Cast & Crew
Erich Von Stroheim
Zara, a sultry singer in a Budapest nightclub, is a cynical alcoholic. She lives with novelist Karl Salter, who loves her, and tolerates her life of drinking and picking up men. When a man named Tony comes for her and calls her "Maria," Karl is told that Tony has been looking for her for ten years to take her back to his best friend, Count Bruno Varelli. Tony says that she is Maria, Bruno's wife, who had disappeared ten years before during World War I, but Zara denies that she is Maria and orders Tony out. She soon relents, however, and goes with him, despite the fact that Karl threatens her and shoots her in the arm. At the Varelli estate, when Bruno receives word that his long-presumed dead wife is returning, he is ecstatic, but when Zara arrives, she is like a stranger and doesn't recognize him or their devoted family servants. She claims that she is not really Maria, but when he begs her to stay, she asks him to help her be the woman he desires--Maria as she appeared when Tony painted her portrait many years before. Meanwhile, Karl goes to visit Ines Montari, Maria's sister, seeking her help in exposing Zara as an imposter. As Zara and Bruno get to know each other, she falls in love with him and wants to devote her life to him. Just as she seems to be grasping the happiness that has eluded her for so long, however, Karl comes to the estate to see her. He tells her that one week from that day, Maria was to be declared legally dead and that her property would have gone to her sister Ines instead of Bruno. When Zara realizes that he is telling the truth, she thinks that Bruno has merely been playing a game for the property. Bruno protests, but Zara does not believe him. When Karl then says that the real Maria, who has been confined to a sanitarium since the war, is with him, they demand to see her. As the woman enters, she calls Ines and the maid Lena by name and, though veiled, she is accepted as Maria by most of the family. Bruno and Tony refuse to believe that the woman is Maria, however. Through questioning, the woman regains bits of her memory and they realize that she is not Maria, but one of the women who lived on the estate before the war. Finally, Bruno tells Zara that he loves her, no matter who she is or was. When he says that he has found his lost love in her, Zara realizes that they can be happy.
Erich Von Stroheim
As You Desire Me
Garbo plays Zara, a singer in a tawdry Budapest nightclub who, due to a brutal assault by drunken soldiers during World War I, can't recall her past as an Italian Countess. Ten years down the road, she finds herself in the grip of Karl Salter (von Stroheim), a cruel writer who treats her as an erotic possession. When informed of her earlier existence by a nightclub patron who painted her wedding portrait (Owen Moore), Zara leaves Karl and returns to her husband, Count Varelli (Melvyn Douglas). Varelli still loves Zara, but her misadventure has tainted her standing in high society. Soon, the ever-obsessive Karl shows up with another woman in tow, insisting that she, and not Zara, is the real Countess.
Though now praised for Garbo's performance - and for her outrageously sexy stage outfits, which may have been a sarcastic poke at Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel (1930) - audiences at the time couldn't get a handle on As You Desire Me. Its troubled characters were probably too dark for American audiences who were suffering from the effects of the Great Depression.
MGM couldn't have been pleased with the public's relative lack of interest, especially since Garbo had cleverly manipulated both Louis B. Mayer and Irving Thalberg during filming. As You Desire Me went into production very quickly because Garbo's contract was about to end, and MGM wanted to squeeze another film out of her...a move that left her decidedly cold toward the studio. Her irritation was further compounded when she requested von Stroheim for the role of Salter and Mayer and Thalberg flatly refused.
Von Stroheim, to say the least, had had a difficult past with MGM. He was a demanding but brilliant actor-director who'd been humiliated by Thalberg when the MGM mogul irrevocably altered his epic masterpiece, Greed (1925), by removing and burning several hours of footage. Knowing full well what she was asking of her bosses, Garbo insisted on von Stroheim's participation. MGM grudgingly relented, but the chess match with their star had just begun.
Von Stroheim hadn't directed a film since The Wedding March (1928), and he'd been stuck acting in mostly second-rate pictures. He took a hugely unjustified fall from glory, a situation that left him with crippling nervous attacks. Several times during the filming of As You Desire Me, he phoned Garbo, telling her that he couldn't find the courage to work the next day. Garbo would then call Thalberg, informing him that she wouldn't be able to film, thus protecting von Stroheim from Thalberg's wrath.
Director George Fitzmaurice was little more than an interested bystander once the jostle for control began. Douglas later claimed that the only thing Fitzmaurice told him about the character of Count Varelli was that he was a soldier, so he should wear a military corset. Fitzmaurice was apparently convinced of the garment's importance. He made a point of checking each morning to see if Douglas was actually wearing one.
Garbo, of course, had little use for what the industry, and fame in general, could do to people's lives, a revulsion that eventually convinced her to quit acting altogether. Douglas once said of his mysterious co-star, "She was shy, perhaps even frightened, about her own work." Garbo had announced that As You Desire Me would be her final picture, and appeared to be making good on her promise when she boarded a ship for Europe shortly after filming wrapped. Luckily, she returned to grace audiences with classic performances in Queen Christina (1933), Anna Karenina (1935), and Ninotchka (1939), also co-starring Douglas. Shortly thereafter, she left the film industry for good.
Director/Producer: George Fitzmaurice
Screenplay: Gene Markey (Based on a play by Luigi Pirandello)
Cinematographer: William Daniels
Film Editing: George Hively
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Costume Design: Adrian
Cast: Greta Garbo (Zara), Erich von Stroheim (Karl Salter), Melvyn Douglas (Count Bruno Varelli), Owen Moore (Tony Ferrara), Hedda Hopper (Madame Inez Montari), Rafaela Ottiano (Lena), Warburton Gamble (Baron).
BW-70m. Closed captioning.
by Paul Tatara
As You Desire Me
Although Erich von Stroheim was barred from the MGM lot by studio head, Louis B. Mayer, and production head, Irving Thalberg, he was hired for the role of Karl Salter at the insistance of Greta Garbo, who threatened to quit otherwise.
The character of Karl Salter was loosely based on the Hungarian playwright, Ferenc Molnar.
The English language version of Luigi Pirandello's play, translated by Samuel Putnam as As You Desire Me, opened in Washington D.C. on November 30, 1930 and in New York on January 28, 1931. Judith Anderson starred as the main character, known as "The Unknown One." In the play, "The Unknown One" leaves with the character Salter at the end, rather than staying with the count. According to a news item in Film Daily, Melvyn Douglas was borrowed from Samuel Goldwyn for this picture. The New York Times review noted that it had been announced that this film was to be Greta Garbo's last; however, she made her next film, Queen Christina, in 1933 (see below) and continued making films at M-G-M until 1941. This was the first of three films in which Garbo co-starred with Douglas. The others were Garbo's last two films, Ninotchka, directed by Ernst Lubitsch in 1939 (see below) and Two-Faced Woman, directed by George Cukor in 1941. A Hollywood Reporter news item states that Garbo considered doing a remake of As You Desire Me in 1943. According to modern sources, Garbo's friend and advisor, Salka Viertel convinced Garbo to request Erich von Stroheim for the role of Karl. Because Stroheim had reportedly been barred from the M-G-M lot by studio head Louis B. Mayer and production head Irving Thalberg, Garbo threatened to quit M-G-M if Stroheim was not accepted for the role. A pre-production Hollywood Reporter news item announced that Nils Asther was to co-star with Garbo, but he did not appear in the film and it has not been determined whether he was considered for the part of the count or Salter in the picture. Modern sources also note that the character Karl was loosely based on the Hungarian playwright Ferenc Molnar.
Released in United States 1932
Released in United States 1932