Cast & Crew
In 1868 Paris, Nana, a girl of the streets, buries her mother, vowing that she will never accept her mother's legacy of poverty and powerlessness. A year later, Nana is at a cafe with her friends, Mimi and Satin, when Lt. Gregory, a drunken soldier, accosts her. Nana pushes Gregory into a pond, thereby attracting the attention of elderly music hall impressario Gaston Greiner. Greiner is charmed by Nana, and decides to make her a star, declaring that "he is the potter and she is the clay." In her first performance, Nana creates a sensation by singing "That's Love" to the Grand Duke Alexis. The duke, accompanied by his friend, Col. André Muffat, visits Nana backstage and invites her to join them for dinner. André is disdainful of Nana however, and resists her charms. As Nana goes to inform the jealous Greiner of her dinner plans, she runs into Lt. George Muffat, André's brother and Lt. Gregory's friend, who has ventured backstage to settle a bet to determine if Nana was the girl who pushed him into the pond. George and Nana promise to meet another night, and as Nana leaves the theater with the Duke, she meets Satin and Mimi at the stage door and invites them to dinner. Although Nana begins to see both the duke and George, she becomes Greiner's mistress, assuaging his jealousy with protestations of innocence. That summer, when the Muffat family visits their estate in the country, Nana takes up residence in Greiner's nearby country house so that she can continue her affair with George. When André discovers his brother's affair, George announces that he plans to marry Nana and André orders him back to Paris to report to his commanding officer. André then tries to bribe Nana to forsake George, but she refuses and denounces him. Next, André visits Greiner to inform him of Nana's affair, and Greiner, in a jealous rage, tells Nana she will never perform onstage again. George is sent to Algeria, but promises to write Nana. Months pass, and Nana, lonely and unemployed, waits for letters from him, but they never come. Mimi and Zoe, Greiner's old housekeeper, have been intercepting George's letters and ripping up Nana's to him in the hope of forcing her back to the theater. One day, André visits Nana and offers to help her return to the stage. Nana reluctantly accepts and makes a triumphant return to the theater. André falls in love with her and leaves his wife, Sabine, to make Nana his mistress. Nana, who still loves George, detests André, and in her misery, turns to drink. On the night that war is declared between France and Prussia, George returns to Paris and bursts into Nana's apartment, where he confronts her about failing to write him. When Nana protests that she has written, George calls her a liar but confesses that he still loves her, not realizing that she is now his brother's mistress. André then returns home and George assumes that he has followed him to the apartment until André informs him that Nana is his mistress. As the brothers argue, Nana shoots herself, then reunites them by joining their hands as she dies.
Harry Wagstaff Gribble
John W. Harkrider
Arthur Hornblow Jr.
Goldwyn gave Sten top billing in Nana her name is above the title right there in the first credit and then added mystery by withholding her picture from the portrait-gallery of the cast that followed. In her first scene, a pauper's funeral in a grim graveyard, she's shrouded in a fog so thick she could be underwater (it's an evocative image from the great cinematographer Gregg Toland, who later shot Citizen Kane  and The Little Foxes ). In the next scene, she's slaving away as a plucky servant scrubbing the floor of a home no better than a shack. "I don't know what I'll be, but I won't be weak and I won't be poor," she vows, and by her third scene, "One Year Later," her transformation is complete. Nana is a beautiful and brazen streetwalker in everything but name, a mercenary woman of the streets who knows how to take care of herself. She takes her future into her own hands. When hired by a possessive theatrical impresario (Richard Bennett) who grooms and mentors his discovery, she plays the old man like a violin while flirting her way up through high society. It's only when she falls in love with lowly military lieutenant George Muffat (Phillips Holmes) that her mercenary instincts fail her. Lionel Atwill (who had starred opposite Dietrich in The Song of Songs, 1933) co-stars as the lieutenant's elder brother, Andre, a moralizing martinet of a superior officer who, in his efforts to separate Nana and George, himself falls for Nana's beauty.
Goldwyn had first seen Sten in a German version of The Brothers Karamazov (1931) and originally planned to launch his discovery with an American adaptation of the novel until he became frustrated negotiating the legal complications. Instead, he turned to Zola's Nana, an up-from-the-streets romantic tragedy with a story that fit both the Cinderella story he spun for Sten's publicity blitz and the exotic mystique he hoped she would put across on screen. He spent almost a year developing a workable screenplay from the massive novel, which gave Sten time to master her halting English and Goldwyn time to groom her in the ways of Hollywood celebrity. The finest designers in show business created her wardrobe and major magazines ran glowing profiles and glamorous photos of his discovery before she ever shot a foot of film. After spending nearly $200,000 on his protégé and her publicity build-up, Goldwyn poured money into the production, only to shut it down after more than three weeks of shooting.
He fired original director George Fitzmaurice and brought in a new screenwriter to revise the script. After unsuccessfully courting George Cukor, Goldwyn hired Dorothy Arzner (the only woman director working at the major studios at the time) to take over the project and even recast some of the major roles: Warren William, originally cast as Andre, was replaced by Lionel Atwill and Mae Clarke took over the role of Satin, Nana's best friend, from Pert Kelton. The overhauled production started from scratch, more than doubling the film's budget. Goldwyn just added it to his hype, branding Sten his "million dollar discovery."
With her big eyes and lovely smile, Sten is undeniably photogenic and she's fine when striking an attitude or putting on a show to manipulate an admirer, but when called upon to play more complex emotional states her weaknesses become apparent. Sten plays Nana as either a conniving golddigger or girlish romantic but offers little nuance in between and her weak command of English results in awkward delivery and odd rhythms. "The only thing I could do was not let her talk so much," commented Arzner years later. Sten largely talk-sings her one and only song, a minor Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart torch song entitled "That's Love," with the affectation of world weary experience. She's at her best in scenes with her best friends, the savvy and cynical Satin (Mae Clarke) and the naïve and sweetly dim Mimi (Muriel Kirkland), a pair of loyal colleagues from her streetwalking days carried along on her rollercoaster rise and fall.
Produced under the eye of the newly empowered Hays office, the script never states the obvious but Nana still manages to suggest a culture of decadence and sex and Arzner never passes judgment on their profession. If anything, it's the lecherous old men, who woo the young and beautiful Nana with jewels and gifts in exchange for her attentions, and the moral hypocrites who pass judgment on her, that are the most tarnished in this story.
Nana opened wide with a massive advertising push and was a huge flop, both commercially and critically. Most reviews honed in on Sten's weak performance. Goldwyn's "Million Dollar Discovery" was branded "Goldwyn's Folly," but the producer was undeterred, determined to transform Sten into a star, and he featured her in two subsequent productions: We Live Again (1934) opposite Fredric March and The Wedding Night (1935) with Gary Cooper. They proved to be expensive lessons and Goldwyn finally gave up on Sten. Though she remained in America, her career was quickly forgotten. Goldwyn's career, meanwhile, only became more successful and more prestigious.
Producer: Samuel Goldwyn
Director: Dorothy Arzner; George Fitzmaurice (fired, replaced by Dorothy Arzner)
Screenplay: Harry Wagstaff Gribble, Willard Mack; Emile Zola (novel)
Cinematography: Gregg Toland
Art Direction: Richard Day
Music: Alfred Newman
Film Editing: Frank Lawrence
Cast: Anna Sten (Nana), Lionel Atwill (Col. Andre Muffat), Richard Bennett (Gaston Greiner), Mae Clarke (Satin), Phillips Holmes (Lt. George Muffat), Muriel Kirkland (Mimi), Reginald Owen (Bordenave), Helen Freeman (Sabine Muffat), Lawrence Grant (Grand Duke Alexis), Jessie Ralph (Zoe), Ferdinand Gottschalk (Finot).
by Sean Axmaker
According to a news item in Hollywood Herald in May 1933, Nathanael West had been signed to work on the screenplay for Nana. Hollywood Reporter news items in August 1933, during the film's production, noted that Marion Orth was to collaborate on the script, and that writers Allen Rivkin and P. J. Wolfson were borrowed from M-G-M to work on the picture. An Motion Picture Herald article on the film also noted that producer Samuel Goldwyn hired writers Edwin Justus Mayer and Leo Birinski to work on the script when George Fitzmaurice was to be the director. None of these writers were credited onscreen, in reviews or in the Screen Achievements Bulletin, and the extent of their participation in the released film has not been determined. Another August 1933 news item in Hollywood Reporter noted that Harry Wagstaff Gribble was to drop his writing job for the picture and become the director of dialogue. Onscreen, however, Gribble is only credited with screenplay adaptation, and Willard Mack is listed as dialogue director.
Nana was director Dorothy Arzner's only film for Samuel Goldwyn, and marked the American motion picture debut of Russian-born actress Anna Sten. A number of articles appeared in trade papers and popular magazines about Sten prior to her appearance in Nana. Modern sources have noted that Goldwyn was determined to find a popular European star in the mold of Greta Garbo or Marlene Dietrich. Previously, Sten had been announced as the lead in Barbary Coast, which was released in 1935, but had initially been planned for production prior to Nana. Sten made two additional films for Goldwyn, We Live Again in 1934 and The Wedding Night in 1935. Modern sources indicate that her lack of popularity with American audiences finally made Goldwyn realize that she would never become the new Garbo or Dietrich, and he terminated her contract. After leaving Goldwyn, Sten appeared sporadically in films until the early 1960s.
News items in Film Daily and Hollywood Reporter indicate that actor Warren William was borrowed from Warner Bros. for the role of Andre Muffat, which eventually went to Lionel Atwill, and that the services of composers Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart were borrowed from M-G-M. Other news items and production charts note that actress Pert Kelton was borrowed from RKO for the role of "Satin," but after several weeks of filming she was replaced by Mae Clark and much of the film shot prior to Kelton's departure was scrapped. A September 9, 1933 article in Hollywood Reporter said that there was "some talk around that Pert was in danger of pulling a picture-stealing act." Hollywood Reporter news item include Moffat Johnson and Byron von Brecht in the cast, however, their participation in the released film has not been confirmed.
According to information contained in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, in August 1931, Josef von Sternberg considered doing a version of Nana with Dietrich, and early in 1932 Universal was investigating the possibility of doing an adaptation of the novel, which was in the public domain. The Goldwyn production met with no serious opposition from the Hays Office. Changes suggested by the office were minimal and confined to nuances in certain lines of dialogue. On August 23, 1933, James Wingate of the Hays Office praised the adaptation for turning the nature of Nana and George Muffat's relationship into genuine love. The picture was approved without eliminations in most territories, although censors in Spokane, WA tried to ban the picture according to a April 4, 1934 Daily Variety news item because "Sten should have suffered more for her wrongdoing." A news item in Hollywood Reporter on June 6, 1934 noted that Goldwyn was taking a heavy loss on the film because audiences were not enthusiastic about it. Modern sources include Lucille Ball, Clarence Wilson, Albert Conti, Gino Corrado, Bramwell Fletcher, Wilson Benge, Tom Ricketts and Charles Middleton in the cast. Other filmed adaptations of Émile Zola's novel include a 1912 Danish version, a 1923 German version, a French/Italian version in 1955 and a British made-for-television version in 1974.