Mata Hari (1932)





Director:    George Fitzmaurice

Starring:    Greta Garbo, Ramon Novarro, Lionel Barrymore, Lewis Stone, C. Henry Gordon, Karen Morley

Mata Hari (Greta Garbo) as the spy for the Germans trying to get secrets out of Ramon Navarro and Lewis Stone.  



I was a little bit disappointed by the film.  The real Mata Hari was truly exotic looking, a woman who could pass herself off as a Javenese Dancer.  Greta Garbo (although beautiful) just is not my idea of exotic.  And I just had to laugh at the outfits they made this poor woman wear.  She was a combination of Art-Deco and flapper.  And the dance they made her do was also laughable. They call that sexy?  Boy, we have made a lot of progress since those very sexually repressed days. 

One learns very little about the real Mata Hari.  What made her tick?  Why would she risk execution by becoming a spy?  Or was she even a spy?

Instead, the movie presents a love story.  Garbo is getting information from a Russian general played by Lionel Barrymore.  A young Russian officer (played by Ramon Novarro with a Spanish accent) serves as a courier and is caught up in the spy affair.  Garbo rejects the love entreaties of Novarro, but when she learns he is a courier, she starts to work the innocent man.  While going through the motions with Novarro, Garbo falls in love. 

I thought that the script did not give Garbo much with which to work.  But, once in prison, she really shines with a great range of emotions. 

The movie is o.k.  I had seen the great Garbo earlier, while watching historical films for this website, so I already had that pleasure.  But it was a treat to see and hear Ramon Novarro, who I had read a lot about, but had never seen.  So, if you like love stories, go for it, but I think the real Mata Hari was a lot more interesting than this movie.     

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:


1876 -- born Gertrud Margarete Zelle, Dutch in Leeuwarden; educated in a convent

1894 -- marries Campbell MacLeod, a British-born captain of the Dutch army, at 18 years of age; lives briefly on the island of Java, in what was then the Dutch East Indies.

189? -- divorces; settles in Paris.

1900 -- about this time, she performs as erotic dancer for private gatherings under the name Javanese Dancer.

1907 -- becomes a spy for Germany, attending a school for espionage in Lörrach; gains important information from her liaisons with high-ranking Allied officers.

1917 (January)  the German military attach in Madrid transmitted radio messages to Berlin.  In these, he described in some details the work of a German spy, code-named H-21. French intelligence agents recognized H-21 as Mata Hari.

The German messages were a bit suspect because German intelligence used a code they knew the French had already broken.  Some have speculated that the Germans did this deliberately, so that, in the event that she was working for the French, French intelligence would identify her as a double agent and execute or assassinate her. 

1917  (February 13)  --  she is arrested for espionage at her hotel in Paris.

1917 -- is convicted by the French of being a spy and executed in October.


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