn't make the adaptation or Tolstoy was a bachelor when he wrote this. Karenin tells Sergei that his mother has died, but Sergei doesn't believe his father.
After some time romancing in Venice, they both get bored and want to return home. One evening, thinking they've spent enough time in seclusion, they go to the opera where they are ostracized and ridiculed. This is a very amusing scene. On Sergei's birthday Anna decides to go see her son because she's missed him. The servants are startled to see Anna back in the house but don't prevent her from seeing Sergei. Sergei states that he never believed his father about his mother's death. They hug and kiss a little more than mother and son should. That Freddie is an animal. Karenin discovers Anna and orders her out of the house.
Vronsky runs into some of his old friends and they talk about a battle they are going to participate in. They seem eager to go to war, but look the type that will be issuing orders from the back rather than doing any actual fighting in the front. Vronsky goes to see his mother who has a cute, young blonde spending some time with her. Those wonderful bachelor days of the past seem to call him wherever he goes.
After the ordeal Anna went through at Karenin's, she is very eager to grow closer to Vronsky; however, when she sees him, he tells her of his plans to go off to battle with his friends. Not only that, but Vronsky makes it clear that he has no plans in returning to Anna when he gets back. What an ass this guy is. He gets Anna to leave her kid and ruin her reputation with her friends and he wants to split when he gets bored. Let this be a lesson, ladies!
Anna is obviously crushed. She goes to the train station to say good-bye to Vronsky and sees him saying good-bye to the blonde. Instead of confronting him, she hangs back in the crowd. Feeling she has nowhere to turn, she throws herself under a train. Christ, why wouldn't you take pills and alcohol? Isn't the purpose of suicide to alleviate your pain and misery not show yourself what pain is really like before you die. Vronsky feels bad and responsible for what happened. Am I supposed to feel sympathy for this guy? This knucklehead needs to step under a train before he strikes again
Overall the story was good, even though it was streamlined. It had elements of The Age of Innocence by Wharton in the way we see society deal with those who forego the rules for the ideas of love. There is some good camera work that is surprisingly adventurous for the time. And, of course, there's Freddie B. This story has been made into a movie or mini-series many times. It's certainly not the definitive version, but it has a lot of good moments, even the unintentional ones. It's neither a must-see nor a must-avoid. If you have a free 95 minutes with nothing better to do, it's worth seeing.