In Austria, Katrin is lonely after her sister\'s marriage and she agrees to marry her father\'s research associate Dr. Walter Fane. Fane takes her to China but constantly ignors her in favour of his medical research. Lonely Katrin has an affair with Jack Townsend of the British Embassy.
When it is discovered by Walter he becomes very bitter. Fane travels to fight a cholera epidemic and Katrin goes with him and helps. They grow closer together than ever before but Walter is knifed in a riot incited by the burning of a cholera infested town. Now their new found happiness will depend on Walter\'s survival.
Greta Garbo ... Katrin Koerber Fane
Herbert Marshall ... Dr. Walter Fane
George Brent ... Jack Townsend
Warner Oland ... General Yu
Jean Hersholt ... Herr Koerber
Bodil Rosing ... Frau Koerber
Katharine Alexander ... Mrs. Townsend
Cecilia Parker ... Olga Koerber, Heinrich\'s Bride
Soo Yong ... Amah, Fane\'s Servant
Forrester Harvey ... Deputy Commissioner Waddington
The soundstage China of 1933\'s \"Bitter Tea of General Yen\" leaves the soundstage China of 1934\'s \"Painted Veil\" in the dust. \"Yen\'s\" China draws you in and intoxicates you. \"Painted Veil\'s\" China is fun, but it\'s a bit silly and superficial. A San Francisco Chinatown Chinese New Year\'s parade would be more profound.
George Brent is at his worst here. I\'ve never seen him do anything quite like what he does here -- a fly-by-night and exploitative romancer who toys with women\'s hearts.
Brent wasn\'t great looking, but he was very good at playing the grounded, reliable foil to electric characters like Bette Davis\' Judith Traherne in \"Dark Victory.\"
Here, as Townsend, while speaking serious words, Brent adopts a silly smile, and -- literally -- renounces everything he says in the very next sentence. Maybe a much better looking, or more conventionally handsome, actor could have made this character charming in a snake-like, dangerous way (Erroll Flynn?) but Brent didn\'t really have the equipment to make Townsend as charming to the audience as he might have been to a neglected wife in China.
Garbo plays a near spinster who watches her younger sister marry, and, on the rebound, marries a man she doesn\'t love out of desperation.
How on earth could anyone make sense of *Garbo* as a desperate spinster? The movie doesn\'t even try to make sense of that. It just asks us to believe it. The viewer has to try to make up reasons for her spinster status. (Her parents kept her locked in a closet the first thirty or so years of her life? She had a horrible facial deformaty that suddenly fell off?)
I still love this movie.
I love it for the moment when Herbert Marshall says, with the kind of real passion you expect of a contemporary production of a Eugene O\'Neill play, that he despises himself for loving Garbo, after she has cuckolded him.
It\'s great to see Marshall, who so often played helpless men ill used by women (\"The Letter,\" \"Duel in the Sun,\" \"The Little Foxes\"), here finally able to effectively express his bitterness at being so ill used, and take some action in response, even if that action is intended to be fatal.
I love it for the complications that arise in the final portion. Hearts are changed. Suffering and human sacrifice changes them. Love is born of the kind of big events that sometimes do change people, and life stories, in real life.
This ending, though not in compliance with Maughm\'s novel, didn\'t strike me as a \"Hollywood\" \"happy\" ending at all. It struck me as a profound ending. It reminded me of a more recent film, Bertolucci\'s \"Besieged,\" that also talks about the role of altruism in love and eroticism.
For those features, I deeply value this movie, in spite of its superficial imperfections.
Married to a distracted English scientist, a beautiful Austrian finds forbidden love beyond THE PAINTED VEIL in China.
Based on a story by W. Somerset Maugham, this MGM film is soap opera of a high order, featuring excellent production values & acting. The dialogue is also refreshingly literate & thoughtful, something of a surprise in a film which might be pigeonholed as just an elaborate potboiler.
Fascinating as always, Greta Garbo is at last showcased in a film whose backdrop & setting matches her for exoticism. Enervated by the overwhelming cultural saturation of pre-war China, she seems freed to be essentially herself - shorn of all needs to bewitch - and is able to give herself over to the seriousness & drama of her character\'s dilemma. What the viewer is left with is one of her best performances.
The two men in Garbo\'s life are excellently portrayed by Herbert Marshall & George Brent. Neither characters are without faults, but the actors make them intimately human, revealing some of the loneliness in each man\'s heart. These actors had distinct similarities, making it something of a bold move for MGM to put them in the same film, but also enabling the viewer to understand why Garbo could love both.
Excellent support is given by gentle Jean Hersholt as Garbo\'s kindly father; Forrester Harvey as a happy-go-lucky embassy employee in China & Warner Oland as a sympathetic Chinese general.
Movie mavens will recognize Keye Luke as a young doctor and Mary Forbes & Ethel Griffies as British ladies in Hong Kong - all uncredited.
The Chinese scenes show MGM at what it did best - creating another world, utterly realistic, in its back lot.
Based on a book by W. Somerset Maugham of the same name, The Painted Veil tells the tale of Katrin Koerber (Greta Garbo) who is lonely after her sister\'s marriage, with whom she was very close. She agrees to marry her father\'s research associate Dr. Walter Fane (Herbert Marshall) who takes her to China. However, he is deeply involved with his work and often neglects Katrin in favour of his work which leads her to seek love and attention from another man: Jack Townsend (George Brent).
Although I have been unsure of Garbo\'s acting abilities at times, she does well and truly shine in the role of the unfaithful and confused wife - a complex character which she masters with ease. Herbert Marshall does a good job of her husband caught between emotions and George Brent – not a terribly good looking man – was unconvincing as her lover. These two men seem to fade into the background when Garbo is on screen – her exotic; cat like appearance really captures the audience – despite not playing a glamorous character!
The scenery of old China is lavish and the costumes for Garbo are a pleasure to see. However, the divine Greta Garbo is the only thing that really makes The Painted Veil watchable. The plot is thin and weak but Garbo does a wonderful job and makes the melodramatic material believable and interesting. Not a great film, but watch it for Garbo.
# Because some preview reviewers felt the opening scenes were much too drawn out, the film was cut and some retakes were made.
# Most contemporary reviewers list Beulah Bondi in the role of Frau Koerber, but Bodil Rosing is credited onscreen and is in the movie. She probably replaced Bondi in the retakes. Similarly, Billy Bevan was replaced by Hans von Morhart.
# Background shots in China supervised by George W. Hill were also used in The Good Earth (1937).