Today It's A Camp Delight
Any resemblance to the little Dutch girl with a most interesting life
for the prurient who became Mata Hari and this film starring Greta
Garbo is strictly coincidental. About the only two things I can think
of is that she was a spy and she did die by firing squad.
Mata Hari had a fascinating life and was 41 when she met her demise and
Garbo was 27 when she made this film. Her espionage activities only
covered a small part of her life, her whole story ought to have been
What this film lacks in facts it certainly makes up for in a kind of
campy allure. Garbo is certainly at her sexiest as the woman who drives
men of all ages mad with desire, so much so they wind up betraying
their country. That's what she does to Lionel Barrymore who plays a
Russian general who does same. She turns him into an old fool.
But she herself gets good and foolish when she meets up with young
Russian aviator Ramon Novarro. When she herself falls in love, it
proves to be her undoing.
There are a couple of really good performances here by a pair of
ruthless adversaries. Lewis Stone is her spymaster and not a man to
trifle with. See how he deals with another of his reluctant employees
played by Karen Morley. He's far from the wise and good Judge Hardy in
this role. His opposite number is C. Henry Gordon who knows full well
that Garbo is a spy and is just waiting to nail her and I don't mean in
the biblical sense.
Mata Hari is a camp delight today, it certainly hasn't aged well. But
that's not to say you won't enjoy Greta Garbo in this part..
Garbo Makes the Role & the Character Her Own
As the notorious "Mata Hari", Greta Garbo makes both the role and the
character her own, providing a portrayal that is much deeper and more
complex than the historical character probably was. The rest of the
cast and production work well enough, but they are mostly there only to
provide Garbo the backdrop and the foils that she uses to develop the
The story focuses Mata Hari's liaisons with two Russian officers, an
older general played by Lionel Barrymore, and a young aviator played by
Ramon Novarro, with an implacable Secret Service man (played by C.
Henry Gordon) trying to stop her. Each of the three plays his part
well, while allowing Garbo to take the spotlight. Lewis Stone also
makes good use of his limited screen time, and Karen Morley has some
memorable moments as another spy.
The story probably has little in common with the historical facts, and
while the historical character is an interesting one, it seems certain
that Garbo's character is more so, combining her obvious appeal with a
depth of feeling and a complicated set of priorities, as few other
actresses could have done. Designing the story and characters with her
in mind works well, making for good drama and one of Garbo's many