'The Painted Veil' (1934) DVD Review: Garbo-Lite But Still Garbo

Katrin (Greta Garbo), a still-young woman but one on the edge of being a spinster, watches her younger sister breathlessly head off to honeymoon with her new husband. Katrin’s parents don’t fail to mention that their older daughter has no marriage prospects of her own. And it is during this vulnerable time that Katrin accepts an impulsive marriage proposal from a man she has just met — Walter (Herbert Marshall), a doctor and older man as smitten with Katrin as he is lonely.

After a promising honeymoon, Walter takes his new bride to China and promptly gets lost in his work. Katrin, who never had time to fall in love with Walter, feels abandoned and thinks she can cure both problems through an affair with Jack Townsend (George Brent), a dashing young man all too ready to give Katrin the attention she craves.

And that’s all the plot you are getting from me.

Based on the novel by Somerset Maugham, director Richard Bolesawksi’s adaptation has four things going for it: A perfectly lean 85-minute runtime, that gorgeous MGM-ish cinematography by future Oscar-winner William Daniels, a truly moving conclusion, and of course Garbo — one of the most alluring movie stars in the history of movie stars.  

Working against it is a surprisingly weak script that drags the second act and fails — at least until the third act — to invest you in the relationship between Katrin and Walter. For the story to work to its full potential, you have to want this couple to make it even as you sympathize with Katrin’s loneliness. Unfortunately, until the end, I just didn’t care. But I have to say that the end made up for a lot.

For Garbo fans only.

“The Painted Veil” is available through the Warner Archives.