If you want to see Greta Garbo at her absolute most-powerful best, I recommend a 1926 silent film called “The Temptress.” Garbo plays Elena, a Parisian woman in a loveless marriage who becomes a mistress for a financier. At a masked ball, Elena meets Robledo and they instantly fall in love. When the financier goes bankrupt and kills himself, Elena sets her sights on landing Robledo, who travels off to build a dam in the Argentine wilderness. Elena follows him, which sets off a series of criminal activities and disastrous incidents.
Garbo’s expressive face and movements pace this torrid romance, and there are a couple of well-staged action sequences that emphasize the danger Elena poses to the men around her. In one scene, Robledo duels a murderous guacho in a whip battle. As Elena watches the vicious fight, her face and body seem to contort in rapturous ecstasy. In the aftermath of the whip duel, jealousy causes a couple of murders. Although Garbo loves Robledo, she plays the other men against each other, causing a rift that never quite gets settled properly.
Supposedly, this is the film that convinced MGM’s Louis B. Mayer of Garbo’s star quality. Antonio Moreno, who plays Robledo, gives a capable performance in a viral role. He made films until 1959, but remains a forgotten star. Lionel Barrymore plays a pivotal character in the film as Canterac, a worker on the Argentine dam project.