The Kiss (1929 film)
The Kiss is a 1929 American silent drama film directed by Jacques Feyder and starring Greta Garbo, Conrad Nagel and Lew Ayres in his first feature film. Based on a short story by George M. Saville, The Kiss bears the same title as the 1896 short that "shocked" the American public by being the first motion picture to depict a couple kissing. This 1929 production is notable itself for being the last major silent film released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) and the final silent performances by both Garbo and Conrad Nagel included the entire cast. Actually, this film is not entirely silent. MGM did take partial advantage of the new sound technology and released The Kiss with an orchestral score and sound effects recorded by the Movietone system.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Jacques Feyder|
|Produced by||Irving Thalberg|
|Screenplay by||Hanns Kräly|
|Story by||George M. Saville|
|Edited by||Ben Lewis|
|November 16, 1929|
The story is set in 1929 France and begins inside a museum in Lyons. There two lovers—Irene (Greta Garbo) and André (Conrad Nagel)—feign interest in artwork as they discuss their clandestine romance. Irene is a young woman unhappily married to Charles (Anders Randolf), a wealthy much-older businessman, whose company teeters near bankruptcy. André is a successful lawyer, unmarried, close to Irene's age, and determined to face Charles and profess his love for his wife. Despite being trapped in a loveless marriage, Irene fears her husband's violent temper and his reaction if André were to confront him. "He's madly jealous", she tells André, and insists that her situation is hopelessly bound by "convention". After she and André kiss, she leaves the museum, determined never to see her true love again.
Meanwhile, at her home, Irene's suspicious husband reviews her daily activities with a private investigator he hired to follow her. The investigator only reports that she went to a local dog show and had an innocent encounter with Pierre (Lew Ayres), the 18-year-old son of one of Charles’ business associates. Later, Irene and Charles attend a large formal dinner party. She is surprised to see André, who arrives alone and sits at the dinner table across from her dour husband. Young Pierre is at the party too, and his father informs Irene that his college-bound boy is "quite mad" about her. André and Irene do manage to meet briefly in a nearby garden, where André tells her he is moving to Paris and came to the party to see her one last time. They again express their love, kiss passionately, and part, both resolved their affair has ended. Irene then returns to the party to dance with lovestruck Pierre.
The following day, after a tennis match at his parents' estate, Pierre confesses his love to Irene while Charles meets with Pierre's father to discuss his failing business and need for money. Back at the tennis courts, Irene is touched by Pierre's confession but makes light of his ardor, referring to him as "only a young boy". She agrees, however, to give him a photograph of herself that he can take to college. Pierre the next evening visits Irene's home to get the promised photo, and as he leaves he requests a small goodbye kiss. Irene hesitates but gives him a short kiss, which incites Pierre to grab her and press for a more intense one. Returning home, Charles sees their follow-up kiss, storms into the room, and begins to beat Pierre mercilessly. As her husband pursues the college boy into another room, Irene pleads with him to stop his assault, but he continues to batter Pierre. The room's door closes; a muffled gunshot is heard. Charles dies.
Irene killed her husband to save Pierre, but before authorities are summoned, she alters the scene and timeline of the crime. To protect Pierre's reputation and herself, she tells the police her depressed husband committed suicide due to his dire finances. Investigators doubt her story and Irene is indicted for murder, prompting André to return to Lyon to defend his ex-lover. During the trial she repeatedly assures André that her husband killed himself. Courtroom testimony by Pierre's father about Charles’ impending bankruptcy and "utter despair", along with André's heartfelt declarations of Irene's innocence, convince the jury to acquit her. In the court area after the verdict, a smug Pierre tells Irene that her love for him compelled her to kill Charles; but he quickly realizes that André is her true love. Guilt-ridden for lying to André, Irene divulges the truth to him. Stunned, he sits and cradles his head in his hands, quietly reassessing his feelings. Believing she has destroyed her relationship with André, Irene is relieved when he finally stands and reaffirms his love for her. The film ends with them kissing just as three old cleaning women enter the room and announce they "have come to clean the Court".
- During casting for The Kiss, Garbo recommended Nils Asther for the role as her lover André. Asther had been born in Denmark but, like Garbo, had grown up in Sweden, an association with the actress that only enhanced his reputation as "the male Greta Garbo" in the film industry and among movie fans. In addition, he had already costarred with her in two of MGM's recent film successes and was still under contract with the studio. Nevertheless, despite those apparent advantages held by Asther and Garbo's strong support for him to join the cast, the part was assigned to Conrad Nagel.
- By early September 1929, The Kiss was already being filmed at MGM, although the studio had yet to announce publicly a title for the production. According to the trade paper The Film Daily, a dozen feature films were simultaneously under way at that time at MGM. All but one were "talkers". "The only silent picture being filmed", reported The Film Daily, "is Greta Garbo’s new untitled European romance now being directed by Jacques Feyder".
- The visually striking Art Déco interior sets in The Kiss were designed by legendary MGM art director and production designer Cedric Gibbons. Gibbons' bold, high-fashion sets in the film were intended to emphasize the French style and serve as "vital elements" in the production, especially in a silent offering like The Kiss, which had to compete at its release with many other motion pictures that featured the new "exciting" element of recorded dialog.
Most film critics gave very positive reviews of The Kiss in 1929, a year in which American motion pictures were continuing their transition from the last major silent productions to the release of more and more "talkers". The popular trade weekly Variety alluded to that transition in its 1929 review of The Kiss, contending that the film would have likely suffered in quality if it had been released with recorded dialog. The New York-based entertainment publication felt that both Garbo's performance and her physical appearance in the film were actually enhanced by its silent format:
"The Kiss", with an unusual taste exhibited in casting and direction, is entertainment of the holding kind. And it is one of Miss Garbo's best, without stretching the elastic of kindness. Though this is silent it may be stronger that way than with dialog...Few actresses could weather the series of close-ups required of Miss Garbo in this one. In each she registers an individual perfection. The series proves her biggest asset is her naturalness.
Film critic Mordaunt Hall of The New York Times even referred to the presence of The Kiss among all the new talking pictures in late 1929 as "Golden silence" and a demonstration of Fedyer's "consummate artistry" with a non-talker. "Miss Garbo", observed Hall, "once again reveals her extraordinary talent for screen acting, and under M. Fedyer's guidance she is if anything more impressive than she has been in other films." The Film Daily—widely read by studio personnel and theater owners—also described Garbo as "very alluring" and "exotic" in The Kiss; but that paper found the "sophisticated drama" lacking, especially the film's conclusion. "The subject matter", wrote The Film Daily, "is too tragic, and the ending not the type that the average fan looks for."
Released less than a month after the disastrous "crash" of the American stock market in 1929, The Kiss was not expected to do well financially by attracting sizeable crowds of filmgoers in that highly unstable economic time. The film, though, surprised studio executives by making a significant profit and becoming Garbo's second most successful silent picture, ranking only behind Flesh and the Devil with John Gilbert, which had been released three years earlier. In Atlanta, Georgia, for example, it was reported that during Thanksgiving week The Kiss "broke all existing house records for receipts at Loew's Capitol [Theatre]".
Even seven decades after its initial release, The Kiss has been recognized as one of the notable portrayals of romance in cinematic history. In 2002, the American Film Institute placed the MGM classic on its list of 400 nominations in its "100 Years/100 Passions" poll to determine "America's Greatest Love Stories". The movie enthusiasts or "jurors" who voted in that 2002 poll did not include The Kiss and various other silent productions in their final selection of 100 films. In fact, only four non-talkers—Way Down East (1920), Rudolph Valentino's The Sheik (1921), Sunrise (1927), and Charlie Chaplin's City Lights (1931)—were chosen for AFI's top-100 "Greatest Love Stories" list.
References and notes
- "The Kiss (1929)", film details, Turner Classic Movies (TCM), Turner Broadcasting System, a subsidiary of Time Warner, Inc., New York, N.Y. Retrieved August 29, 2018.
- "The Kiss (1929)", production details, American Film Institute (AFI), Los Angeles, California. Retrieved August 31, 2018.
- Walker, Alexander; Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (1980). Garbo: A Portrait. New York, N.Y.: Macmillan Publishing Company, October 1980, page 184.
- "The Kiss (1929)", production details Internet Movie Database (IMDb), Amazon, Seattle, Washington. Retrieved September 3, 2018.
- Dialog recorded and transcribed directly from intertitles in The Kiss, which was broadcast in its entirety on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) on August 28, 2018. Turner Broadcasting System, a subsidiary of Time Warner, Inc., New York, N.Y.
- Passafiume, Andrea. "Articles: The Kiss (1929)", Turner Classic Movies (TCM), Turner Broadcasting System, Time Warner, Inc., New York, N.Y. Retrieved September 3, 2018.
- "Nils Asther", The Hollywood Walk of Fame, Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, Los Angeles, California. Retrieved September 5, 2018.
- "12 Being Shot at M-G-M Studio", The Film Daily (New York, N.Y.), September 10, 1929, page 6, column 1. Internet Archive, San Francisco, California. Retrieved September 3, 2018.
- Edwards, Anne (2006). "Designing Films: The Art Déco Years", Architectural Digest, March 2006. Retrieved September 5, 2018.
- Sarkissian, Razmig (2013). "Silent to sound: A look back at a quiet revolution", archives of UCLA Today, January 28, 2013. University of California at Los Angeles. Retrieved September 2, 2018.
- "Waly." (1929). "The Kiss (Silent)", review, Variety (New York, N.Y.), November 20, 1929, page 30. Internet Archive. Retrieved September 2, 2018.
- Hall, Mordaunt (1932). "THE SCREEN; A Silent Miss Garbo", archives of The New York Times, November 16, 1929. Retrieved September 10, 2018.
- "The Kiss", review, The Film Daily (New York, N.Y.), November 17, 1929, page 9. Internet Archive. Retrieved September 2, 2018. The Film Daily in the heading of its review for The Kiss mistakingly labels the film an “All-Talker”.
- "'Kiss' Sets Record at Loew House in Atlanta", The Film Daily, December 9, 1929, page 4, column 3. Internet Archive. Retrieved September 5, 2018.
- "AFI’s 100 Years/100 Passions: America's Greatest Love Stories", list of 400 nominations, American Film Institute, Los Angeles, California, 2002. Retrieved September 2, 2018.
- "AFI's 100 GREATEST LOVE STORIES OF ALL TIME", list highlighted in the American television special "The AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions", originally broadcast on June 11, 2002, and hosted by Candice Bergen. AFI. Retrieved September 2, 2018.