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Case Number 20539: Small Claims Court

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Two-Faced Woman

Warner Bros. // 1941 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // January 20th, 2011

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All Rise...

Judge Clark Douglas is feeling lazy. Something something clever Batman reference.

The Charge

Go gay with Garbo!

The Case

Greta Garbo (Grand Hotel) and Melvyn Douglas (Being There) had won considerable acclaim for their work in Ernest Lubistch's Ninotchka, so they re-teamed two years later for George Cukor's 1941 screwball comedy Two-Faced Woman. Unfortunately, the results were far less successful: the film was generally disliked by critics, audiences, and even the National Legion of Decency (the group claimed the film's attitudes towards marriage were immoral). "It is almost as shocking as seeing your mother drunk," Time magazine wrote. Discouraged by the film's reception, Garbo bought out her contract from MGM and permanently retired from film. Later, Cukor admitted to hating the movie.

At long last, Two-Faced Woman is being made available on DVD as part of the Warner Archive program (which allows fans of classic cinema to purchase manufactured-on-demand DVDs without any significant bonus features or frills). Viewed some 70 years after its initial release, the film does not seem a career-killing disaster or a hidden gem. Rather, Two-Faced Woman is simply a middle-of-the-road screwball comedy that offers some charming moments but doesn't quite work.

Douglas plays Larry Blake, a wealthy businessman enjoying a ski vacation. When Larry meets his beautiful ski instructor Karin (Garbo) for the first time, it's love at first sight. He marries her within a matter of days and declares that he's going to quit his job and spend the rest of his life on an endless vacation of love. Alas, after a short time Larry starts to get restless, as his attraction to Karin starts to grow less powerful than his love for his work. When Larry decides to head back to New York, Karin refuses to go along, insisting that Larry is breaking his promise.

After a few days, Karin decides she's being unreasonable and that she's going to visit her husband in New York. When she arrives, she hits upon an idea that will allow her to test the strength of her marriage with Larry: Karin will pretend to be her twin sister Katherine. While Karin is a brash, bold, outdoorsy type, Katherine is a sultry siren. "I'm partial to the indoor life," Katherine tells Larry suggestively, sending the businessman into a very conflicted state. Though he still feels a sense of loyalty to his wife, he's wildly attracted to Katherine. So begins a lengthy, peculiar game of love and seduction.

The idea is admittedly a rather silly one, and the film works alternately better and worse than you expect it to. Once you accept the idea that anyone would actually buy that Katherine isn't Karin (more than a little difficult to do, to be sure), the film offers a series of playfully enjoyable moments. The scenes of attempted seduction are highlights due to both the screenplay's clever dialogue and their slightly subversive nature (the scenes are certainly a good deal more brazen than usual for films of the era). Douglas and Garbo seem to be having a good time and have some charming chemistry together.

Even so, the "dual role" seems just a little much for the esteemed lead actress. We're supposed to believe that Karin and Katherine are vastly different people, but Garbo's range is too narrow to achieve this. Karin and Katherine are the same person in entirely too many ways, and Garbo seems less than confident with the screenplay's screwball rhythms. Timing is a problem for just about everyone, as Cukor's direction never seems to be moving at quite the same speed as the screenplay. The ski sequences are almost embarrassingly laughable even by 1941's standards, as the use of rear projection and painfully obvious stunt doubles serve as significant distractions. The ski chase climax feels like a clumsy way to end the movie too, as if the filmmakers are desperate to serve up some last minute excitement in a film which has grown rather languid.

The DVD transfer isn't anything special, but it gets the job done. There are quite a few scratches and flecks present throughout, but the level of detail is okay when the filmmakers aren't employing extreme softness (pretty much anytime Garbo gets a close-up). The audio is sturdy, though dialogue can be rather quiet in comparison to the music. The only extra on the disc is a theatrical trailer.

Aficionados of Garbo, Cukor, or screwball comedy may want to give this one a look, but I can't recommend that the average viewer spend twenty bucks on Two-Faced Woman. It's a pleasant diversion at best and a misguided failure at worst.

The Verdict


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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 73

Perp Profile

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
• None
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 1941
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Classic
• Comedy
• Romance
• Romantic Comedies

Distinguishing Marks

• Trailer


• IMDb

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