Cast & Crew
At an Idaho ski lodge, workaholic New York magazine editor Larry Blake comes to relax and is immediately attracted to ski instructor Karin Borg. Karin at first seems indifferent to his advances, but after a minor skiing accident leaves them stranded together, they fall in love and immediately marry. Meanwhile, search parties are sent looking for the missing pair and Blake's worried partner, O. O. Miller, and secretary, Miss Ellis, arrive from New York. Finding the pair safe and sound, Miller wants Larry to return immediately to New York to re-design their magazine. Although Larry had told Karin that he was giving up the fast-paced life, he enthusiastically plans to return to the city the next morning. He and Karin, who prefers the simple life, quarrel, then make up, but the next morning, neither has changed positions. Karin refuses to go to New York with Larry and he leaves without her, promising faithfully to return within a week. After receiving several telegrams announcing delays, Karin contacts Miss Ellis and tells her that she is secretly coming to New York. She meets Miss Ellis at an exclusive dresshop and makes herself over into a glamorous-looking woman of the world. They then go to the theater where a new play that Larry is backing is being rehearsed. Hiding in the back of the theater, Karin overhears a flirtatious conversation between Larry and his former girl friend, playwright Griselda Vaughn. Hurt that Larry has seemingly forgotten her, Karin determines to go back to Idaho immediately, but as she and Miss Ellis leave through the theater's back door, they are seen by O. O. Because Karin does not want Larry to know that she has been to New York, Miss Ellis tells O. O. that the woman he has seen is not Karin, but her twin sister Katherine. Karin's appearance and demeanor are so different from what they were in Idaho that O. O. easily accepts her as "Katherine" and invites her to dinner. Karin continues the deception that evening at Larry's favorite nightclub. Larry, who is with Griselda, is stunned when Karin walks in with O. O., but Karin pretends she does not know him and O. O. informs him that she is his sister-in-law, Katherine. Larry is extremely suspicious, even though "Katherine" drinks, smokes and dances, none of which Karin does. Karin pretends to be a blatant gold digger who uses men for her own pleasure and advancement, shocking Larry and angering Griselda, who is afraid that Katherine will be more successful than Karin at luring Larry away from her. Unknown to Karin, Larry sneaks off to telephone the ski lodge and is pleased to hear that Karin has left for New York. Later that night, Larry takes a very inebriated Karin to her hotel room and tries to romance her, but she orders him out. The next morning, while Miss Ellis helps Karin nurse her first hangover, Larry calls to apologize for his behavior and asks to meet her. She then tells Miss Ellis that she will pretend to be such a complete "vamp" that he will run back to Karin. When Larry arrives, the game continues until he says that he wants to divorce Karin so that he can reform her. He then says that he is flying to Idaho to tell Karin, but she convinces him to go by train, then secretly flies back. At Karin's cabin, she acts like her old self, but when Larry sees that she still is wearing toenail polish, like Katherine, he knows that they are one and the same. They spend the night together and in the morning, after Larry suggests that he could be happy with both Katherine and Karin, she accuses him of really being two people, goes into the bathroom, then returns wearing Katherine's negligee. When he pretends not to believe her story of being both Katherine and Karin, she angrily tells him, "we're both through with you," then goes skiing. He follows her, but falls into a frozen lake. When she calls after him, he says, "I'm not Larry, I'm his twin brother," and they kiss as he calls her "Karin, Katherine."
Nacho Galindo 0
S. N. Behrman
Daniel B. Cathcart
Edwin B. Willis
Studio executives were counting on a second home run for Garbo in the comic genre; Ninotchka (1939) had proven to be a box-office hit with Garbo trying her hand at levity and humor for the first time on film. Her costar from that movie, Melvyn Douglas, was cast again as her foil in Two-Faced Woman, no doubt increasing the odds of another success. Also no stranger to the ways of "The Face," George Cukor had directed Garbo previously in Camille (1937), widely regarded to be her best film. To top it all off, they had a fail-safe gimmick: Garbo would dance. The storyline, based on the film Her Sister from Paris (1925), featured a new bride posing as her sexy, cosmopolitan twin sister in order to woo her husband away from the affections of an old girlfriend. It was an innocent enough sounding premise that cleared the censors' radars . . . but the opinion of the Legion of Decency was another matter altogether.
Prior to its release, the Legion declared the film "Class C," or "Condemned," due to its "immoral and un-Christian attitude toward marriage and its obligations: impudently suggestive scenes, dialogue, and situations: suggestive costumes." And that's not all. In addition, the film was banned in Boston and Providence (both Catholic hotbeds), and the Archbishop of New York also condemned the film - the first time a specific picture had been singled out. The vicious press that followed became a public relations nightmare for MGM; new scenes were quickly written in an attempt to defuse the inflammatory material. To no one's surprise, Cukor refused to direct the corrective scenes, so new directors were called in to hastily shoot the new material. This footage was quickly re-edited into the film before its release on December 31, 1941.
But the damage was already done; critics panned the film heavily, audiences could not accept Garbo as a madcap comedienne, and, on top of it all, the attack on Pearl Harbor just three weeks earlier had an adverse effect on the public's moviegoing. Garbo was faced with the worst reviews of her entire career and just-as-dismal receipts. Shortly after the box-office debacle, her contract with MGM was terminated (it was said to be a mutual decision). During her final meeting with Louis B. Mayer, the studio head gave her a hefty check as a contractual payoff; Garbo refused to accept the money, explaining she had not earned it. She had only planned to take a break from films until the end of WWII - but no other projects ever came to fruition.
Its poor timing and bad luck aside, Two-Faced Woman remains Garbo's riskiest venture. For the first time on film, we see her experimenting liberally with comedy and presenting herself in a more casual manner than her audiences were used to seeing. She skis, she swims, and, most memorably, dances. The rhumba scene in which Garbo shakes her moneymaker doing a dance called the "chica choca" is not to be missed. But Garbo was not a natural dancer by any stretch--there is a story that the dance director for the sequence, Robert Alton, was sent to her house to teach her the steps. After knocking and ringing the bell several times to no avail, he finally found Greta hiding up in the branches of a tree in her garden; when spotted, she cried out, "Go away, Rhumba! Go away!" One pictures it as a fitting final image for a film legend that never quite climbed down from her tree.
Producer: Gottfried Reinhardt
Director: George Cukor
Screenplay: S.N. Behrman, George Oppenheimer, Salka Viertel
Production Design: Cedric Gibbons
Cinematography: Joseph Ruttenberg
Costume Design: Adrian
Film Editing: George Boemler
Original Music: Bronislau Kaper
Cast: Greta Garbo (Karin Borg Blake, Katherine Borg), Melvyn Douglas (Larry Blake), Constance Bennett (Griselda Vaughn), Roland Young (O.O. Miller), Robert Sterling (Dickie Williams), Ruth Gordon (Miss Ruth Ellis).
BW-91m. Closed captioning.
by Eleanor Quin
The working title of this film was The Twins. According to Hollywood Reporter news items, William Powell was initially set to co-star with Greta Garbo, and skiing exteriors were shot near Reno, NV. Although a production still from the film indicates that actor George Cleveland was in the cast, he was not in the released film. Two-Faced Woman was the last film of the Swedish-born Garbo, who came to the United States in 1925, and appeared in many critically praised M-G-M films, including Flesh and the Devil, Anna Christie, Anna Karenina and Camille (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30; F2.1818 and F2.0130 and AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40; F3.0124 and F3.0578). According to news items in Hollywood Reporter, Two-Faced Woman was the last film under Garbo's M-G-M contract and subsequent to the film's completion, she announced that she would not make films for any other studio. Although she was mentioned at various intervals throughout the next decade as the possible star of several projects, none materialized. Despite her absence from the screen, Garbo remained an internationally recognized celebrity known for her reclusive private life. In 1990, she died in New York City, at the age of eighty-five.
Shortly after the press previews of Two-Faced Woman, controversy arose surrounding its condemnation by the National Legion of Decency, a Roman Catholic organization that rated films for their content. Information contained in Hollywood Reporter news items, articles in various New York newspapers and memos and letters in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library reveal the following information: In a press conference held on November 24, 1941, the Legion of Decency issued the following statement: "The National Legion of Decency announced today that the motion picture Two-Faced Woman has been rated as 'C' or 'Condemned' for the following reasons: Immoral and un-Christian attitude toward marriage and its obligations; impudently suggestive scenes, dialogue and situations; suggestive costumes.'"
Archbishop Francis J. Spellman, head of the diocese of New York City, also publicly denounced the film with the following written statement: "Because of this specific condemnation, the Archbishop warns the faithful that the witnessing of this picture May be an occasion of sin and that the film is a danger to public morality." According to a December 7, 1941 New York Times article, in an "unprecedented" move, Spellman advised Catholics in New York not to see the film and, according to articles in Hollywood Reporter, requested that all pastors in his diocese mention the film's "C" rating at Mass on Sunday, November 30, 1941. According to the same New York Times article, members of the Hollywood community generally did not react to the condemnation of the film, with the exception of Melvyn Douglas, who was quoted as saying that the picture was "harmless."
During the course of the next several weeks, many members of the Catholic hierarchy joined Spellmen in his condemnation of the film. The Catholic newspaper The Catholic Register published an editorial in which the paper stated: "If all prints of Two-Faced Woman are not recalled by the producers and re-edited by the Motion Picture Production Code, this writer will be among the first to petition congress to take firm steps in forcing Hollywood to clean house." Hollywood Reporter publisher W. R. Wilkerson published an editorial on December 10, 1941 criticizing MPAA head Will Hays for not addressing the issue. Wilkerson complained that Hays "who is paid royally to represent this business" failed to defend the film and "shoved the duties he is being paid to administer over onto the lap of M-G-M, which is now trying to meet the demands of the Catholic body, even though that body stands alone in its condemnation of the picture."
MPAA/PCA letters and memos reveal that a partial script was submitted to the PCA on June 12, 1941. By July 1, 1941, the script for the film was approved following a suggestion on 17 June to "lean backwards to avoid any objectionable details or lines that might emphasize the sex suggestive features of the finished picture." Various changes in the script and retakes were approved without incident throughout the film's shooting schedule. A PCA file memorandum dated November 26, 1941, two days after the condemnation of the film by the Legion of Decency, stated the following: "The original story idea was told verbally to Mr. [Joseph I.] Breen [head of the PCA] by Mr. [Bernard] Hyman of M-G-M and rejected by Mr. Breen. The reason for the objection was that the story contemplated the situation of a man having a sex affair with a woman whom he thought was his wife's twin sister, getting her pregnant, and then discovering that it was his wife whom he had impregnated all the time...this was sometime in 1940." The final script had no indication that the character of "Karin" was pregnant, and a certificate was issued for the completed film on October 6, 1941. The November 26, 1941 memo also stated, "please note particularly the review from Motion Picture Herald of October 25, 1941, in which no exception is taken to the moral content of the picture."
A letter in the PCA file, dated November 1, 1941, to Hays from New York Congressman Martin J. Kennedy stated that Archbishop Spellman had publicly condemned the picture and asked the motion picture industry "to clean house." It went on to state: "True Americanism required clean thinking, clean living, and clean pictures...I call upon you, Mr. Hays, to immediately stop the distribution of this picture." In order to receive a less inflamatory "B", or "adults only" rating from the Legion of Decency, M-G-M made revisions and cuts in the film. A December 5, 1941 telegram sent from M-G-M vice-president and general counsel J. Robert Rubin to M-G-M executive produced E. J. Mannix suggested the insertion of an additional scene to show "Larry" calling the ski lodge and discovering that his wife left Idaho for New York a week before. This scene was included in the viewed print. Various news items indicate that M-G-M had refused to publicize the film by using the controversy as an exploitation tool and issued this statement to the press on December 18, 1941: "The original version will be withdrawn from circulation following existing contractual comments, and the revised version will be made available in all future bookings." That same day, members of the Legion of Decency viewed the revised picture and officially took it off the "condemned" list.
Garbo and Douglas co-starred in two previous M-G-M films, As You Desire Me in 1932, and Ninotcha in 1939 (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40; F3.0180 and F3.3147). The first film based on the Ludwig Fulda play was the 1925 First National picture Her Sister from Paris, directed by Sidney Franklin and starring Constance Talmadge and Ronald Colman (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30; F2.2451).
Released in United States 1941
Greta Garbo's last film. Remake of "The Broadway Melody" (1929).
Released in United States 1941