Love is certainly a poor translation of the title of Anna Karenina. It would be natural to suppose that the rest of famed Leo Tolstoi's novel would suffer similarly; that it does not, is due in part to the direction of Edmund Goulding and in even larger part to the acting of Greta Garbo.
The story definitely follows the outlines of what has been called "greatest novel in the world." Anna Karenina meets Count Vronsky one snowy day, has an affair with him that reaches its climax when she leaves her husband and its conclusion when she accepts a defeat (which is totally inevitable) by stepping in front of a fast train. That any film producer should begin by calling his picture Love and end it with this necessary but cinematically unconventional tragedy is only one of the many contradictions, which in their sum, make this one of the most striking adaptations yet effected.
There are four moments upon which the focus of the story falls: the snowstorm in which, after an accident to her sleigh, Anna meets Count Vronsky; the steeplechase in which he rides with the gay officers of his regiment; the moment when Anna Karenina, after she has gone away with her lover, creeps into the bedroom where her son is asleep; and the moment when, a vague figure in veils, she vanishes as silently as a bird's wing in the brightness of a locomotive's headlight.
These moments belong mostly to Swedish Greta Garbo whose beauty infuses the picture with a cold white glow; John Gilbert as Vronsky is too frequently exposed to a highly approximate lens, he is too willing to act only with his teeth or his hair, to duplicate the excellence of his performance in The Big Parade. But his inadequacies are minor and partly made evident by contrast. Good handling of minor parts by George Fawcett, Brandon Hurst, Emily Fitzroy and Philippe de Lacy, intelligent photography, brilliant direction are enough for any picture that includes such a performance as that supplied by Actress Garbo. The Wreck of the Hesperus, Longfellow's famed poem in its apparently rapid journey through the studios to the screen, has acquired a hero, a horse and a happy ending. The last is effected when the horse, with some aid from the hero, drags the girl from the sea. The skipper (who lashed his daughter to the mast), is the only member of the cast who drowns. The performances supplied by Frank Marion as the hero and Virginia Bradford as the girl are not nearly so convincing as the realistic energy contributed by wind and wave.
Very Confidential is designed to show that if Madge Bellamy were a shopgirl she could go to a fashion resort and make another girl's fiance fall in love with her. The picture would have been more creditable had Actress Bellamy been instructed to control her belligerent coyness.