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GARDEN OF EDEN, THE(director: Lewis Milestone; screenwriters: from the play by Rudolph Bernauer & Rudolf Österreicher/Avery Hopwood/Hans Kraly; cinematographer: John Arnold; editor: John Orlando; music: Robert Israel (added later); cast: Corinne Griffith (Toni LeBrun), Louise Dresser (Rosa), Lowell Sherman (Henri D’Avril), Maude George (Madame Bauer), Charles Ray (Richard Spanyi), Edward Martindel (Colonel Dupont); Runtime: 78; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: John W. Considine, Jr.; United Artists; 1928-silent)
“Lively, though outdated, romantic drama from the silent era.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The Garden of Eden is a lively, though outdated, romantic drama from the silent era. It’s directed with efficiency and wit by Lewis Milestone, whose range of films stretch from the 1930 anti-war classic “All Quiet on the Western Front” to the 1960 film about the “ratpack” “Ocean’s 11.” It’s adapted to the screen by Avery Hopwood and Hans Kraly from the play by Rudolph Bernauer & Rudolf Österreicher. It features marvelous art-direction courtesy of William Cameron Menzies, who later became a director of films such as the 1953 “Invader from Mars.” It stars Charles Ray as the sophisticate who falls in love with a lady he thinks has a title. Ray’s specialty was playing country bumpkins, and this Cinderella tale offered him a chance to go against type and perhaps revive his sagging career. Corinne Griffith, known in the silent era as “the world’s most beautiful woman,” played the beautiful innocent, who is still remembered today for her provocative autobiography “Papa’a Delicate Condition”–made in 1963 into a film starring Jackie Gleason. She’s also remembered by some for appearing in court when in her 60s to deny she was Corinne Griffith, insisting instead she was her younger sister. Corinne had a thing about aging and was in serious denial, but lived to the ripe old age of 84 (dying in 1979). She was never charged with perjury, but the court settled matters by accepting her friends’ testimonies that she was really Corinne.

The flowery delicate beauty Toni LeBrun (Corinne Griffith) lives with her baker uncle and aunt in Vienna, but yearns to be an opera singer. After a correspondence with Madame Bauer, the manager of the Palaise de Paris in Budapest, Toni sneaks out in the middle of the night to follow her dream of being an opera singer. Arriving in Budapest with her diploma from a Vienna musical conservatory, she is disappointed to find that the place is a bawdy “speakeasy” nightclub and the manager is a lesbian dressed as a man. Toni is tricked into performing with a “see through dress with a skimpy outfit underneath” and is upset when later introduced to one of the wealthy Parisian patrons, Henri D’Avril, who makes an uncool pass at her which she rebuffs. This gets her fired along with the sympathetic Rosa (Louise Dresser), the cabaret’s wardrobe seamstress, who comes to her aid in a maternal way.

Rosa persuades Toni to live it up for two weeks with her in a swank Monte Carlo hotel, where she regularly spends her vacations by using her widow’s war pension and her legitimate baroness title to have a good time before returning to poverty and her menial wardrobe job for the other fifty weeks of the season. At the hotel they pose as mother and daughter, and Rosa is signed in as also titled. A Parisian hotel guest, Richard (Charles Ray), falls in love after hearing Toni singing through his window and comes courting her. Richard is staying with his middle-aged uncle, Colonel Dupont, who also is interested in Toni. But Richard wins when he shows her the Hotel Eden’s magical theme version of the Garden of Eden. Toni comes up with film’s best line in this romantic setting: “I’m sure Adam told Eve that she was the only woman in the world for him.”

In the third act the film becomes a familiar Parlor Room comedy and teases the audience with the prospects of an ideal marriage between Richard and Toni falling apart because the good girl is trapped by her lies. To the rescue will come “fairy godmother” Rosa, who adopts Toni (amazingly during that two week stretch!), and Richard, who responds to his heart rather than follow the lead of his negative title hungry relatives.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”