Following up “Ninotchka” is something of a task, especially since Ernest Lubitch’s cinematic masterpiece went on to immortality. For Melvyn Douglas and Greta Garbo, “The Two Faced Woman” is a disappointing follow-up but I’m shocked it was so poorly received by literally everyone during its initial release. “The Two-Faced Woman” is reportedly the film that ended Greta Garbo’s career when she quit show business after the poor reviews during the film’s run destroyed her enthusiasm for acting. As for George Cukor’s film itself, “The Two Faced Woman” is not the disaster I expected, but it’s certainly no masterpiece.
As it is, it’s simply a mediocre follow-up to a stellar film that relies on both major stars pretty much winging it in a screwball relationship comedy that is much too broad for either performers to really pin point with comic accuracy. Yes, even Greta Garbo is incapable of garnering a chuck here and there exemplifying the fact that comedy is tough for everyone, no matter how talented the individual may be. Granted Cukor’s comedy was released in 1941 but “The Two Faced Woman” feels almost like a sitcom in its delivery with a convoluted slapstick premise involving Melvyn Douglas and Greta Garbo as two love struck individuals who engage in a shotgun wedding. After falling for one another during a ski trip, Garbo, as the seasoned ski instructor, falls head over heels for her magazine publisher courter who convinces her to marry him.
After months in New York, Garbo’s character Karin ventures to the city to track down her husband Larry and in an effort to test his marriage masquerades as her twin sister Katherine. “The Two Faced Woman,” in spite of the eye roll inducing premise and efforts at comedy, is watchable and stars Garbo and Douglas are sharp together playing this feuding couple desperately trying to test their resolves as lovers. Garbo is given room to display her on-screen command with a sequence during a drunken tirade allows her to rumba in front of a baffle sea of partygoers, but beyond that “The Two-Faced Woman” really is not one of the more overwhelming films from the Garbo filmography. Aside from it being the death knell for Garbo’s career, it’s a fairly forgettable and average bit of comedy filmmaking.
The newly released DVD from Warner is from their Archive Collection, so while it isn’t the Deluxe Edition collector’s may be hoping for, it will tide many a movie lover over with its admirable picture and audio quality, and even features the film’s original theatrical trailer. I’m still baffled as to why this film was considered such a disaster upon its original release since “The Two-Faced Woman,” so many years after its introduction, is just an average romance comedy that hasn’t changed the face of the genre, but isn’t the waste of time the reviews deemed it as at the time. It’s worth watching, if only to say you’ve seen Greta Garbo’s final performance on screen.