Urban Cinefile  
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday July 28, 2020 


In Czarist Russia, Anna Karenina (Greta Garbo), dutiful wife to a pompous, unloving and hypocritical husband Alexei (Basil Rathbone) and a doting mother to her son Sergei (Freddie Bartholomew), knows contentment but not passion. That all changes when on a brief family visit from her home in St Petersburg to Moscow, she meets ardent Count Vronsky (Fredric March). She sacrifices everything for their love, even though her husband won't give her a divorce and even forbids her to see her beloved son.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Movies in the old Hollywood didn't always have to have a happy ending; the studios (run by filmmakers) knew that audiences like to weep as much as cry in the darkened cinema, and so they made films like Waterloo Bridge - and Anna Karenina. Garbo, who also starred in the 1927 silent version of the Tolstoy story, is radiant and vulnerable throughout the film, the centre of the emotional storm that engulfs her.

Fredric March is a dashing and likeable noble Russian officer Count Vronsky, who is smitten with Anna, whose love is true but who, like the rest of their society, values position, respectability and status above all else. In 19th century Russia, like elsewhere, social acceptance was paramount for survival. Appearances were crucial; private infidelity was tolerated but publicly it cast a shadow on the whole family.

The entire supporting cast is excellent - given the practice of the day, everyone speaks very British English, except of course Garbo. Basil Rathbone is chilly as Karenin, his perfect elocution adding to the icy soul, and Reginal Owen is impressive as Stiva, Anna's brother.

Director Clarence Brown handles the rich material well, and keeps the pace moving, always relying on Garbo's wonderful and expressive face to draw us into the drama.

Even in black and white, the film looks wonderful, flitting from St Petersburg to Moscow to Venice, from snowy exteriors to shadowy interiors to opulent operas.

Published: April 10, 2008

Email this article

Favourable: 1
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

(US, 1935)

CAST: Greta Garbo, Fredric March, Freddie Bartholomew, Maureen O'Sullivan, May Robson, Basil Rathbone, Reginald Owen

PRODUCER: David O. Selznik

DIRECTOR: Clarence Brown

SCRIPT: Clemence Dane, Salka Viertel with dialogue adapted by S.N. Behrman (novel by Leo Tolstoy)


EDITOR: Robert J. Kern

MUSIC: Herbert Strothart


RUNNING TIME: 89 minutes

PRESENTATION: 4:3 transfer from 1.33:1 original; B&W

SPECIAL FEATURES: In English and Italian. Subtitles: Arabic, Bulgarian, Dutch, English, French, Italian, Romanian, plus English and Italian for the hearing impaired.

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Home Video

DVD RELEASE: April 9, 2008

Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020