USA 1936, 109 mins
Director: George Cukor

SPOILER WARNING The following notes give away some of the plot.

On Broadway, a new generation is thronging to Garbo’s Camille. The actress, for whose return one has never given up hope, is proving that a 19-year-old film has preserved her splendour undimmed – indeed, it is memory that has proved unequal to preserving her magic quality. The film is now being reissued in England, and after 15 years of retirement the Oscar, which has stopped some strange doors in its time, has been awarded to her, rectifying the persistent omission that has made its presentation a joke.

That the uncompromising artistry of this great actress should have flourished for as long as it did, is to Hollywood’s – or, more particularly, MGM’s – eternal credit. To sell her highly uncommercial quality, one of the cinema’s greatest publicity campaigns was devised, in which the normal working conditions upon which she insisted were made to seem the caprices of an outlandish goddess. The protective privacy she exacted was no extravagant demand; a stranger’s intrusive stare would instantly have shattered the defenceless creative concentration she employed – for her personality was the most economically expressive the screen has evolved, owing allegiance only to the cinema, its potency conceived entirely in the medium’s purest terms.

Dumas’ Marguerite still remains a great role for a great actress, a dated piece of romantic artifice for the less than great. In Camille, Cukor’s direction led Garbo deeper into the heart of the situations than ever before, and into the greatest triumph of her career. Deserting the Olympian private world in which she often created alone, she moves here in constant and fluent relationship with everything and everyone around her. The period costumes reveal her splendid shoulders and the liquid grace of her most typical movement – her head thrown back in abandoned laughter, or her eyes closed in an anguished ecstasy of love.

Even before her talent, Garbo’s prerequisite for her creations is the quality of her imagination. The need is not that the qualities of sweetness, nobility and radiance should exist in her as a person, but that their imaginative apprehension should evoke in her the powerful creative response that they do. These qualities, fused into the glorious character conception we know as the screen Garbo, moving through the situations, illuminate the ideal conception of womanhood – no longer of this age: a figure of a romantic stature deriving from the 19th century rather than from today.

She is the sound cinema’s greatest possessor of the tragic gift. Her end is always in her beginnings; the intensity of her happiness with Armand in the country is exquisitely shadowed by the moving overtones of her tragic end. (In the comedy Ninotchka, this quality explains why, when she fell in love and bought the frivolous little hat, the absurd delight one felt was not without a lump in the throat: a comedy tone only Hepburn has equalled.) Her renunciation scene is desperately affecting, and the death of Camille is the greatest thing she has ever played. There have been actresses who have brought a more dazzlingly intricate texture to their work but no one has ever equalled Garbo’s emotional authority or sheer screen-filling power.

One leaves the cinema after Camille uncertain for the moment where familiar bus routes pass, unwilling to dissipate the awed and uplifted certainty that one has been in the presence of greatness.
Derek Prouse, Sight and Sound, Summer 1955

Director: George Cukor
Mob Scene Director: E. Mason Hopper *
©/Production Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corporation
Associate Producer: David Lewis
Unit Manager: Ulrich Busch *
Assistant Director: Edward Woehler *
Screenplay: Zoë Akins, Frances Marion, James Hilton
Based on the play and novel by: Alexandre Dumas, fils
Directors of Photography: William Daniels, Karl Freund
Editor: Margaret Booth
Art Director: Cedric Gibbons
Associate Art Directors: Fredric Hope, Edwin B. Willis
Props: Harry Edwards *
Gowns: Adrian
Musical Score: Herbert Stothart
Dances Staged by: Val Raset
[Sound] Recording Director: Douglas Shearer
Research: Nathalie Bucknall *

Greta Garbo (Marguerite Gautier)
Robert Taylor (Armand Duval)
Lionel Barrymore (Monsieur Duval)
Elizabeth Allan (Nichette)
Jessie Ralph (Nanine)
Henry Daniell (Baron de Varville)
Lenore Ulric (Olympe)
Laura Hope Crews (Prudence Duvernoy)
Rex O’Malley (Gaston)
Russell Hardie (Gustave) *
E.E. Clive (St Gadeau) *
Douglas Walton (Henri) *
Marion Ballou (Corinne) *
Joan Leslie (Marie Jeanette) *
June Wilkins (Louise) *
Elsie Esmond (Madame Duval) *
Fritz Leiber Jr (Valentin) *
Eily Malyon (maid) *
Edwin Maxwell (doctor) *
Mariska Aldrich (friend of Camille) *
John Bryan (DeMusset) *
Rex Evans (companion) *
Eugene King (gypsy leader) *
Adrienne Matzennauer (soprano) *
Georgia Caine (streetwalker) *
Mabel Colcord (Mme Barjon) *
Chappell Dossett (priest) *
Elspeth Dudgeon (attendant) *
Effie Ellsler (Grandma Duval) *
Sibyl Harris (Georges Sand) *
Maud Hume (Aunt Henriette) *
Olaf Hytten (croupier) *
Gwendolen Logan (governess) *
Ferdinand Munier (priest) *
Barry Norton (Emille) *
John Picorri (orchestra leader) *
Guy Bates Post (auctioneer) *
Zeffie Tilbury (old Duchess) *
Dorothy Granger, Lita Chevret (women in theatre box) *

USA 1936©
109 mins


Wed 1 May 18:10 (+ intro by Bryony Dixon, BFI National Archive Curator); Fri 3 May 21:00; Tue 14 May 12:30; Sun 26 May 13:00
Henry V
Thu 2 May 14:40; Thu 9 May 20:15; Thu 30 May 14:30
The Magic Flute Trollflöjten
Fri 3 May 12:00; Fri 24 May 20:25; Tue 28 May 14:30
Pandora’s Box Die Büchse der Pandora
Sat 4 May 15:10; Fri 17 May 18:00; Sat 25 May 13:10; Fri 31 May 14:30
West Side Story
Sun 5 May 19:30; Thu 16 May 14:30
Mon 6 May 20:20; Sat 11 May 14:45; Tue 21 May 14:30
A Streetcar Named Desire
Tue 7 May 12:10; Sat 18 May 20:30; Fri 24 May 14:50; Sun 26 May 17:40
Wed 8 May 18:10 (+ intro); Sun 12 May 20:40; Mon 27 May 12:30
His Girl Friday
Fri 10 May 18:10; Sun 19 May 20:30; Thu 23 May 18:30; Wed 29 May 18:00 (+ intro by Geoff Andrew, Programmer-at-Large)
Beautiful Thing
Mon 13 May 20:40; Wed 22 May 18:20 (+ intro by Simon McCallum, BFI National Archive Curator); Thu 30 May 12:10
Bluebeard’s Castle Herzog Blaubarts Burg
Wed 15 May 18:10 (+ intro by Alex Prideaux, Marketing and Events Manager – Our Screen Heritage); Fri 31 May 18:10
Mon 20 May 18:05; Thu 30 May 20:30

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Programme notes and credits compiled by Sight and Sound and the BFI Documentation Unit
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