Anna Christie (1930): Garbo’s First Talkie

typcgo7zhxqAnna Christie is Garbo’s first talkie, based on Eugene O’Neill’s noted play, adapted to the screen by Frances Marion and helmed by Clarence Brown, who became the star’s most frequent director.

Anna runs away from the farm that her sailor father, Chris Christofferson (George F. Marion Sr.), left her and moves to the city.   Garbo was cast in what became a characteristic role, a down-on-her-luck, suffering heroine, here as a waterfront prostitute, a fact that MGM went out of its way to conceal.  Garbo’s love interest Matt Burke is played by Charles Bickford in a rather unconvincing manner.

ngz0xhtk0fpEven by standards of early talkies, Anna Christie was technically primitive, and it doesn’t help that Brown’s mise-en-scene is too stagy, betraying the origins of the source material.

This was the second screen version of O’Neill’s powerhouse play; the first was a silent film starring Blanche Sweet and William Russell.

MGM advertised the movie as “Garbo Talks!” which turned the film into a box-office hit.

Garbo’s first spoken lines on screen are addressed to a bartender: “Gimme a viskey. Giner ale on the side, and don’t be stingy, baby.”

The critical response was just as enthusiastic as that of the viewers.  The Herald Tribune praised Garbo’s voice as a “deep, husky, throaty contralto that possesses every bit of that fabulous, poetic glamour that has made this distant Swedish lady the outstanding performer of the motion picture.”

Oscar Nominations:

At Oscar time, the film received three Oscar Nominations: Best Actress for Garbo,  Best Director for Clarence Brown, and Cinematography for William Daniels.

Oscar Context

The winner of the Best Actress Oscar was Norma Shearer for “The Divorcee,” also an MGM picture.


Greta Garbo as Anna Christie
Charles Bickford as Matt Burke
George F. Marion as Chris Christofferson
Marie Dressler as Marthy Owens
James T. Mack as Johnny, the Harp
Lee Phelps as Larry