A WOMAN OF AFFAIRS (director: Clarence Brown; screenwriters: Marian Ainslee/Ruth Cummings/Bess Meredyth/based on the novel The Green Hat by Michael Arlen; cinematographer: William H. Daniels; editor: Hugh Wynn; music: William Axt/David Mendoza; cast: Greta Garbo (Diana Merrick), John Gilbert (Neville Holderness), Lewis Stone (Dr. Hugh Trevelyan), Johnny Mack Brown (David Furness), Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. (Geoffrey Merrick), Hobart Bosworth (Sir Morton Holderness), Dorothy Sebastian (Constance); Runtime: 106; MPAA Rating: NR; MGM; 1928-silent)
“An hysterical and an overacted soap opera story.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

MGM paid $50,000 for the rights to Michael Arlen’s erotic best-seller, The Green Hat, only to have the Hays Office censors prevent it from being filmed without being chopped to pieces over its sexuality and because of its explicit references to syphilis. The result is a bowdlerized version of the film that’s an hysterical and an overacted soap opera story, basically a star vehicle for Greta Garbo who gives an outdated performance. Director Clarence Brown (“Anna Karenina “/”Flesh and the Devil “/”Romance”), Garbo’s regular director, can only keep it from being so much twaddle. Even the title is not what it seems. It has a double entendre meaning that refers to the misunderstood heroine secretly settling her devious husband’s affairs (e.g. his debts) over all the ensuing years rather than only about her as a loose woman.

The elegant Diana Merrick (Greta Garbo) is the misunderstood free-spirited wealthy socialite heroine who loses the love of her life, socialite pretty boy Neville Holderness (John Gilbert, real-life love interest of Garbo) because his misinformed stubborn father, Sir Morton Holderness (Hobart Bosworth), disapproves of her lifestyle. On the rebound, Diana marries her brother Jeffrey’s (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.) friend, David Furness (Johnny Mack Brown), unaware of his venal nature under his veneer of being a gentleman. On their honeymoon David commits suicide rather than face arrest for embezzlement (in the novel it was over a venereal disease), and the noble Diana is blamed for his death but says nothing as she nobly pays back all the victims over the years for his theft to keep it out of the public arena and keep her husband’s name unblemished.

Warning: spoiler in the next paragraph.

After being away a long time, Diana returns to England. But she can’t save her alcoholic brother from dying (prohibition was in effect in America and the lesson for even those in England was drinking leads only to bad ends) and meets more tragedy when the now married Neville wishes to be with her again. After growing ill and being hospitalized over not having Neville (in the novel she was hospitalized for giving birth to an illegitimate child), Diana comes to the conclusion that Nev belongs with his sweet wife Constance (Dorothy Sebastian). She just doesn’t go away, but drives her snappy sports car, the Hispano-Suiza, into a tree and kills herself. It was that kind of a ridiculous sudser.

For some reason beyond my comprehension, this film earned Bess Meredyth an Academy Award nomination for Best Writing.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”