Mata Hari - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Mata Hari Reviews

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June 12, 2016
Pre-code Greta Garbo talkie (that was edited to remove some of its risqué content sometime later) tells the story of the famous WWI spy who was also an exotic dancer. Of course, Garbo epitomized exotic glamour at the time, but she is a bit gayer and more free than her later melancholy and tragic image might suggest. Still, the story is tragic in the end, because Mata Hari was ultimately revealed in Paris and died by the firing squad. Her source of information, General Shubin of Russia, is played by pre-wheelchair Lionel Barrymore who gives the role his usual zest, overshadowing nominal leading man Ramon Novarro (a Russian soldier). It doesn't end well for either of them either. George Fitzmaurice's direction is unobtrusive and the sets and costumes create the right atmosphere of romantic intrigue but generally things are a bit static. The script is surely melodramatic enough, yet Garbo somehow isn't able to indulge her torments to the fullest extent.
December 5, 2014
I loved Greta Garbo and Lionel Barrymore in this telling of the classic Mata Hari story from World War I. George Fitzmaurice does a decent job in direction, and the truth of the story has been filleted for the purposes of cinematic interpretation, but Garbo is my favourite actress ever, and she more than carries the picture.
August 9, 2013
Some confusion in this film on who is on who's side and why.... most of the acting and camera work is stilted - like it's a silent film.
July 10, 2013
A true Classic with Garbo fans in mind.
November 19, 2012
For Garbo fans only. Her looks are as always stunning in this, but the story isn't good. Interesting to see Ramon Novarro playing a Russian too.
September 25, 2012
Garbo at her most beautiful and mysterious!!
August 9, 2012
another showcase 4 Garbo.
½ August 18, 2011
This was not was I was expecting. Russian spy Mata Hari (Garbo) is working as a dancer in an exotic nightclub. When a cop finds out that she may be betraying their country he sends two men: a soldier (Navarro) and a commander (Barrymore), but they eventually fall under Mata Haris alluring spell. But when the commander betrays her, she has to figure out how to save herself before it's too late. "Mata Hari" is a movie that I hear about all the time when I hear the name Greta Garbo. I put it at the top of my queue after seeing "Flesh and the Devil" (starring her and John Gilbert) and was anxious to see the result. The unfortunate answer, is that I wasn't very impressed. The acting from Navarro is wooden and terrible, cardboard could be a better Russian soldier than the Spanish actor. I am not saying he was awful, just very very misscasted. Even Lionel Barrymore who I'm usually impressed by isn't all that great, and was sad to think that this was the first time I have really frowned upon his skill. A shame. Luckily, this movie is save by Greta Garbo. Though the idiotic script did not give her a lot to work with, she made the most of her role and was very convincing as the exotic dancer. Like most reviewers say, she does seem to slink around from room to room, and her presence overshadows both Navarro and Barrymore which for me was a good thing. All in all, this was really not that good of a movie, but lovers of the great Garbo will like it anyway. PS: What's the movie picture at the top? "The Devil to Pay"? Never heard of it.
June 22, 2011
I loved Greta Garbo as Mata Hari,it may just be my favorite of her pictures cause the Costumes were so beautiful
June 16, 2011
Garbo Spies!

Her name was Margaretha Geertruida "Grietje" Zelle. She was born in Leeuwarden in the Netherlands, her family wealthy until she was about thirteen. She married Captain Rudolph MacLeod, who had advertised for a wife in a Dutch newspaper. The couple moved to Java, at the time a Dutch colony, and had two children. The marriage was a disaster, not helped by the death of their son--or the fact that he was sleeping with a "native wife" and concubine. Eventually, they returned to the Netherlands, and the couple divorced in 1907. She took to the stage, claiming to be a Javanese princess who was raised Hindu. She had spent her time in Java studying local culture, and she performed what she claimed were native dances. She had any number of lovers, usually high profile ones, but as World War I approached, that began to seem less dangerous and more exotic. During the war, as a citizen of a neutral country, she was able to travel essentially where she pleased, which was also suspicious.

Here, she is Greta Garbo, herself a mysterious figure as far as the American public was concerned. She is Mata Hari, seductive dancer who has been wooing men to do her will. She works for Andriani (Lewis Stone), who runs a spy network. Mata Hari seduces soldiers into giving her information they aren't supposed to give to anyone, and she passes it on. Russian General Shubin (Lionel Barrymore) is infatuated with her, but Mata Hari has moved onto Lieutenant Alexis Rosanoff (Ramon Novarro). Shubin was business; Rosanoff is both business and pleasure. In fine old movie fashion, she starts out seducing him so that she can get information from him, but she really begins to fall in love with him. The problem, however, is that the French Secret Service, in the person of Dubois (C. Henry Gordon), is on to her, and it's only a matter of time before she is captured. And that's if her own people don't get her first.

We want Mata Hari to fit the story we have of her. We want her to be the cunning seductress, the woman who was the most clever spy in World War I. It was claimed at the time that her actions were responsible for the deaths of 50,000 French soldiers. She told the British that she was working as a French spy, so she was really executed for being a double agent. We don't want to consider that she may well have been lying about being a French agent, and the idea that she may not have been an agent for anyone is unthinkable. However, as the records have been unsealed, they have consistently shown that she was innocent. Certainly it's hard to imagine that she could have been responsible for remotely as many deaths as she was accused of having done. The pictures show that she was a lovely woman, though hardly exotic in appearance, and that even her "nude" poses probably involved body stockings. Very little of the legend of Mata Hari is real, and quite a lot of it comes from people picturing Garbo instead.

Of course, she is luminous in the role, whereas she would not have been in a more authentic characterization. It's hard to imagine Garbo as the mere victim of circumstance. On the other hand, I think many of her characters are more trying to steer a sinking ship. Garbo's version of Mata Hari became a spy almost on a whim. It sounded fun and exciting. In no version is she German, so it can't be patriotism. Garbo's Mata Hari seems to have been drawn to being a spy for the adventure of it, I think, and once there's something more important to her out there, she wants to go for that instead. However, she is unable to. Her performance of Mata Hari's performance at the end is that of a woman trying to shape the last hours of her life as best she can. From the beginning of the movie, her path was set, but she spends the whole of the movie making sure that she's the one doing the walking. It's not her fault that there is nowhere left to turn at that point.

At one point in the movie, Mata Hari performs what would be a despicable act even if it weren't for the spying she's doing meanwhile. Ramon Novarro has a picture his mother brought back from Lourdes, one he has sworn to keep a light burning under. Mata Hari needs the dark so her coconspirators can steal the messages he is supposed to be carrying, photograph them, and return them without his knowledge. But he has sworn to keep that light burning; he even has his valet take care of it while he himself is off performing his war-related duties. Mata Hari makes it a test of his love. If he loves her, he will extinguish every light. Including that one. He tells her that he will do anything she asks for their love, but he begs her not to ask that. (Maybe it's what Meat Loaf won't do?) And indeed, true love does not set such tests, so far as I am concerned. Naturally, the circumstances here are much more complicated, though the fact that it's about spying doesn't make it better.
Super Reviewer
March 13, 2011
If this film had a better script, with less melodrama, it would be an absolute masterpiece. It's the amazing presence of Garbo, who's giving such a vivid performance that feels like the character comes alive on the screen. Amazing, amazing, amazing Garbo. Here you can see the reason why she became such a great star. The Mata Hari vehicle is also interesting for another reason. Mata treats men like equals - even her boss. Men treat her like a godess - and she may toy with them, to do her job, but ultimately, she values their humanity. Mata Hari is such an interesting personality, it's no wonder this character has become a legend. In this film we also see how progressive the 30s movies have been in treating women. Highly recommended despite its faults.
Super Reviewer
½ January 14, 2011
A fake portrayal of Mata Hari's life...though Greta Garbo was great here.
December 27, 2010
GARBO TALKS... and the world listens in mesmerizing attention. Here also Garbo dances, to a far lesser effect, and the movie its a true definition of a mega-star vehicle, with an uncredited (and unimportant) director George Fitzmaurice giving Garbo all the freedom for her to do what she did best, in what is clearly a project with the Irving Thalberg hand all over it. With 1930's "Anna Christie" all the future of Greta Garbo's greatest silent movie star on earth status hang on the thread of whether she could or not act in "talkies", and whether the audience could or not accept her voice. The test was passed with flying colours and the world became in awe of the deep voice and the diva flings of emotion. And from "Anna Christie" to "Mata Hari", in the short space of a year, she made 3 more films, consolidating her status as MGM's (and Thalberg's) brightest star. In "Mata Hari", Garbo found a role perfect for her personality, albeit she proves far more extroverted than usual. She is off course the famous dancer turned spy in Paris during the first world war, that uses herself as the tool to pluck the secrets out of the higher officials and selling them to Germany. The plot concerns some papers brought from Russia by Ramon Novarro (the Ben-Hur of the 1925 silent version), which Mata is given the job to get her hands on. On the meantime, she is working on another general for secrets, played by the great Lionel Barrymore. 10 minutes into the film we see Garbo for the first time, dancing on stage. To modern standards, the dancing is nothing much, and Garbo does it herself, and it seems to drive men wild... at least on film. Gratefully we never see her dancing again, but on the scene right after that, when she talks and reveals her personality, there is such a charisma, such seductiveness in the way she moves, talks and looks, that one is instantly drawn into the world of Garbo. Between intrigues and seductions, Garbo steals the papers, but the rub is that she falls in love with Navarro, that proves to be her downfall, later to be caught and tried. The last emotional scenes, with a blind Novarro (he had an accident flying back to Russia), and a soon to be shot Garbo, are clearly aimed at a tearjerking audience of the 30s, and really are not in tune with the rest of the movie. Also, she and Novarro probably saw each other 3 or 4 times, so her undying love is somewhat hard to believe. Yet, cinematographically, this is the best part, with the black and white photography filled with shadows in the long shots and close-ups of Garbo's emotional face (she was the master of that in silent films). The 85 minute movie is a typical product of the time. Short, with a straight plot, a screenplay-movie, filmed entirely in interiors with mostly static camerawork. But all this is just a setting. We actually care little for the plot. We actually care little for anything else beside Garbo. This has died in modern cinema. The star power. Once she hits the screen at 10 minutes or so, Garbo never leaves it, she enters in almost every single scene after that. And that's what we want to see, and die to see over and over again. Another fantastic performance by Garbo, in which she is surprisingly all out, and incredible seductive, ranging from assurance to fear and then plunging into love, hanging with claws of steel to any of these sentiments. Her talkie greater successes in "Grand Hotel" (1932), "Camille" (1936) and "Ninotchka" (1939) were yet to come, but "Mata Hari" is no shorter in her power, in a nice little story about spying and love.
Super Reviewer
September 3, 2010
A very interesting movie, based on real life, but the film makers could have done a better job with putting this movie together. It just doesn't grab your attention, it's boring.
July 22, 2010
I love Garbo, she had a unique power on the screen and it's well-used here. But basically, Mata Hari is an incredibly silly, not very interesting movie, and it's impossible to believe Garbo as a dancer. (Not that the real Mata Hari was much of one either, I suppose.) The costumes almost make the movie worth watching, but only almost.
December 30, 2009
Mata Hari's double life is portrayed as a dreary, non-exciting affair. The script is also plagued with cheesy love lines, but Garbo saves the day.
December 5, 2009
A very successful pre-code Greta Garbo vehicle that was loosely based on Mata Hari's life and was probably mainly responsible for her mythical status.
September 9, 2009
I think this is Garbo's best film.
August 2, 2009
A bit hokey and melodramatic. The presence of Greta Garbo is very welcome, she makes the film. Very nicely photographed. Good production. Lavish sets. More of a romance than a story about the legendary spy.
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