The second adaptation of Eugene O'Neil's stage play "Anna Christie" features Greta Garbo in her first talking role, representing her smooth transition from the silent era of films. Garbo is mesmerizing as the broken Anna, hoping against hope at the age of 20 that she will find some piece with the father she hasn't seen in 15 years. He doesn't know what has happened to her, and when he, with his simple ways and misunderstandings, and an overreaching suitor drive her too far, she lays out the truth to them in a heartbreaking climatic scene.
As one of the first talkies, "Anna Christie" is a bit archaic in how it was filmed. On the one hand it looks like a stage play, with cinematic attention to realism. On the other hand, the camera work is very simple, so that the movie often looks like a one-camera sitcom. What really works here is the acting, from Marie Dressler as the older drunk special friend of Anna's father, George Marion as her father, and Charles Bickford as Matt Burke, the Irish sailor that sets up Anna's dilemma. At times the acting (along with the plot) gets melodramatic and histrionic. I especially liked the earliest scenes because Garbo is somewhat restrained and does amazing things with her expressions to convey her history. By the end she is put in a situation that shows her inner steel.
And then the final act begins, which I find problematic in both the original play and here. What Anna must do seems like a betrayal of her character. The entire story is about her being driven to telling the truth about the past, implicating men and their awful ways in the process. Then, quite abruptly, the men who should be apologizing to her are allowed an easy way out. I want to believe that O'Neil was aware of this when he wrote the play, and that the final scene is itself an indictment of men, but I'm not sure that this is the case.
Still, much of the story and the movie are incredible, and Garbo is brilliant. I wonder what a 21st Century version of this story would look like during the final scenes.