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5 Greta Garbo Classics

Great Movies Starring the Enigmatic Swedish Actress

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Both glamorous and mysterious, Swedish actress Greta Garbo first gained notice overseas in Germany before becoming a major Hollywood star in the waning days of the silent era. Under contract at MGM, Garbo became a sensation and made the rare successful transition to talkies with the now-famous marketing ploy, “Garbo Talks!”

She captured the attention of American audiences, but remained immensely more popular in Europe. Garbo’s popularity dipped due to the war, however, which led to her early retirement. With no financial need to act, the solitary Garbo lived in relative seclusion for the remainder of her life. Even today, fans remained fascinated with the enigmatic actress. Here are five classic movies starring Greta Garbo.

1. ‘Anna Christie’ – 1930

Warner Bros.
After becoming a major international star during the silent era, Garbo transformed herself into an iconic Hollywood actress with Anna Christie, her debut talkie film. Garbo was excellent as the titular Anna, a Swedish girl raised in Minnesota who struggles to keep her unsavory past from her estranged father (George F. Marion), the alcoholic captain of a coal barge. Meanwhile, Anna falls for a rescued Irish sailor (Charles Bickford) and falls in love, only to have her dark past as a former brothel worker revealed despite her best efforts. Billed with the famous tagline, “Garbo Talks!”, Anna Christie allowed Garbo to succeed in where other silent actors failed, while earning the first of two Academy Award nominations – the other for her second talkie Romance – for Best Actress in 1929/30.
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2. ‘Grand Hotel’ – 1932

MGM Home Entertainment
Though Grand Hotel was an ensemble film featuring an A-list of top stars, Garbo was top-billed in a role that produced her most famous line. Adapted from Austrian writer Vicki Baum’s novel by director Edmund Goulding, Grand Hotel depicted the goings-on of a lavish Berlin hotel where “nothing happens.” An odd assortment of character cross paths over the course of a tumultuous day, including a Russian ballerina (Garbo) in possession of a lucrative cache of jewels; a gentleman thief (John Barrymore) in love with a stenographer (Joan Crawford); the stenographer’s industrialist boss and lover (Wallace Beery); and a dying accountant (Lionel Barrymore) who wants to spend his last days living in luxury. Winner of the Oscar for Best Picture, Grand Hotel featured Garbo’s famous, but oft-misunderstood line, “I want to be alone,” which many fans interpreted as personal expression.
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3. ‘Queen Christina’ – 1933

Warner Bros.
Widely hailed as her finest roles, Queen Christina was a triumphant film that solidified Garbo’s standing as an international star. Garbo played the titular queen, a 17th century Swedish monarch who cross-dresses as a man in order to be accepted in a male-dominated world. Complications ensue when she falls in love with a Spanish envoy (Jon Gilbert), leading Queen Christina to consider abdicating her throne in order to marry. But complex relations between their two countries leave the once lonely queen once again bereft of love. Following a round of highly positive reviews, Queen Christina was another early talkie hit for the Swedish actress, who by this point was a top ten moneymaking star.
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4. ‘Camille’ – 1936

Warner Bros.
A rags-to-riches melodrama from director George Cukor, Camille was another great triumph for Garbo. The actress played a Parisian woman named Marguerite Gauthier, who’s born into a lower-class family and rises to become the toast of high-society as a well-known courtesan. The Dame aux Camille serves as the kept-mistress of a wealthy baron (Henry Daniell), only to fall in love with a handsome young man, Arnaud (Robert Taylor), who’s unaware of how she became so wealthy. But when his father (Lionel Barrymore) begs her to stay away, Camille spurns Arnaud’s advances while contracting a deadly case of tuberculosis. Once again, Garbo was in top form and earned the third Oscar nomination for Best Actress of her career.
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5. ‘Ninotchka’ – 1939

MGM Home Entertainment
Taking a rare turn to comedy, Garbo starred in this classic Ernst Lubistch comedy that parodied the Anna Christie marketing with the tagline, “Garbo Laughs!” Garbo displayed uncharacteristically sharp comic timing playing the titular Ninotchka, a humorless Soviet communist sent to Paris to recover a cache of diamonds, only to discover a sudden zest for the French city thanks to her romantic run-in with Count Leon (Melvyn Douglas). The count takes her on a whirlwind tour of the City of Lights, where she laughs, drinks, and of course falls in love. Despite being banned in Mother Russia, Ninotchka was a big international hit, though she went on to make only one more film, Two-Faced Woman (1941), before shocking fans by suddenly retiring and living the rest of her life in seclusion.
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