Sunday, September 5, 2021

Mata Hari (1931)

Ramon Novarro was one of the stars in Summer Under the Stars last month, which gave me the chance to watch -- or maybe re-watch, since I might be confusing it with some of the other pre-Code spy movies -- Mata Hari.

Novarro is obviously not in the title role, since that's the famous female spy from World War I. So Mata Hari is played by Greta Garbo. In this movie, she's in Paris, wowing everybody in 1961, including the Russian army officers stationed there. (From reading the Wikipedia page on Mata Hari, there was a force sent to the western front by Tsarist Russia before the February 1917 revolution took the country out of the war.) That force is headed by Gen. Shubin (Lionel Barrymore). Flying in to France is dashing young Lt. Rosanoff (Ramon Novarro), with some coded dispatches from Russia for Shubin.

Needless to say, the other side would like those dispatches. Andriani (Lewis Stone) is the head of those enemy agents, with a bunch of people working under him, including Mata Hari as well as woman named Carlotta (Karen Morley). Working for the allies is Dubois (C. Henry Gordon), convinced Mata Hari is a spy but unable to prove it.

Mata, for her part, works as an exotic dancer at one of those nightclubs in Paris that, at the time the movie was made, so about 15 years after the setting of the movie, would be employing people like Josephine Baker as the entertainment. Mata Hari's exoticism and beauty charm all the men, and the newcomer Rosanoff is no exception. He would like to see her after the show, not realizing that she'd only be usin him to get those dispatches once she learns he has a copy of them.

Rosanoff also doesn't know that his superior, Gen. Shubin, has been carrying on an affair with Mata Hari. But Mata Hari falls in love with Rosanoff, too, which is unsurprising because Ramon Novarro is a much more obvious romantic lead than Judge Hardy. It all leads to Mata Hari getting caught since that's what happened in real life, and sentenced to death, although Rosanoff, having been injured in a plane crash, doesn't actually know what's going to happen to the woman he loves.

I'm not certain exactly how much bearing in reality this version of Mata Hari has. It's got the sort of competence that MGM was able to bring to its programmers, although since we're still in 1931, it doesn't have quite the technical expertise that later movies would have. Still, the story is interesting enough.

If I were going to recommend any of the movie's stars to people, I'd recommend other of their movies first, although that doesn't mean that Mata Hari is bad by any stretch of the imagination. It's just that there's other stuff easier for people to get into.

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