Nana (1934)

Genres - Drama, Romance  |   Run Time - 89 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Although Nana is not the disaster (artistically) that it has the reputation of being, neither is it a very good film. Certainly, there are some very good things in it. As has been well documented, Goldwyn spared no expense with this production, and it shows. All of that money is up there on the screen in Richard Day's sumptuous sets and in the elegant costumes by Adrian, Travis Banton, and John W. Harkrider. Cinematographer Gregg Toland has also done his work quite well, adding substantial atmosphere and presenting leading lady Anna Sten in a very flattering light. Yet Sten is one of the problems. It's not her fault that she's no Greta Garbo and that Goldwyn tried to pass her off as one; there's only one Garbo, and the magic she had could not be duplicated. Sten has a great deal of charm of her own, but she's not well cast in this story, even as bowdlerized as it is. She lacks the innate willfulness that the role demands, and while she conveys restlessness, it's not as tortured or as uncertain as is needed. More problematic is the fact that English does not feel natural to Sten, at least not in Nana. Had she tackled the role later, after she had become more familiar with the intricacies of the language, she would have come off better. At least she has her non-English-speaking background as an excuse; Philip Holmes is not so lucky. Although he looks good, Holmes is totally inadequate, turning in a performance that continually misses the mark and is boring, to boot. Even with more appropriate stars, however, the unfocused, trite screenplay would be a problem. Stripping the original novel of its complexities and cleaning it up for the censors leaves an unconvincing, bare-bones story that we've all heard before.