The 2006 remake of this film (or should I say readaptation of the W Somerset Maugham novel) is a marvelous cinematic achievement; the perfect blend of beauty, tragedy, love and hate. It runs the gamut of human emotions and offers one of cinemas most fully fleshed out and beautifully tailored performances. I often have praised Naomi Watts' beautiful portrayal of Kitty Fane, for she really gives us a character that makes the complete circle of life so-to-speak. She gives us every stage of her emotional journey with effortless grace.
Enough about `that' version of this movie!
Richard Boleslawski's 1934 version of `The Painted Veil' has some, but not a lot, in common with John Curran's remake. The basic premise of Kitty marrying Walter, a mad she barely knows and does not love, is still here. She still has an affair and is ushered off to the pits of cholera infested Asia with her husband as a consequence, but the way in which Boleslawski handles the relationships between all parties is rather different.
And the ending, but I have not read the novel and thus don't know who was more faithful.
This 1934 film concentrates much more on the budding romance between Kitty and Jack Townsend then necessary. In the 2006 film their relationship begins and ends in the first 15 minutes of the film, which allows for the blossoming relationship between Kitty and Walter to get the attention required, giving it sustenance and heart. By the time hearts are softened and lives are changed we should be able to truly feel it within the characters, and in the 2006 film we can. Here it is more difficult, beings that their relationship is really only given about 30 minutes of screen time. It was an odd directorial decision, and it served as a disservice to the film.
And I much preferred the ending given the newer version.
That said, the performances are really great here from everyone, and they work to carry the film, even when the script falls short. Greta Garbo is wonderful as Kitty, but the script doesn't give her the benefit of a fully fleshed out character (although her `revelation' scene before her husband leaves us astonishing). Herbert Marshall uses a nice restraint to his performance that adds to the layers of hurt he is experiencing; and George Brent has glorified supporting role as Townsend, and he uses ample amounts of suave charm to create a memorable character.
In the end, `The Painted Veil' is a good film, but it is rather incomplete. It has the basic promise of something special, but it does add enough layers to make it really stand out and grab us. I'd recommend the remake before I'd recommend this one. There is just so much more there.
This one is good, but far from great.