Woman of Affairs, A (1928): Clarence Brown’s Romantic Drama, Starring Grabo and John Gilbert (Scandal, Drugs, Censorship)

Clarence Brown, Garbo’s favorite director, helmed the romantic melodrama A Woman of Affairs, starring John Gilbert, the actress’ offscreen lover at the time.

A Woman of Affairs
A Woman of Affairs (1928).jpg

Film poster

The movie was based on the “scandalous” 1924 best-selling novel by Michael Arlen, The Green Hat, which he had adapted into a play in 1925.

To remove any literary associations–and to please the censors–MGM changed the title and the characters.

The script, which was Oscar nominated for the Best Writing, eliminated all references to heroin use, homosexuality and syphilis.

Diana Merrick (Greta Garbo), Neville (John Gilbert) and David (Johnny Mack Brown) were playmates as children, members of the rich British aristocracy. Diana and Neville are in love, but his father (Hobart Bosworth) opposes the match, and Neville is sent to Egypt for business purposes.

After waiting for two years for Neville’s return, Diana marries David, who is good friends with her brother Jeffry (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.).

During honeymoon to Paris, David commits suicide without an explanation. Jeffry, who was deeply connected to David, blames his sister for his friend’s death; he sinks alcoholism, and she begins a reckless life.

Years later, Neville returns to England to marry Constance (Dorothy Sebastian). Jeffry is now gravely ill, and Diana brings family friend Dr. Trevelyan to treat him.

Upon remeeting, Diana and Neville realize that they are still in love, and spend the night together, during which Jeffry dies. Days later, Neville marries Constance.

Diana falls ill (in the script she suffers a miscarriage) and is visited by Neville. Diana professes her love for him before realizing that Constance is present.

Truth is revealed about David’s suicide–he was a thief, pursued by the police. Diana, realizing that her love will ruin Neville, drives her car into the same tree, where they had fallen in love.

In the popular novel on which the film was based, The Green Hat, David commits suicide because he suffers from syphilis, not because of criminal past. This critical plot element was excised during scripting by the Hays Commission.


Oscar Context

The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing, for Michael Arlen and Bess Meredyth’s script.

Commercial Appeal

Made on a budget of $328,000, the film was one of year’s top hits, earning $1,370.000 ($850,000 in the U.S. and $520,000 abroad).

Greta Garbo – Diana Merrick Furness
John Gilbert – Neville “Nevs” Holderness
Lewis Stone – Dr. Hugh Trevelyan
Johnny Mack Brown – David Furness (as John Mack Brown)
Douglas Fairbanks Jr. – Jeffry Merrick
Hobart Bosworth – Sir Morton Holderness
Dorothy Sebastian – Constance


Directed by Clarence Brown
Written by Michael Arlen, Bess Meredyth
Cinematography William H. Daniels
Distributed by MGM

Release date: December 15, 1928

Running time: different versions, 91; 92 and 98 mins
Budget $328,687.77
Box office $1,370,000


In 1934, MGM remade the film starring Constance Bennett, retitling it Outcast Lady.