Thursday, July 11, 2013


Director: Geoge Cukor
Starring: Greta Garbo, Robert Taylor, Henry Daniell

I’m going to show my hand awfully early in this review and come right out and say I can’t be bothered to give two shits about this movie.  Camille is certainly not a bad film, but jesus christ, I don’t care.  I don’t care in the slightest.

Setting the standards for all future Nicholas Sparks novels, Camille tells the story of Marguerite (Garbo), a beautiful but sickly Parisian socialite/courtesan who gets through life by charming the pants and money out of men.  One night at the theater, she meets two new men.  Duval (Daniell) is wealthy but pompous.  Armand (Taylor) is poor but kind.  Guess which one she falls for, guess which one gets jealous and dangerous, and guess what her insistent coughing eventually means.  You guessed, good for you, get a cookie.

I know that this is a classic romance, and I know that to many people, Camille is desperately romantic.  I love romances, I do, and I definitely have the occasional mood where I want to do nothing but watch costume dramas for three days straight, but my taste in such films is not quite typical.  I find Camille so terrifically melodramatic, so soppy, so utterly predictable, and yet so tepid, that I just don’t care.  It reminds me of one of my favorite lines from Gilmore Girls, when Lorelai, commenting on Luke’s insensitivity about something or other, says, “This from the man who said ‘Finally!’ at the end of Love Story.”  That’s me; I am that person who says “Finally!” at the end of any kind of predictable shmoopy weepy romance.  It’s kind of sad, but I actually got excited when Marguerite (nicknamed Camille because of her love of the camellia flower) started coughing and getting markedly weaker, because that means the end can’t be too far away.


The dialogue is inane.  Such ridiculous platitudes of love; if my husband started spewing this kind of flowery language at me, I’d think he was high on meth or something.  The soundtrack during these ridiculous exchanges just makes them even more over the top, full of glissando strings that whine and cry and just make everything worse.  Yes, this was the style of the time, but it doesn’t help me believe the stupidity being spoken.  And not helping things along is the fact that I don’t believe a single word out of any of the characters’ mouths.  There is so much fake sincerity in this film, it’s painful.  A part of the reason for this is the world that Marguerite inhabits at the beginning of the film is built on such insincerity.  We spend at least half an hour ensconced in this world of frills and frosting and fake declarations.  We see Marguerite roll her eyes at Armand – yes, roll her eyes – when he tells her pretty much right away that he loves her.  We see her laugh and giggle and purposely lead on Duval.  We see her friends who, amazingly enough, are twice as bad as she is.  So I have trouble buying the transition from superficiality to honest to god emotion. 

I feel the same way, Greta.  I feel the same way.

At this point, I’ll say again that I do actually enjoy romances.  What I need in order to enjoy a romance is some sort of spark or heat; chemistry, in other words.  I want to feel that feeling in my stomach, that feeling of the thrill of romance, of excitement.  My favorite romances make me feel this way, and I never felt a single jolt of this with Camille.  Not one iota of chemistry or excitement or that spark in my stomach.  No tension, no fun, no nothing.  Just pure tedium watching the wholly expected story play out in front of me.

My favorite part of the film – yes, I did have one, amazingly enough – was the costumes.  The gowns are gorgeous, even when shot in black and white.  There is such elegance, such luxury, and, when necessary, such ridiculous excesses (a bird dress makes an appearance at one point) that it’s quite a marvel.  I couldn’t get enough of Garbo in a clean white satin off-shouldered gown.  It was absolutely stunning.  Next scene, she’s swathed in black sequins and lace, and again, stunning.  If nothing else, I enjoyed watching everyone in this movie, even if the story and dialogue and characterization was more than a little wanting.  Maybe if I have to watch this in the future I’ll just put it on mute.

This gown was my favorite.

I know this is a classic Greta Garbo performance, and I suppose she does a good job.  I just… don’t care.  You could have the finest performance in the world, but if it’s as the tragic romantic heroine of the latest Nicholas Sparks adaptation, I’ll avoid it like the plague. 

I don’t know what else to write.  I’m coming up a few hundred words short on this particular film, but I don’t care.  I can’t think of anything else to say.  So utterly and completely not for me, yet at the end of the day, I recognize why many enjoy this kind of “romantic” escapism.  Despite me railing against it here, I know that this is mostly due to my personal taste in romance.  Really, Camille is a perfectly acceptable film.  It’s just not for me.

Arbitrary Rating: 5/10.  I don’t care.


  1. So I had to resort to Internet Explorer since comments still aren't coming up using Chrome.

    Anyway, the basic problem with Camille is that it's a story told and retold and re-retold. Woman must choose between love and financial security. Yawn. It's a fine story when it's told well, but Camille isn't told particularly well. There's nothing wonderful about Camille the character--she's a flighty egotist who is crappy with money. She's not that appealing despite being Garbo. It's not any better when it was retold (retooled?) as Moulin Rouge.

    I'm fine with the basic plot, but dammit, I want something more than Garbo gently succumbing to illness while men pine for her. When three drips act like drips, I don't care about the resolution.

    1. Retold/retooled as Moulin Rouge - yes, very much.

      Drips. God, yes. they're such drips. And the women who constantly flutter around Camille are also drips. I am filled with violent amounts of not caring when I watch this movie.

      I've never really gone in for this type of a story. As I mentioned on FB, I think the plot is easily the most mundane part of Moulin Rouge, which is a film I very much want to like because Baz Luhrmann has balls. But... the story? Meh.

  2. Spot on, Siobhan! I will have to see this one again soon (groan) and write some comment, but you have just saved me the trouble. I will just have to copy your review :-).
    Really, you said it all. Only thing I could add is that my main issue is that Garbo seem totally unfit for this role. She is a strong woman and the character is weak. Really weird and odd.

    1. It's honestly a bit funny to me to discover that I am not alone in my feelings for this film. I mean, Camille is (apparently) a "classic Hollywood romance," and yet in this small circle of film bloggers, I already have two votes on my side.

      Again, I don't think that Camille is an awful film - it works, it's coherent, it moves from point A to point B with no major missteps - it's just SO not my thing.

      I really like your point about Garbo being too strong to play wishy washy Camille. Maybe part of my overwhelming ambivalence was in response to that sort of a mismatched casting.