Anna Karenina (1935): Garbo Shines in Brown’s Version of Tolstoy’s Novel, Co-Starring Fredric March

Clarence Brown directed Anna Karenina, a lush film adaptation of the 1877 novel by Leo Tolstoy, starring Greta Garbo, Fredric March, Basil Rathbone, and Maureen O’Sullivan.

Anna Karenina (Greta Garbo) is the wife of Czarist official Karenin (Basil Rathbone). While she tries to persuade her brother Stiva (Reginald Owen) from a life of debauchery, she becomes infatuated with dashing military officer Count Vronsky (Fredric March). This indiscreet liaison ruins her marriage and position in 19th century Russian society; she is even prohibited from seeing her own son Sergei (Freddie Bartholomew), with eventual dire results.

Garbo also was the lead in the 1927 version of Anna Karenina, released under the title Love.

Scenes and Lines to Remember

In one of many arguments, Anna Karenina tells Count Vronsky: “I Face the truth.” When he asks, “What truth?” She responds: “That one day I shall find myself alone.”

Karenina’s illicit affair is described in terms of “the sanctity of the home, the moral effect on children, on the public.”

The scene at the opera, which Karenina insists on attending with Vronsky (“we have ben too much alone”), turns out to be disastrous, just as Vronsky had predicted, and she becomes the subject of gossip, ridicule and ostracizing.

In the very last scene, Count Vronsky, all alone is guild ridden, is talking about how Karenina begged for sympathy, which he could not give her. “I feel guilty, I just kept silence.”

At the train station, Krenina looks intensely at the approaching train, and through cuts between the train’s wheels and Garb’s face, we get the notion of how she is about to take her life by throwing herself at the rails (which we don’t actually see, just hear).

Told that she is “forgotten and forgiven,” Vronsky stares defiantly at her framed portrait, which is the very last image of the film.

Critical Status

In New York, the film opened at the Capitol Theatre, the site prestigious MGM premieres. The film earned $2,304,000 at the box office, and won the Mussolini Cup for best foreign film at the Venice Film Festival.

Garbo received a New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress for her role as Anna.

The film was ranked #42 on the American Film Institute’s list of AFI’s 100 Years…100 Passions.

Original Reviews

Writing for The Spectator in 1935, Graham Greene made much of Greta Garbo’s powerful and theatrical acting in the film, noting that “it is Garbo’s personality which ‘makes’ this film, which fills the mold of the neat respectful adaptation with some kind of sense of the greatness of the novel”. Greene found that the pathos that Garbo’s acting brings to the picture overwhelms the acting of all supporting cast save that of Basil Rathbone.

Helen Brown Norden from Vanity Fair wrote “Against the glittering background, these people move to their inevitable doom. There seems more of anguish and more of somber depth in this version than there was in the old silent film (with Garbo and John Gilbert). Garbo still with that remote look of ]the implacable Aphrodite’ on her face acts with a dignity and a bitter passion which reach a mature climax in the final scene.”

Greta Garbo as Anna Karenina
Fredric March as Count Vronsky
Freddie Bartholomew as Sergei
Maureen O’Sullivan as Kitty
May Robson as Countess Vronsky
Basil Rathbone as Karenin
Reginald Owen as Stiva
Phoebe Foster as Dolly
Reginald Denny as Yashvin
Gyles Isham as Levin
Joan Marsh as Lili
Ethel Griffies as Mme. Kartasov
Harry Beresford as Matve
Cora Sue Collins as Tania
Buster Phelps as Grisha
Mary Forbes as Princess Sorokina
Harry Allen as Cord
Sarah Padden as Governess
Mischa Auer as Mahotin (uncredited)
Harry Cording as Officer (uncredited)
Olaf Hytten as Butler (uncredited)


There are several other film adaptations of the novel, but this is by far the best one.