This second filmization of Leo Tolstoy's novel is widely regarded as the best version. Greta Garbo plays the title character, the sheltered wife of Czarist official Rathbone. Intending to dissuade Rathbone's brother (Reginald Owen) from a life of debauchery, Garbo is sidetracked by her own fascination with dashing military officer Fredric March. This indiscreet liaison ruins Garbo's marriage and position in 19th century Russian society; she is even prohibited from seeing her own son (Freddie Bartholomew). In keeping with the censorial strictures of 1935 Hollywood, Anna Karenina is extremely careful in the staging of its final suicide sequence, allowing the audience to determine for itself whether or not Garbo's desperate act of throwing herself under wheels of a train is intentional. Outside of the expected superb performances of Garbo and March, the film's most fascinating characterization is offered by Basil Rathbone, whose cold cruelty in banishing his wife is shown to be the by-product of his own broken heart (though Rathbone never allows himself to descend into cheap sentiment). The first film version of Anna Karenina was the 1927 silent feature Love, also starring Garbo, which substituted an imbecilic happy ending for Tolstoy's bleak denouement (there would be an acceptable third version in 1948, starring Vivien Leigh. The 1935 Anna Karenina is arguably the finest accomplishment of the felicitous 1930s alliance between star Greta Garbo, director Clarence Brown and cinematographer William Daniels.
by Hal Erickson synopsis