Honestly, I don't know a lot about Greta Garbo. I've seen her within a crowd of great actors in Grand Hotel, and in the laughably dated and stereotyped Ninotchka in the very Johnny one-note title role. What I like about her in this silent film is what she conveys in her expressions, her posture. It's all very natural and believable, and she makes for center of this film. When she's absent from the screen, you can't help but yearn for her to come back.
What I find more intriguing is the fact that this is a movie about a Russian spy (Garbo), a bare decade after the revolution. Ostensibly, this is still a Czarist Russia, which brings up its own questions. Why the time difference? East-west enmity was stirred up early but are they trying to say anything political here, or is this just a fairly random choice of the time? Either way, time has placed more weight on these decisions than likely existed back in 1928.
Interestingly, one of Garbo's last roles was that of a Russian negotiator in Ninotchka. These two films vaguely make bookends around her career, or close enough for a silly little website review. Every ounce of intrigue and charm is purposefully removed from that latter performance. Usually I can take an older movie by its intended viewpoint, but that one is surprisingly funny for being so humorless.
Ultimately the film itself isn't trying to say anything about its time, but is merely a variation on the classic love story in trying circumstances. Garbo's character uses an Austrian captain to gather information. He feels cheated when he learns this, having fallen in love with her, a condition that turns to hate. But then we learn she unintentionally fell in love with him... and you can see where this leads. There's some decent thriller-type action and twists for a silent film, anticipating much of the spy genre to come.
The Mysterious Lady is better than the average for its time, and shines more from Garbo's performance than any other aspect, but could have stood on its own without her. It's the version of pure entertainment that was available in 1928, and aside from certain changes in what people find acceptable and the scope of the film, it's not that different from a lot of more recent movies.
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