Stefan and Dolly Oblonsky have had a little spat and Stefan has asked his sister, Anna Karenina, to come down to Moscow to help mend the rift. Anna's companion on the train from St. Petersburg is Countess Vronsky who is met at the Moscow station by her son. Col. Vronsky looks very dashing in his uniform and it's love at first sight when he looks at Anna and their eyes meet. Back in St. Petersburg they keep running into each other at parties. Since she has a husband and small son, they must be very discreet if they are going to see each other alone.
Vivien Leigh ... Anna Karenina
Ralph Richardson ... Alexei Karenin
Kieron Moore ... Count Vronsky
Hugh Dempster ... Stefan Oblonsky
Mary Kerridge ... Dolly Oblonsky
Marie Lohr ... Princess Scherbatsky
Frank Tickle ... Prince Scherbatsky
Sally Ann Howes ... Kitty Scherbatsky
Niall MacGinnis ... Konstantin Levin
Michael Gough ... Nicholai
Martita Hunt ... Princess Betty Tversky
Director: Julien Duvivier
XVid / AC3
It has always struck me as a pity that whenever film versions of "Anna Karenina" are discussed it is Greta Garbo's of 1935 that excites critical attention rather than Vivien Leigh's. I suppose this is inevitable given that Garbo's is the more memorable performance, but in all other respects I find Julien Duvivier's 1948 version the finer film.
When Vivien Leigh did her version of Anna Karenina for the British cinema she had the advantage of a less stringent censorship in the UK than Greta Garbo had working for MGM in the Thirties. Garbo was hemmed in by restrictions that she had to be a wronged woman, seduced and abandoned by her lover, and committing suicide to also atone for her sins.
Vivien plays a woman who knows precisely what she was doing and yet she chose to flout the male dominated society of 19th Century Russia. Like Garbo she is married to a pill of a husband and when a dashing young cavalry officer shows his attentions to her, she falls madly in love.
It's pointed out to her at least once in the film that her biggest sin is a lack of discretion. But Vivien and Kieron Moore want the whole world to know what's going on with them. Like William Randolph Hearst and Marion Davies.
MGM softened the portrait of Count Vronsky in the Garbo version by making it an eagerness to get back into the military during war that causes the breakup. Here Kieron Moore is far less noble. Not a bad person but a weak one. His mother wants him to make a more advantageous marriage and not to a woman with a bad reputation even though he's the one who gave her the bad reputation.
There's also a cop out scene filmed by MGM where Vronsky played by Fredric March expresses remorse over Anna in the end. No such scene exists in this more realistic version.
Of course Ralph Richardson as the husband Karenin is just as big a pill as Basil Rathbone was back in 1935. A man quite full of himself in his high level job in the Czar's government, he only sees how Anna's betrayal is affecting him. Richardson is almost doing a dress rehearsal for his portrayal of Dr. Sloper in next year's The Heiress.
Vivien Leigh was unfairly compared to Greta Garbo back when this came out, unfairly I think because there's only one Garbo. Vivien was a frail creature in life and that helped in a lot of her work. Anna was a frail creature herself unable to stand up to the hypocrisy and the pressure of the society around her.
In fact Anna Karenina is a story of failure. Two people fall in love, one of them trapped in a loveless marriage, and attempt to flout society and they lose. Tolstoy sees all that and records it well, but offers no solution.
First off, let us concede that neither the 1935 Greta Garbo "Anna Karenina" nor the 1948 Vivian Leigh version comes close to capturing the complexities of Tolstoy's masterpiece. Most significantly, Konstantin Levin and Kitty's relationship, and more particularly, Levin's protracted personal and metaphysical development, are dropped entirely, both screenplays preferring to treat the story as an adulterous romantic triangle with snowflakes instead of palm trees.
That said, what we are left with in both films are masterpieces of film craftsmanship, where the triple triumphs of cinematography, art direction, and costume design are the real stars.
Which is not in any way to lessen the contributions of the cast, who in both instances, make the best of what they have to work with.
Garbo enchants in many of her individual scenes, particularly with Freddy Bartholomew and Maureen O'Sullivan, (as Kitty). Who can forget her advising Kitty to seize her fleeting youth, with its promise of a dream prince to emerge from the blue haze of the mountain top. Equally impressive, is her muted aversion to Alexei Karenin, (Basil Rathbone).
But she fails in her depiction of a fatal love for Count Vronsky (Frederic March). Garbo, with her solemn, majestic and singular self possession--her "Queen Christina" like cerebral detachment, is simply too thoughtful, too deliberate, to in any way convey Tolstoy's impulsive, febrile and thoughtless anti-heroine.
True, she had forsaken all for John Gilbert in "Christina," but that decision was the result of deep and thorough soul searching, and explained with the eloquence of Solomon to her courtiers. In "Camille" she is by profession a lover, and so her ultimate renunciation of Armand, reveals the true depth of her character. But one cannot conceive of her destroying the lives of others to satisfy a whimsical infatuation.
And this is where Miss Leigh's Anna trumps Garbo, for Miss Leigh does successfully transmit Anna's neurasthenic and utterly reckless collapse at the feet of the dashing Count. She seems blown by forces much stronger than she--a daffodil in a windstorm, and light years from Garbo's deep Scandanavian imperturbability.
Given the alleged similarities between Miss Leigh and Anna's disposition, perhaps this is life imitating art. In any case, it is why she makes a truer Anna, and why the role serves as a warm up for Blanche Dubois...
She is also abetted in her interpretation, by the genuinely eerie, recurring, nightmare sequence--with the Charon like, white bearded old man, forever dogging her as he chinks away at the ice. An ill omen indeed ! And Miss Leigh conveys the desperation of her impending doom in every gesture and nuance.
Then too Keiron Moore, (despite being an inferior actor to Frederic March) is much more dashing and handsome as Vronsky--a fact which, at least in terms of audience sympathy, helps explain the attraction.
Strangely, Mr. March who had been so visually appealing as Dr. Jeckyll, just a few years earlier, photographs very poorly in the Garbo version, and is not helped by a buzz haircut.
And as superb as Cedric Gibbons sets and Adrian's costumes are as a backdrop for Garbo, we feel Mr.Andrejew's art direction and Cecil Beaton's designs get the nod here as well, if only perhaps in their European origin, and the deep, appropriately moody nineteenth century shadows with which they are lit and photographed.