Greta Garbo: The Signature Collection

One hundred years after her birth, Greta Garbo is both legendary and relatively unknown, her films eclipsed by gossip about her years of seclusion and the famous misquote about "vanting to be" etc., etc. This generous box set provides a crash course for the generations that know the legend, not the films, and show that both her beauty and her considerable talent as an actor have held up well. From her arrival in Hollywood in 1926 to her retirement in 1941, Garbo made 13 silent films and 12 "talkies." She was one of the few actors to make the transition from silents successfully and it was perhaps this change of medium that allowed her to transcend her 1920's "vamp" stereotype and develop more complexity as an actor. Not that she played virginal types in her speaking roles: in this set alone she plays two prostitutes (in two of her very best performances, Anna Christie, 1930 and Camille, 1936), an exotic dancer/spy (Mata Hari 1932) and an adulterous wife (the heart-breaking Anna Karenina, 1935). Even as the cross-dressing Queen Christina (1933) she is sexually confident and independent. As a has-been ballerina in Grand Hotel (1932), she is not at her best, maybe playing the cliché a bit too much, but the film is wonderful, and amazingly modern. Its star-studded cast, moral ambivalence and refusal of a Hollywood ending make it feel like a 1930's version of a Robert Altman film. Perhaps the nicest surprise in this set is the final film, Ninotchka (1939), in which we get to see Garbo's comic chops as a dour Soviet bureaucrat who is swept away by romance, Paris and a beautiful hat. What is missing? Hardly anything: seven of her 12 "talkies" are here, and they include all her greatest roles. A double disc of silents includes Flesh and the Devil, The Temptress and The Mysterious Lady, as well as the remaining fragments of a fourth film. Also included is an excellent 50-minute documentary about Garbo's personal and professional life, useful commentary on the silents, alternate endings for some of the movies, theatrical trailers for most of the features, and more. (Warner)