"So much for Carlotta" muses the head of German Espionage (Lewis Stone), shortly after secret agent Karen Morley is put to death. Morley's successor is exotic dancer Mata Hari (Greta Garbo), an enigmatic woman of Javanese-Dutch ancestry who seldom thinks twice about luring some poor swain to his doom. Assigned to intercept allied war messages, Mata Hari romances garrolous-general Lionel Barrymore. She falls in love for the first and only time in her life when she meets dazzlingly handsome lieutenant Ramon Novarro. Barrymore finds out about the affair and threatens to expose both Mata and Novarro as spies, whereupon Ms. Hari shoots Barrymore dead. She arranges for Novarro to leave the country lest he be implicated in the murder. He is subsequently blinded in an airplane crash, setting the stage for Garbo's now-famous "Let me be your eyes" scene. Mata Hari is tried and sentenced to death, but is permitted a few final precious moments with Novarro, allowing him to go on believing that he is in a military hospital rather than a prison cell, and that his beloved is dying of a mysterious ailment rather than facing a firing squad. The debate still rages among film buffs as to whether Greta Garbo does her own dancing in Mata Hari, or whether that's her double in the long shots. There is no question, however, that the condemned prisoner in the first reel who refuses to betray Mata to his captors is none other than Mischa Auer.
by Hal Erickson synopsis