Classic Film Guide

Temptress, The (1926)

Greta Garbo plays the title role, a beautiful woman who destroys all who come in contact with her. The film boasts a brand new score, written by Michael Picton of New York, winner of TCM’s fifth annual Young Film Composers competition.

The film begins with Elena (Garbo) meeting and falling in love with Robledo (Antonio Moreno) at a masquerade ball in Paris. They spend the night together in a park, declaring their love for one another, he giving her a ring, before departing.  The next day, Robledo calls on a friend, the Marquis de Torre Bianca (Armand Caliz). Evidently, Robledo has been working in Argentina and had just returned to town. The Marquis introduces Robledo to his wife which, to his surprise, is Elena. He is disillusioned and upset. Wanting nothing more to do with her, he leaves.

Elena and the Marquis have been invited to a party, thrown in her honor, by a banker named Fontenoy (Marc McDermott). Seated around a large dinner table, Fontenoy (at the head of the table with Elena on his right) stands and proposes a toast. It will be his last, as he launches into a diatribe against Elena, labeling her a "temptress", blaming her for his financial ruin, he drains his glass (which he had previously filled with poison) and collapses on the table. Back at their home, the Marquis, who had encouraged his wife's affair with Fontenoy, informs Elena that he too is overwhelmed with debt. Distraught over the incident and the departure of Robledo, she empties her jewel box, giving all that she received from Fontenoy to the Marquis. Robledo arrives to comfort his friend and tell him that he is returning to Argentina. As he is leaving, Elena tries to convince him that she really does loves him, but he doesn't and departs.

When Robledo returns to Argentina, he receives a hardy reception from the whole town, especially associates Canterac (Lionel Barrymore) & Pirovani (Robert Anderson). We learn that these men have escaped their financial troubles, and women, back home by traveling to this remote country to spearhead the construction of a dam. Their efforts are being stalled by a local bandit Manos Duras (Roy D’Arcy) and his men.

Low and behold, the Marquis shows up to visit Robledo, and he has brought Elena. He tells Robledo he had no choice since she financed the trip. Elena dresses formally for dinner and every other occasion, showing up the local shoeless women and entrancing all the men. Manos, who observed her arrival, comes to Robledo’s one evening to serenade Elena. Though, up to this point, Robledo had shown nothing but disdain for her, he fights Manos to protect her honor. Even though they use whips, with which Manos is a master, Robledo wins. After which, alone with Elena as she tends to his wounds, Robledo denies that his actions were a sign that he loves her. And Manos, still seething from his loss in the fight, returns to shoot Robledo but kills the Marquis instead.

*** SPOILERS ***

Free from marriage, Elena has distracted the men. Robledo's associates Canterac & Pirovani have even forgotten about their women back home. One night, the town throws a party in her honor, during which Canterac kills Pirovani with his sword over Elena. Manos, who had not lost sight of the larger fight of stopping the foreigners from completing their project, chooses that night to dynamite the dam. There are some pretty good special effects, given the year of the film, and some exciting action sequences as Robledo and the men try to repair the damage before it floods. However, they are not successful and a tired, nearly drowned Robledo returns to find Elena. Though at first he tries to kill her, he finds that he cannot and, with his resistance low, he succumbs, declaring that he is beaten and that he does love her. As he sleeps, and though she had insisted to Robledo that she had never used the word "love" with anyone else, she leaves him, with a note telling him that she will not be his ruin.

Six years later, the dam is completed and the engineer Robledo is back in Paris being lauded for his success by a crowd of people, his fiancee on his arm. As they are climbing into a cab, however, Robledo sees a women in the crowd that he thinks is Elena. He follows her, finding her in a cafe, where he buys her a drink. He is surprised that she doesn't seem to remember him, and soon leaves. Elena then has a vision, that a man across the cafe is actually Jesus Christ, halo and all. It is then revealed that she has kept Robledo's ring, the one he had given her that first night they met. She gives to the man and the film ends with her walking away, alone down the street.

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