Blu-ray News and Reviews | High Def Digest
Film & TV All News Blu-Ray Reviews Release Dates News Pre-orders 4K Ultra HD Reviews Release Dates News Pre-orders Gear Reviews News Home Theater 101 Best Gear Film & TV
Blu-Ray : Highly Recommended
Ranking:
Sale Price: $16.94 Last Price: $21.99 Buy now! 3rd Party 16.94 In Stock
Release Date: December 12th, 2023 Movie Release Year: 1930

Anna Christie (1930) - Warner Archive Collection

Overview -

Garbo Talks! The iconic actress' first sound film at last gets the Blu-ray treatment, and in addition to the English-language adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Warner Archive also includes the very different - and more compelling - German-language version of Anna Christie. That means a double dose of the divine Garbo in HD. A brand new master struck from a 4K scan of preservation elements, remastered audio, and a hefty supplemental package makes this release of a vintage classic a must for Garbo fans. Highly Recommended.

When it was learned that Greta Garbo, was cast as a disillusioned prostitute in Anna Christie, even her most devoted admirers were skeptical. Not only was it an unglamourous role for the 24-year-old actress, but it was also to be her first talking picture. Garbo's answer was to play it with superbly. With her first, and now famous spoken line ("Gimme a whiskey, ginger ale on the side. And don't be stingy baby") Garbo conquered the world of sound films.. Based on Eugene O'Neill's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Garbo give a fascinating performance as an embittered prostitute who returns home to her father, a barge captain. She finds sympathy in the gruff, but kindly Marthy (Marie Dressler), but when a sailor (Charles Bickford) falls in love with Anna, she is forced to reveal her tarnished past to both him and her father, leading to a riveting climax. Among the Special Features on this new Warner Archive Blu-ray disc is the German-language version of the scenario, starring Garbo with a different cast and director. Filmed on the same sets after the original English version was completed, this alternate version is a uniquely different take of the source material, one which Garbo allegedly preferred to the more-widely-known English language version.


Special Features and Technical Specs:

  • NEW 4K RESTORATION OF THE FILM FROM PRESERVATION ELEMENTS (2023)
  • 1930 German Language version directed by Jacques Feyder starring Garbo (HD)
  • M-G-M Parade television episode #30 with Walter Pidgeon on Greta Garbo's career
  • Classic Warner Bros. cartoon "THE BOOZE HANGS HIGH" (HD)
  • Audio-only Lux Radio Theater (2/7/1938) ANNA CHRISTIE broadcast with Joan Crawford and Spencer Tracy
  • Optional English SDH subtitles for the main feature

 

OVERALL:
Highly Recommended
Rating Breakdown
STORY
VIDEO
AUDIO
SPECIAL FEATURES
Tech Specs & Release Details
Technical Specs:
NEW 4K RESTORATION OF THE FILM FROM PRESERVATION ELEMENTS (2023)
Video Resolution/Codec:
1080p/AVC MPEG-4
Length:
89
Aspect Ratio(s):
1.19:1
Audio Formats:
English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono
Subtitles/Captions:
Optional English SDH subtitles for the main feature
Special Features:
Classic 1930 Looney Tunes Cartoon: ‘The Booze Hangs High’
Release Date:
December 12th, 2023

Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take

Ranking:

When talkies arrived in the late 1920s, they destroyed the careers of countless performers by brutally exposing their vocal and talent limitations. Foreign actors and actresses were the most vulnerable due to their thick accents and stilted English, a fact not lost on the ever-insecure Greta Garbo, who delayed her sound debut for as long as MGM would allow. While the public anxiously awaited the Swedish star's first talking picture, the studio capitalized on the fervor, constructing one of the most famous ad campaigns in film history for Garbo's aural coming out party. When MGM finally premiered Anna Christie, an adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, in January of 1930 - more than two years after The Jazz Singer shook the industry - ads across the country proclaimed "Garbo Talks!"

Audiences flocked to theaters to hear her first words. They had to wait about 15 minutes for Garbo to make her entrance. Looking disheveled and defeated as the downtrodden Anna, she shuffles into a seedy waterfront bar, plops into a chair, looks up at a waiter, and utters the immortal line, "Give me a whiskey. Ginger ale on the side. And don't be stingy, baby." Her contralto tones, laced with a world-weary cynicism match her alluring persona and enhance the aura of mystery swirling around her. Garbo's voice instantly enraptured her fans, almost as much as her beauty bowled them over. MGM's most valuable asset passed the talkie test with flying colors and Louis B. Mayer, Irving Thalberg, and the rest of the MGM brass heaved an elephantine sigh of relief.

Ninety-four years later, Anna Christie is more of a curiosity than a phenomenon, but thanks to Garbo's magnetism it retains its relevance. Did the screen ever produce a more fascinating and riveting female specimen? Garbo made plenty of mediocre movies throughout her all-too-brief 15-year career, but we return to all of them again and again because of her. Just as she possessed and bewitched the male characters in her films, she bewitches us, almost daring us to try and get under her enigmatic skin and expose her soul. Garbo is a remote goddess in her silent pictures, but when she talks, she's flesh and blood, and seeing this "new" creature in Anna Christie must have been thrilling for a movie-going public desperate for escape during the dark days of the Depression.

I've got news for you. It's just as thrilling today. MGM may have produced Anna Christie more than nine decades ago, but Greta Garbo never gets old.

Like she does in many of her films, Garbo portrays a fallen woman who in this case arrives in New York City to meet her estranged father, Chris Christopherson (George Marion) - not to be confused with singer and actor Kris Kristofferson! - an irresponsible drunkard who she hasn't seen in 15 years. Chris, who captains a broken-down barge, chose liquor over his daughter years ago and though he's delighted to see her, he's shocked by her haggard, frail appearance when she drops into the watering hole where he boozes it up with the derelict Marthy (Marie Dressler). Anna is leery of her father, but needs somewhere to recuperate after a lengthy hospital stay.

The sea rejuvenates Anna, but more strife comes into her life when a capsized sailor washes up on the barge one night. The brawny, blustery Matt Burke (Charles Bickford) takes an immediate shine to Anna and after some initial reticence she succumbs to his crusty Irish charm, but Matt believes Anna is as pure as the driven snow and she is loath to disillusion him. As their relationship deepens, Anna must decide whether to reveal her tragic, unsavory past or give up the man she loves and forego any chance for happiness.

The story certainly isn't new. After watching Anna Christie it's tough not to think Tennessee Williams modeled some of A Streetcar Named Desire after it, but Garbo makes the familiar material seem fresh. The movie, though, is a bit of a slog. Slow and moody, it limps along much of the time, despite Garbo's best efforts. Director Clarence Brown and screenwriter Frances Marion share some blame, but the primitive nature of talking pictures is really responsible for the film's inertia. The necessity of anchoring the microphone in a central location keeps the actors clustered together and results in rather static visuals and a stagy presentation that quickly grows tiresome. (The German-language version of Anna Christie, which was produced a few months after the American version and also stars Garbo, is a much better movie and is included as an extra on this disc. See review below.)

Garbo infuses Anna with a mix of hope, yearning, despair, and fatalism and earned her first Best Actress Oscar nomination for her stirring and luminous portrayal. (She lost to studio rival Norma Shearer for The Divorcee.) She creates fine chemistry with Bickford and Marion, who originated the role of Chris on Broadway and played it in the 1923 silent version opposite Blanche Sweet as well, but she really clicks with Dressler, who's a hoot as the mouthy Marthy. Few actors could ever steal scenes from Garbo, but Dressler definitely does here. (Interestingly, Garbo never co-starred with another actress, so never had to worry about being upstaged. The one exception is Grand Hotel, but Garbo and Joan Crawford never shared a scene or even appeared in the same frame.)

Anna Christie launched the second phase of Garbo's career and though it's not the star's finest hour, it showcases her beauty, vulnerability, and all the je ne sais quoi qualities that make her one of the screen's most beloved and enduring icons. Pour yourself a whiskey, forget the ginger ale on the side, and toast this goddess of cinema...and don't be stingy with your praise. She deserves every ounce of it.

Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Anna Christie arrives on Blu-ray packaged in a standard case. Video codec is 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 and audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono. Once the disc is inserted into the player, the static menu without music immediately pops up; no previews or promos precede it.

Video Review

Ranking:

Anna Christie is 94 years old, but you'd never know it from looking at Warner Archive's beautiful new HD master struck from a 4K scan of preservation elements. The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer maintains the movie's natural grain structure and provides a palpable film-like experience. Clarity, contrast, and shadow delineation are quite good, while rich blacks, stable whites, and nicely varied grays produce a well-balanced picture that showcases the often striking, Oscar-nominated cinematography of William Daniels, who shot 20 of Garbo's 25 American films. The sharp close-ups allow us to revel in Garbo's magnetic allure but also showcase the rubbery jowls and wrinkles on the distinctive faces of Dressler and Marion. Process shots are relatively smooth and all of the nicks, marks, and blotches that plagued the 2005 DVD have been meticulously erased. Once again, Warner Archive performs its magic on a vintage title, making an upgrade essential for fans of both Garbo and classic film.

Audio Review

Ranking:

The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track does its best to provide clear and clean sound, but the existing track is fairly rough due to the era's primitive recording equipment and constraints of early talkie production. Dialogue comprehension is often difficult (the foreign accents don't help), but effects like the howling wind during the storm sequence and the rumbling rollercoaster at Coney Island are surprisingly potent. The music over the opening and closing credits exudes a pleasing fullness of tone and no distortion could be detected. Despite some clean-up efforts, a fair amount of surface noise still exists and is especially noticeable during quiet moments, but that's to be expected for a film of this vintage. All that said, the audio here is about as good as it's ever going to get, and its primitive nature shouldn't deter anyone from watching this disc.

Special Features

Ranking:

Warner Archive ports over the German-language version of Anna Christie from the 2005 DVD, but also adds a few other vintage extras to this Blu-ray release, all of which greatly enhance the disc.

  • German Language Version of Anna Christie (HD, 86 minutres) - Back in the early days of talkies, studios didn't simply dub their movies for foreign markets, they often almost completely remade them in various languages. Garbo is the only cast member from the English-language version to reprise her role in this German-language version (which was not directed by Clarence Brown, but rather Jacques Feyder), though it's easy to spot Dressler, Marion, and Bickford in long shots inserted from Brown's version. Garbo also wears a different outfit in her first scene and enjoys a steamier chemistry with the dashing Theo Shall than she does with the older, more barbaric Bickford. Looser - or should I say more evolved - European sensibilities also allow this version to address Anna's work as a prostitute much more directly, which heightens the story's tension, power, and emotion. Garbo shot this version right after finishing the English-language version and her performance feels at once polished and yet more raw. It's certainly more relaxed and more luminous. If she had any nerves about acting in talking pictures before, they're gone here. Even if you're not particularly high on the English-language version of Anna Christie, I highly recommend watching this German-language version, which is surprisingly superior. The video and audio aren't as clean, but Garbo's magnetism overshadows any technical imperfections.

  • Vintage TV Show: MGM Parade (SD, 29 minutes) - In this 1956 episode of the weekly TV series spotlighting past and present MGM productions and stars, actor Walter Pidgeon pays tribute to Garbo's early screen performances. Clips from silent films like The TorrentFlesh and the Devil, and The Kiss and talkies such as Anna ChristieRomance, and Queen Christina are included. A young Irene Pappas joins Pidgeon at the end of the program to share some behind-the-scenes footage from her first American movie, Tribute to a Bad Man, with James Cagney.

  • Vintage Radio Adaptation (55 minutes) - Joan Crawford and Spencer Tracy take over the parts played by Garbo and Bickford in this radio adaptation of Anna Christie that aired on February 2, 1938 as part of the long-running Lux Radio Theater series. George Marion recreates his role, with Marjorie Rambeau taking on Dressler's part and host Cecil B. DeMille narrating this truncated version of the story. Crawford can't compare to Garbo, but she files a sensitive, nuanced portrayal that outclasses the uncharacteristically stiff performance of Tracy, who adopts a half-hearted Irish accent. A few minutes of the broadcast are lost (the third act runs only a scant three minutes), but the omission doesn't harm the overall production. While the sound quality is a bit rough and inconsistent during the early going, once the drama begins the audio is clean and crisp.

  • Vintage Cartoon: The Booze Hangs High (HD, 6 minutes) - This 1930 cartoon, one of the first in the legendary Looney Tunes series, stars a character named Bosko, who appeared in many animated shorts in the early 1930s (and even enjoys a cameo in the original Space Jam). In this innocuous cartoon, he frolics on the farm with a bunch of barnyard animals.

Final Thoughts

Anna Christie isn't Garbo's best film, but it provides a showcase for her unique and mesmerizing talent. Slow pacing and early talkie constraints hamper director Clarence Brown's adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, but as always, Garbo makes it well worth watching again and again. (And once you see the superior German-language version, you might forego the English edition in the future.) Warner Archive's new 4K restoration struck from preservation elements far surpasses the 2005 DVD, the vintage audio sounds about as good as it can, and a prime supplemental package enhances this excellent release. Highly Recommended

Order Your Copy of Anna Christie on Blu-ray