Swedish actress Greta Garbo was one of the greatest talents of Hollywood’s golden age, transitioning smoothly from roles as a silent seductress to a bona fide movie star in the talkie era. She was also deeply eccentric, and at 36, she simply stopped acting, and never returned to the screen again for the rest of her life. Warner Archive has released her final film, Two-Faced Woman, in its burn-on-demand series, and while it’s certainly nowhere near a career-killer, it’s also not the most memorable note to go out on.
The film was part of a short-lived experiment at MGM to transform Garbo into a comedic actress, a strategy that worked well for Ernst Lubitsch’s 1939 film Ninotchka, for which Garbo received an Oscar nomination. That film had the benefit of some gravitas thanks to its Soviet setting, not to mention the signature Lubitsch touch and a script worked on by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett. By contrast, 1941’s Two-Faced Woman seems incredibly insubstantial, and not in a light-as-air romantic way, but in a dull, plodding way that can’t even be saved by the talents of Garbo and Melvyn Douglas.
Douglas stars as fashion magazine editor Larry Blake, a man vacationing in the mountains who has no interest in skiing until he spies instructor Karin Borg (Garbo). He’s initially rebuffed by her, but after a mishap on the slopes and a missing person search, the two return happily married. Soon enough, however, Blake announces his intentions to return to work into New York, much to the chagrin of nature lover Karin, who stays behind.
But soon, without her husband’s knowledge, Karin travels to New York where she finds Larry starting to cozy up to Griselda Vaughn (Constance Bennett). In a test of loyalty, she decides to pose as her own fictional twin sister Katharine, a supposed fireball of sexual energy who never really gets to show much passion at all beyond a few mild double entendres. The film is undercut further by a plot insertion that allows Larry to discover the ruse almost immediately (apparently an insistence by censors nervous about a married man/sister-in-law flirtation).