DVD REVIEW: The Painted Veil (1934)

This Warner Archive release is a Manufacture-On-Demand (MOD) DVD. It is made to be played in “play only” DVD devices, and may not play in some DVD recorders or PC drives. This disc, however, played fine in the Toshiba DVD recorder used for this review. This title is available directly from WBShop.com by clicking here.

THE SET-UP
A woman (Greta Garbo) finds herself in a complicated love triangle while fighting a cholera epidemic in pre-World War II China. Also stars Herbert Marshall and George Brent.
Directed by Richard Boleslawski

THE DELIVERY
Greta Garbo may be a Hollywood icon, but it is fair to say most of today’s movie fans have never seen one of her films. The Painted Veil, released in 1934, features a fairly by-the-numbers love story (even with the love triangle plot), but the acting is top notch, and for first-time viewers, Garboo is a revelation in a performance that jumps off the screen.

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It is easy to see that the camera loves her, but Garbo was unique in that she infused her sultry melodrama with a vulnerability that connected with an audience like few other actresses could. At first glance, one would expect an aloofness behind those bedroom eyes of hers, but instead Garbo disarmed you an easy laugh and a smile, and her ability to deliver a line is unparalleled. She had an instant chemistry with any actor she came in contact with, and never is that more evident than in The Painted Veil.

In the film, Garbo plays Katrin, a woman who falls in love with and marries Walter (Herbert Marshall), a doctor whose work takes them to China. While there, Walter gets consumed in his work, leaving Katrin lonely and searching for companionship. Enter Jack (George Brent), who works at the British Embassy and is immediately smitten with Katrin. Though initially reluctant, Katrin falls in love with Jack, much to the dismay of Walter when he discovers the affair. 

When a cholera epidemic sends an angry and distraught Walter deep into the Chinese mainland, he takes Katrin with him, half-expecting the disease will claim them both. It also sets the stage for a dramatic third act, in which Katrin must choose between Jack or Walter, and an outside threat that could cost them their lives.

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Garbo and company manage to give the script, based on the novel by W. Somerset Maugham, plenty of life and romantic intrigue. If there is a downside, however, it is the fact that the film cannot shake the “studio backlot” feel, especially for a story set in China. The budget was lavish (reportedly a million dollars for a 1934 film), but it still doesn’t have an authentic feeling. Unlike the book it is based on, the film ends a bit abruptly, and things are left a bit open-ended.

As a sweeping romance, The Painted Veil succeeds by having Garbo work her magic with her male co-stars. When it relies on that, it is an entertaining drama and a compelling story of love and loyalty.

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VIDEO AND AUDIO
Given the fact that The Painted Veil is nearly 80 years old, the video transfer does, not surprisingly, have issues. Scratches and debris are evident on the print throughout the film, although some scenes look very good. Detail is not fantastic, but Garbo does get the “frosted lens” often, which affects sharpness. Some scenes look a bit muddled, but on the positive side, the blacks and white colors in the image are bold and distinct. Overall, the image looks better than you might expect, although it could stand a complete restoration. Screenshots in this review are taken from our DVD review copy. Audio, mixed to a two-channel soundtrack from the original mono, features very good clarity.  

SPECIAL FEATURES
None.

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THE BOTTOM LINE: BUY IT OR REDBOX IT?
Ratings (1-10 scale)

Movie: 7

Video: 5

Audio: 7

Extras: 1

Overall grade: 5

The Painted Veil isn’t quite the epic cinematic love story on the level of Gone with the Wind, but Garbo’s performance is the real attraction here. You’ll wish for a better ending, but you’ll still enjoy the journey. The video is a minus, (and it is expected considering the age) but it doesn’t ruin the viewing experience. Garbo fans will eat the new DVD up, and is worth a watch to discover what a presence she was on the screen.

DVD SPECS
Release Date: June 11, 2013

Rating: Not rated

Running time: 85 minutes

Aspect ratio: 1.37:1

Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0

Subtitles: None

Special features: None

Label: Warner Archive

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