Classic Film Guide

Woman of Affairs, A (1928) - full review!

Directed by Clarence Brown, this Michael Arlen story earned Bess Meredyth an Academy Award nomination for Best Writing, Achievement. The film is an above average Greta Garbo silent with John Gilbert, Lewis Stone, Johnny Mack Brown, and Douglas Fairbanks Jr., among others. The plot follows Diana (Garbo in the title role), the carefree daughter of the Merrick family and sister to Jeffry (Fairbanks Jr.), who grew up the childhood sweetheart of Neville Holderness (Gilbert). Anita Louise appears, uncredited, as the child Diana. Unfortunately for the young lovers, Neville's father, Sir Morton Holderness (Hobart Bosworth), disapproves of the "reckless" Merricks, so he sends his son abroad to prevent his further involvement with Diana. Later, Diana ends up marrying David Furness (Brown), who is not only Jeffry's best friend, but the man her brother idolizes most in the World. Lewis Stone plays Dr. Trevelyan, a friend of the Merricks.

Some years later, under a mountain of debt unknown to everyone but his wife Diana, the outwardly proper David kills himself to escape his creditors by jumping out a window. Apparently the police are satisfied with calling it an accidental death, but Jeffry and others suspect that Diana was to blame for her husband's death, especially when she spends the next several years on the arms of many wealthy, or otherwise "society paper worthy", escorts. Besides Diana, only Dr. Trevelyan knows the truth (fully revealed in the spoiler section below).

Of course, a reunion with Neville, now married to the beautiful Constance (Dorothy Sebastian) is inevitable. Their one night stand leads to an ill-fated pregnancy for Diana, and drinking by Neville. Constance, ironically, is curious about Diana's notoriety, and causes another reunion between the former lovers later herself. After the earlier loss of his friend & idol David, Jeffry descended into the depths of depression with drugs and/or alcohol, refusing to see the sister he blames as he takes his last breaths and dies in the presence of Dr. Trevelyan.

*** SPOILERS ***

But the title of this film does not mean what you think or, perhaps more precisely, is actually a double entendre. As it turns out, Diana had actually been settling her husband's affairs (e.g. his debts) over all these years such that, in the end, even Sir Holderness comes to respect her. Back within her presence (caused by Constance's aforementioned fascination), Neville is willing to chuck everything (e.g. his marriage) to be with her when Diana. But, out of respect for Constance, Diana leaves their home and drives recklessly towards a tree, killing herself. Dr. Trevelyan had revealed the secret of Furness’s debts to Neville and now the entire Holderness family mourns her death.

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