Original film poster
|Directed by||George Cukor|
|Produced by||Gottfried Reinhardt|
|Written by||S. N. Behrman|
|Music by||Bronislau Kaper|
|Edited by||George Boemler|
Two-Faced Woman is a 1941 American romantic comedy film directed by George Cukor and starring Greta Garbo, Melvyn Douglas, Constance Bennett, and Roland Young. The movie was distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Garbo plays a wife who pretends to be her own fictitious twin sister in order to recapture the affections of her estranged husband (Douglas), who has left her for a former girlfriend (Bennett). The film is generally regarded as a box-office bomb and an unsuccessful attempt to modernize or "Americanize" Garbo's image in order to increase her fan base in the United States. By mutual agreement, Garbo's contract with MGM was terminated shortly after Two-Faced Woman was released, and it became her last film.
Fashion magazine editor Larry Blake (Douglas) marries ski instructor Karin Borg (Garbo) on impulse, but she soon learns he expects her to be a dutiful wife, and not the independent woman she was when they met. They separate and Larry returns to New York City, where he takes up again with playwright Griselda Vaughn (Bennett), with whom he was involved prior to his marriage.
Karin comes to New York to thwart the romance and get her husband back, playing her mythical twin sister Katherine Borg, a wild, amoral "modern" woman. Karin, in the guise of Katherine, fascinates Larry until he realizes the truth. He plays along, almost seducing his wife's purported twin sister, but stopping short each time. Karin and Larry eventually reunite on the ski slopes and all is forgiven.
Pleased with the financial and critical success of Garbo's previous film Ninotchka (1939), MGM decided to pair Garbo and Douglas in another romantic comedy. George Cukor, who had previously directed Garbo in Camille (1936), and is generally regarded as her best film, was assigned to direct. Constance Bennett, a major leading lady earlier in the 1930s whose career was waning, was cast in a supporting role through the efforts of her friend Cukor. The screenplay by S.N. Behrman, Salka Viertel, and George Oppenheimer was based on a 1925 Constance Talmadge silent film titled Her Sister from Paris, which in turn was based on a play by German playwright Ludwig Fulda.
MGM used the film to promote a new image of Garbo as a modern, glamorous and sporting type in hopes of increasing her appeal to United States audiences. Garbo's earlier films had attracted large European audiences, which were now declining due to World War II. Garbo was extremely unhappy during the making of Two-Faced Woman, and uncomfortable with the filmmakers' attempts to portray her as a modern "American" woman. She strongly objected to a scene where she is seen swimming; She went to Cukor and pleaded to have the scene cut, but Cukor, who shared Garbo's reservations about the film, told her it had to remain in the picture. The script also called for Garbo to dance in a ballroom rhumba scene. Garbo, who disliked dancing and was not a natural dancer, was forced to take lessons and once hid from her dance instructor in a tree at her home. She later said that she was embarrassed by the film and that it "was not good and it could never be made good."
Two-Faced Woman initially was set for release in November of 1941; the film received a Production Code seal of approval, but the National Legion of Decency rated the film as "C" for condemned -- unusual at that time for a major Hollywood release -- citing its alleged "immoral and un-Christian attitude toward marriage and its obligations: impudently suggestive scenes, dialogue, and situations: suggestive costumes." The film was also condemned by the archbishop of New York, the first time a particular film had been singled out. These condemnations strongly discouraged Catholics from seeing the film. Two-Faced Woman was banned in several cities, including Boston and Providence, Rhode Island, and other cities such as Omaha, Chicago, and Milwaukee ordered that some scenes be cut.
MGM responded by withdrawing the original cut of the film and reshooting and editing certain scenes before the film's official release, although George Cukor refused to participate. In particular, a scene was added in which Larry Blake discovers early on that Katherine is actually his estranged wife Karin under an assumed identity, and chooses to play along with her pretense, rather than actually considering an affair with his wife's twin sister, as was originally filmed. The Legion of Decency changed its rating for the amended film from a "C", meaning condemned, to "B", meaning morally objectionable in part.
In addition to censorship-related changes, the studio also cut a number of Constance Bennett's scenes and changed the ending, due to reports that Bennett had upstaged Garbo in many of their scenes together. Even with the cuts, Leonard Maltin wrote in 2014 that Bennett "steal[s] the film with her hilarious performance."
The revamped version of Two-Faced Woman was released in early January 1942. The original, uncensored version of the film still exists, and was shown in 2004 at a George Cukor retrospective at the National Film Theatre in London, but has not been released on DVD in either the US or Europe or shown on Turner Classic Movies.
Upon the amended film's release in January 1942, Garbo received the worst reviews of her career. John Mosher of The New Yorker wrote of Garbo that "one can feel only that the archbishop who opposed the showing of the film was her one true friend. Of Garbo's folly there is little really to say. Just condolences might be enough." Theodore Strauss of The New York Times wrote: "It is hardly necessary to sit in judgment upon such delicate matters of public interest, inasmuch as the film decisively condemns itself by shoddy workmanship. Miss Garbo's current attempt to trip the light fantastic is one of the awkward exhibitions of the season, George Cukor's direction is static and labored, and the script is a stale joke, repeated at length. Considering the several talents that have combined to create this dismal jape, put down 'Two-Faced Woman' as one of the more costly disappointments of the year." A review in Time called the film "almost as shocking as seeing your mother drunk."
Even those reviews that praised Garbo's performance still panned the overall film. Variety wrote: "That the experiment of converting Miss Garbo into a comedienne is not entirely successful is no fault of hers. Had the script writers and the director, George Cukor, entered into the same spirit of the thing with as much enthusiasm, lack of self-consciousness and abandon as the star, the result would have been a smash hit ... Just how some of the lines of dialog escaped the scissors is as much of a mystery as how the screen writers ... so completely flopped in providing a reasonably satisfactory finale."Harrison's Reports called Garbo's performance "brilliant ... Yet if it were not for her charms and fine acting ability there would be little to recommend, for the story is weak and somewhat silly."Film Daily declared Garbo "a delightful comedienne" but called it "unfortunate that the combined talents" of the scriptwriters "do not measure up to those of Miss Garbo's. George Cukor's direction is not as keen as it could be and tends to let the film ramble."
Most sources have said that the film also did poorly at the box office. According to MGM records, it earned $875,000 in the United States and Canada, and $925,000 elsewhere, resulting in a loss of $62,000. Despite the previous success of Ninotchka, audiences had difficulty accepting Garbo as a comedian. Attendance was also impacted by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which occurred three weeks before the film was released. A few sources have challenged the general perception that the film was a flop, with at least one saying that it made back five times its budget.
Later in 1942, Garbo's MGM contract was terminated by mutual agreement. Contrary to popular belief, Garbo did not quit movies because of the poor reception to Two-Faced Woman; she fully intended to return to films following the end of World War II, but for various reasons, several later film projects which interested her did not come to fruition, leaving Two-Faced Woman as her final film.