Friday, August 10, 2012

Pre-Code: Mata Hari(1931).

Mata Hari(1931). A Pre-Code film loosely based on the life of Mata Hari (the stage name of Margaretha Geertruida Zelle), an exotic dancer/courtesan executed for espionage during World War I. The film stars Greta Garbo in the title role. The film is credited with popularizing the legend of Mata Hari. The third and final film in which Ramon Novarro and Lewis Stone both appeared, though they have no scenes together.

During World War I, after the execution of a group of convicted spies, Dubois, chief of the French Spy Bureau, vows that he will someday find enough evidence to prosecute France's greatest enemy, Mata Hari, a famous dancer, who lives a double life as a German spy.

Mata, receives her assignments from a man named Andriani, who wants her to use her charms to learn more about the secret messages and maps detailing Russian troop movements, from the French and Russian officers.

Soon after meeting Lieutenant Alexis Rosanoff of the Russian Imperial Air Force, a flier who was had a successful flight over German lines to bring back a secret message, Mata begins an affair and falls in love  with him. At first Mata, does not know that Alexis has the secret documents she has been ordered to steal.

Later, when Mata learns that Alexis is carrying the secret documents, she sleeps with him and darkens the apartment so that her fellow agents can take the papers, copy them and return them before anybody notices.  Andriani,  has Carlotta, one of his spies, killed for falling in love on the job. He then tells Mata that she must continue her relationship with Alexis.

Looking for a way to find the evidence he needs against Mata, Dubois tells  her ex-lover General Shubin, that Mata has been having an affair with Alexis, hoping out of jealousy he will expose her treachery.

Shubin, does confront Mata, and Mata tries to prove that she does not love Alexis by showing Shubin the secret photographs she stole from the lieutenant. Not believing her, Shubin calls the embassy to have Mata arrested, but Mata shoots him so she can get away.

As Mata, leaves the murder scene, Andriani tells her that her Paris assignment is over and that she must now go to Amsterdam . Andriani, also informs her that Alexis has been injured in an airplane crash and has been hospitalized. He then forbids her to visit Alexis, Mata resigns so she can be with Alexis. At his bedside, Mata promises the blinded Alexis that she will never leave him. As soon as Mata leaves the hospital, she is arrested by Dubois and put on trial for murder and espionage.Will she be able to prevent Alexis from ever knowing about her crimes and avoid execution?


I really enjoyed this dramatic love story and thought Great Garbo, looked beautiful performing the exciting role as a double agent.

Karen Morley (December 12, 1909 – March 8, 2003). After working at the Pasadena Playhouse, she came to the attention of the director Clarence Brown when he was looking for an actress to stand-in for Greta Garbo in screen tests.

This led to a contract with MGM and roles in such films as Mata Hari (1931), Scarface (1932), The Phantom of Crestwood (1932), The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932), Arsene Lupin (1933) and Dinner at Eight (1933).

 In 1934, Morley left MGM after arguments about her roles and her private life. Her first film after leaving MGM was Our Daily Bread (1934), directed by King Vidor. She continued to work as a freelance performer, and appeared in Michael Curtiz's Black Fury, and The Littlest Rebel with Shirley Temple.

Without the support of a studio, her roles became less frequent, however she played a supporting role in Pride and Prejudice (1940). Her career came to an end in 1947, when she testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee and refused to answer questions about her alleged American Communist Party membership. She maintained her political activism for the rest of her life. In 1954, she ran unsuccessfully for Lieutenant Governor of New York on the American Labor Party ticket. After being blacklisted in Hollywood by the studio bosses, she was never able to rebuild her acting career. In December 1999, at the age of 90, she appeared in the magazine Vanity Fair in an article about blacklist survivors.


  1. Dawn, I have this on the DVR to watch later, so I pasted up your review, I like to go into most films cold. BTW this film was shot by the great William Daniels, I'll watch just about anything he shot.

  2. Dawn - a great movie choice to include in your blog. Garbo was the perfect choice to play the role at the time and her looks in the movie are just intoxicating. Adrian's costumes are completely fantasized and unlike anything a spy would have worn, but they are so amazing and I believe, some of the most iconic he ever designed.
    Great post.

  3. I agree Garbo was stunning in this movie. Although, I wish the copy available today it wasn't soo cut due to censorship regulations, there seems to be several interesting scenes missing. Also,Karen Morely is one of my favourite Precode forgotten dames.

  4. Paul 2, I totally understand.. I don't want to ruin it for you. I have to admit.. I'm surprised that you guys have not seen this film before..

    The opening scene is beautiful..

    I'm going to have my son, the computer wiz see if he can help me with my computer glitch later on today.. So I can get back to maintaining my other blogs.

    Christian Esquevin, Thank you.. I agree.. Garbo was the perfect choice, she sparkled on the screen and so did her costumes.

    Emma, this was the first time I have seen the Pre-Code film Mata Hari. I hope that I saw it it in it's original form.


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