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Star of the Month: Greta Garbo
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,The Single Standard

The Single Standard

Concerned about Greta Garbo's Swedish accent, MGM kept its most alluring leading lady in silents longer than any of its other stars. The year before Garbo broke the sound barrier with Anna Christie (1930), she appeared in her next-to-last silent film, The Single Standard (1929). Garbo's role in this adaptation of the 1928 Adela Rogers St. John novel is that of Arden Stuart, an independent woman who challenges the social credo that "men do as they please and women do as men please." Arden, a San Francisco socialite, has a fatal affair with a chauffeur (Robert Castle), then engages in a sultry shipboard romance with a handsome artist (Nils Asther) before settling into respectability with a long-suffering millionaire (Johnny Mack Brown). The role, originally intended for Joan Crawford, marked Garbo's first attempt at playing a truly American character.

Asther, a fellow Swede, had just appeared opposite Garbo in the very successful Wild Orchids (1929). The two shared an intense friendship that, according to Garbo biographer Barry Paris, inspired Asther to lyricism: "When she laughs, it's a silent, breathless kind of laugh, that shakes her whole person but makes very little noise." Brown, a former football player from Alabama, is described by Paris as "the oddest of Garbo's many co-stars." Despite his lack of sophistication and thick Southern accent, Brown ranked fourth among Garbo's most frequent leading men, just below John Gilbert, Lewis Stone and Melvyn Douglas. The Single Standard was his third role opposite Garbo after The Divine Woman and A Woman of Affairs. Later Brown became the popular star of some 200 cowboy movies. Future stars Joel McCrea and Robert Montgomery appear in uncredited bits in The Single Standard.

Dorothy Sebastian, then romantically involved with frequent Garbo director Clarence Brown, had formed a rare friendship with the standoffish star when they acted in A Woman of Affairs six years earlier. Garbo then requested that Sebastian be cast in The Single Standard. Paris relates a story about Garbo visiting Sebastian at a rented house before it was fully furnished. Sebastian said that she and Garbo "ate our luncheon -- baked beans and Boston brown bread -- sitting on the floor. Greta seemed to enjoy the grand confusion.... She enjoys herself most when she can romp about and not have to give a thought to how she looks."

Director: John S. Robertson
Screenplay: Josephine Lovett, Marian Ainslee (titles), from the novel by Adela Rogers St. John
Cinematography: Oliver T. Marsh
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Original Music: William Axt
Editing: Blanche Sewell
Costume Design: Adrian
Principal Cast: Greta Garbo (Arden Stuart), Nils Asther (Packy Cannon), Johnny Mack Brown (Tommy Hewlett), Dorothy Sebastian (Mercedes), Lane Chandler (Ding Stuart).
BW-71m.

By Roger Fristoe

VIEW TCMDb ENTRY

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