Moviola: The Silent Lovers (1980)
John Gilbert was one the silent screen’s biggest stars, yet his name is hardly known today. Famed lover of Greta Garbo and sworn enemy of Louis B. Mayer, Gilbert was unable to duplicate his success in talkies and eventually drank himself to death at the age of 38. Though it is a tragic story, its telling here elicits little sympathy for his plight, due in large part to Barry Bostwick’s obnoxious portrayal.
Like Gilbert’s career, the biopic begins promisingly enough. A meeting in Berlin between Mayer, Garbo and her mentor Mauritz Stiller, is played for laughs as LB constantly struggles with the director’s name and nationality. The shift to Hollywood maintains the entertainment with the film’s affectionate recreation of early movie-making. Yet as soon as the cameras stop, Bostwick’s overplaying of Gilbert’s carefree, flamboyant, off-screen persona creates a character who comes across not such much as self-confident, but rather self-absorbed. Which leaves little room for Gilbert’s love of Garbo to be affectingly conveyed in much the same way that his descent into self-pity leaves little room for audience empathy.
Portraying the other half of this ill-fated coupling is Swedish actress Kristina Wayborn. Yet in spite of her character’s renowned reserve, Wayborn manages to successfully express Garbo’s love for both Gilbert and Stiller, no matter how improbable that may appear. It perhaps should come as no surprise, based on this biopic’s depiction of her affairs, that at the end of the day Garbo just wanted to be alone.
“There are legends and there are stories. There is the real truth if you want to dig for it. And there are always several authenticated versions of one incident”
Stan Margulies (producer)
The scene in which Gilbert, after being stranded at the altar by Garbo, has a physical altercation with Louis B. Mayer is based on the recollection of Eleanor Boardman, who married King Vidor that same day. Other people dispute this story. Louis’ daughter Irene, who was a guest at the planned double wedding, insisted it was “whole cloth”. MGM Vice-President Joe Cohn, who also disputes Nicholas Schenck would have allowed Mayer to deliberately sabotage Gilbert’s career, believes the fight didn’t place.
Biopic faithfully recreates in an entertaining fashion scenes from John Gilbert’s La Boheme and His Glorious Night as well as a scene from the lovers' first film together Flesh and the Devil.