• U.S.

Cinema: The New Pictures, Dec. 22, 1941

4 minute read

Two-Faced Woman (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) is a practically perfect example of how wrong Hollywood can be when it gets off the beam. A slapsticky remake of a 1925 farce (Her Sister from Paris, with Constance Talmadge), it is an absurd vehicle for Greta Garbo, the Swedish nonpareil and the screen’s best tragedienne. Its embarrassing effect is not unlike seeing Sarah Bernhardt swatted with a bladder. It is almost as shocking as seeing your mother drunk.

Why this particular picture should have run afoul of the Legion of Decency, a Catholic organization which exercises the prerogative of deciding what pictures are fit for Catholic consumption, is best known to the Legion. The Legion decided that Two-Faced Woman was “immoral” (TIME, Dec. 8).

Miss Garbo is cast as an Amazonish skiing instructor at a fashionable Idaho mountain resort. She meets, loves, marries one Melvyn Douglas, publisher of a Manhattan magazine called Tides and Currents. Half poet, half Napoleon, he leaves her in the snow to rush East on pressing publication matters. When he fails to return, Garbo goes after him, inadvertently poses as her own imaginary sister (a fascinating international trollop) and seduces her husband with ease. Everything ends slaphappily back in snowbound Idaho.

This withered plot permits M.G.M. to exhibit Garbo in a bathing suit, on skis, in costly modern gowns, in a new bob, dancing the conga, tipsy, etc. It supplies her with such dialogue as: “I was born old”; “I like older men; they’re so grateful”; “let’s drink to what you’re thinking” (to Mr. Douglas, who is unquestionably thinking censorable thoughts).

This is M.G.M.’s idea of modernizing Garbo. Perhaps M.G.M. thought that, because Garbo played a captivating brand of comedy in Ninotchka two years ago, she ought to go on to slapstick. But Ninotchka was played against a dramatic background. Two-Faced Woman is neither dramatic nor funny (except for some hilarious stunt-skiing sequences); it is a trick played on a beautiful, shy, profoundly feminine actress.

Now that M.G.M. has recalled its picture, deleted some double-entendre scenes and dialogue, revised one sequence to permit Publisher Douglas to discover early in the game that his sister-in-law is really his wife, the Legion may consider its work well done. It is not. The only good job would have been to consign this picture forever to the darkness of M.G.M.’s vaults.

They Died With Their Boots On (Warner) is two hours and 17 minutes of wistful, little-eyed Errol Flynn as General George Armstrong Custer. That is a lot of Errol Flynn. With the Civil War and another Last Stand as backdrops for his heroics, the swashbuckler manages to be enormously brave, dashingly picturesque, occasionally silly, without losing his beatified placidity or sweating much.

The Brothers Warner were even braver. Disdaining Hollywood’s horror of controversial issue (pro& anti-Custerites are among the most vigorously vocal of U.S. cultists), they sailed into the screen’s first full-length exposition of the Custer legend with all canvas flying. Their version, which whitewashes Custer and bypasses history, is not likely to please either side.

Boots begins with Buckaroo Flynn, from Michigan, arriving at West Point (where he has been before, in pictures) on his own mule, clad in a sort of admiral’s uniform of his own design, followed by his own pack of hounds. After surpassing Ulysses S. Grant’s record, “worst in the Academy’s history,”* he wins his spurs at Bull Run, and, after a clerk’s error inadvertently jumps him from a shavetail lieutenant to brigadier general, saves the war by leading three successive cavalry charges, considerably flustering Rebel Jeb Stuart and virtually annihilating his own Michigan Brigade.

The remainder of Warner’s epic horse opera takes up the courtship of Lover Flynn and cider-sweet Olivia de Havilland, their removal to the Black Hills to fight Indians, and the Last Stand (June 25, 1876, at the Little Big Horn). Warner’s claims that its version of the massacre is a faithful copy of Custer’s Last Fight, done by Cassily Adams for Budweiser Beer in 1888 and a standby of U.S. saloons, parlors, outhouses ever since.

If so, Errol Flynn has died magnificently in vain; for the one thing that everyone agrees upon is that the painting is all wrong.

* Actually, Grant stood 21st in a class of 35; Custer was 34th in a class of 34; no one knows what cadet was worst in history.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com