Camille (1936 film)

Camille is a 1936 American romantic drama film from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer directed by George Cukor, and produced by Irving Thalberg and Bernard H. Hyman, from a screenplay by James Hilton, Zoë Akins, and Frances Marion.[3] The picture is based on the 1848 novel and 1852 play, La Dame aux Camélias, by Alexandre Dumas, fils. The film stars Greta Garbo, Robert Taylor, Lionel Barrymore, Elizabeth Allan, Jessie Ralph, Henry Daniell, and Laura Hope Crews. It grossed $2,842,000.[1]

Theatrical Poster
Directed byGeorge Cukor
Produced byIrving Thalberg
Bernard H. Hyman
Written byJames Hilton
Zoë Akins
Frances Marion
Based onLa Dame aux Camélias by Alexandre Dumas, fils
StarringGreta Garbo
Robert Taylor
Lionel Barrymore
Music byHerbert Stothart
Edward Ward
CinematographyWilliam H. Daniels
Karl Freund
Edited byMargaret Booth
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
December 12, 1936 (1936-12-12)
Running time
109 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$2,842,000[2]

The film inspired Milton Benjamin to write and publish a song called "I'll Love Like Robert Taylor, Be My Greta Garbo". Camille was included in Time Magazine's All-Time 100 Movies in 2005.[4] It was also included at #33 in AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions.


The film tells of Marguerite Gautier (Greta Garbo). She's born into a lower-class family, but in time becomes well known, living in high society in Paris.

Marguerite's financial needs are covered by the wealthy Baron de Varville (Henry Daniell), but after many years of making money from her looks, she falls in love with Armand (Robert Taylor), a handsome young man.

Armand loves Marguerite, and she's prepared to give up the Baron and be with Armand.

However, Armand's father (Lionel Barrymore) begs Marguerite to turn away from his son, knowing her past will ruin his future in Paris.

Realizing the painful wisdom of his advice, Marguerite rejects Armand, who continues to pursue her even as she contracts a serious case of tuberculosis. The film ends with Marguerite's tragic death in the arms of her suitor Armand, who has been much changed over the course of the film.



According to a news item in Daily Variety, M.G.M had considered changing the setting of the famous Alexandre Dumas, fils., story to modern times.[5]

The film was not changed to modern times, but Thalberg wanted the film to have a more contemporary feeling than earlier Camilles. He wanted audiences to forget that they were watching a "costume" picture. He also felt that morality had changed since the earlier Camilles, and the fact that Marguerite was a prostitute was not as shameful anymore; so, Garbo's character became more likeable than in previous productions. The modernization of the story proved to be successful.[6]

While filming Marguerite's death scene, Robert Taylor brought his phonograph to Garbo's dressing room so that she could play Paul Robeson records to put her in the mood.

In the words of Camille Director George Cukor, "My mother had just died, and I had been there during her last conscious moments. I suppose I had a special awareness. I may have passed something on to Garbo without realizing it." Garbo later praised Cukor's sensitivity: "Cukor gave me direction as to how to hold my hands", said Garbo. "He had seen how, when his mother lay dying, she folded her hands and just fell asleep."

While producing Camille, producer Irving Thalberg died. After filming was ended, and post-production began, Louis B. Mayer assigned Bernard Hyman as the film's new producer. Hyman arranged re-takes, cut some scenes, or edited scenes from the original Thalberg produced film. It is not exactly known which scenes were edited or cut.

The famous death scene we see is not the original version from the first version of the film. In the original version, Garbo died on the bed, had more text to say, and folded her hands before she died. This original death scene is lost. Cukor thought that it didn't really feel very natural talking that much when you are about to die; so, Garbo's last scene was re-written and re-shot three times. In the first and second alternative endings, Garbo was on the deathbed, with less words to say, but they still weren't satisfied. They thought it seemed unreal for a dying woman to talk so much. In the third alternative ending, Garbo had to be even quieter, and just slowly slipped away in Robert Taylor's arms.[7]

The 1936 production of Camille was the eighty-fourth anniversary of its original stage presentation in Paris in 1852. It was also far from new to the films, since it was done once in 1915, twice in 1917, again in 1921 with Nazimova and Rudolph Valentino, and last in 1927 with Norma Talmadge.[8]

News items in Daily Variety and Hollywood Reporter on Jul. 25, 1936, note that John Barrymore was originally cast in the role of "Baron de Varville", but a bout of pneumonia prevented him from working on the picture. Barrymore's brother Lionel was scheduled to replace John in the role; however, a few days later, it was reported that a change in casting resulted in Lionel Barrymore's assignment to the role of "Monsieur Duval", and Henry Daniell's assignment to "Baron de Varville". Photographer William Daniels is mistakenly listed as a cast member in early Hollywood Reporter production charts. Camille marked the screen debut of actress Joan Leslie, who appeared under her real name, Joan Brodel.[5]



The "Selling Angles" section in BoxOffice Magazine, Dec. 26, 1936, suggested tips for selling Camille. Theatre managers were advised to make a display of some of the famous Camilles of past decades, including Garbo as the latest to join the list of immortal actresses; have local florists stage a "Camille Show"; find old reviews from metropolitan daily papers' back files and run them in conjunction with reviews of the modern film story; and print throwaways in the style of the old "Gas Light Era" programs. The suggested best "Catchlines" for selling Camille, according to BoxOffice, were:

  • "Her love was like a great flame…burning…scorching…withering…and when the flame died, she no longer cared to live."
  • "Her destiny was to be loved…but not to love…until she met the man who was to change that destiny."
  • "Again…Dumas' classic love tale...with the screen's most dramatic love team – Garbo and Taylor."[9]


Camille had its grand premiere on December 12, 1936, at the brand new Plaza Theatre in Palm Springs, California. Many celebrities attended the gala which cost ten dollars a seat. The little desert resort of Palm Springs was turned upside down with all the commotion of the film's premiere. Some of the film was actually buried in stone to commemorate the celebration. Ralph Bellamy, who was a leading civic figure and Racquet Club owner in Palm Springs, was master of ceremonies. Rumors were spread that Greta Garbo was staying at the desert resort and would attend the premiere, but these rumors proved to be unfounded. The reclusive Garbo remained that way.[10]

At the gala premiere, Camille was given an enthusiastic reception; the critics praised it as the finest performance ever given by Greta Garbo, Robert Taylor, Lionel Barrymore, and Lauren Hope Crews, and the best work by Director George Cukor. The enthusiasm accorded the picture was seen as a tribute to the genius of the late Irving G. Thalberg, who conceived of, and was responsible for, the production. The 37-year-old Thalberg died just prior to the film's release.[11]

Box office

According to MGM records, the film earned $1,154,000 in the US and Canada, and $1,688,000 elsewhere, resulting in a profit of $388,000.[2]

Critical response

Camille has been well received by critics since its release, and the role of Marguerite is generally regarded as Greta Garbo's finest screen performance. Camille is often named as a highlight among 1936 films. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports 91% approval among 11 critics.[12]

On watching a scene in the film where Garbo is at a theatre, Thalberg said: "George, she's awfully good. I don't think I've ever seen her so good." "But Irving", said Cukor, "she's just sitting in an Opera Box." "She's relaxed", said Thalberg. "She's open. She seems unguarded for once." Garbo's new attitude prompted Thalberg to have the script reworked. "She is a fascinating artist, but she is limited", Thalberg told the new writers. "She must never create situations. She must be thrust into them. The drama comes in how she rides them out."[6]




  • Academy Awards: Oscar; Best Actress in a Leading Role, Greta Garbo; 1937.

Cultural references

  • In the 1982 musical film Annie, the film is both seen and referenced to. A portion of the film is seen after the number "Let's Go to the Movies". With the 1957 current logo of MGM Logo. The final scene is also alluded to in the lyrics of the song: "Greta Garbo is probably crying/While Robert Taylor is locked in her dying embrace."
    • Margaret Booth (1898–2002) was the editor for Camille and also the supervising editor for Annie 45 years later.
  • On the series premiere of The Lucy Show in 1962, the Carmichael and Bagley families are going to see the film on television. Lucy Carmichael (Lucille Ball) attempts to use the film's television airing to keep her daughter Chris (Candy Moore) from going on a date, much to the annoyance of her friend/roommate Vivian Bagley (Vivian Vance).
  • In the lyrics of "How Can Love Survive", from the Broadway production of The Sound of Music, there is a reference to Camille: "I cannot die like Camille for you."


  1. "Box office / business for Camille (1969)". Retrieved 2009-08-08.
  2. The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
  3. Camille on IMDb.
  4. Time magazine.
  5. "American Film Institute". American Film Institute.
  6. Vieira, Mark (2009). Irving Thalberg: Boy Wonder to Producer Prince. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press.
  7. "George Cukor About Camille". Garbo Forever.
  8. New York Evening Journal. December 29, 1936. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  9. "Exploitips". BoxOffice. December 26, 1936.
  10. "Hollywood High Lights". Picture Play Magazine: 66. December 1936.
  11. "Garbo Film Has Showing in The West". The World-Telegram. December 14, 1936.
  12. "Camille (1936) on RT". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved September 6, 2015.

See also

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