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26 Dec 1931
1 Oct--16 Nov 1931
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(Lt. Alexis Rosanoff)
C. Henry Gordon
Alec B. Francis
Helen Jerome Eddy
In 1917 during World War I, France deals summarily with traitors and spies. After presiding over the execution of the latest group of convicted spies, Dubois, chief of the French Spy Bureau, vows that he will someday find enough evidence to prosecute France's greatest enemy, Mata Hari, a spy for the Germans who poses as a dancer. Mata, a resident of Paris, receives her assignments from a man named Andriani, who instructs the beautiful agent to use her charms to procure messages and maps detailing Russian troop movements. Soon after meeting the handsome Lieutenant Alexis Rosanoff of the Russian Imperial Air Force, a flier who was celebrated for his successful flight over German lines to bring back a secret message, Mata begins an affair with him. Mata, who initially does not know that Alexis possesses the very documents she has been ordered to steal, falls in love with him. Later, when Mata learns that Alexis is carrying the secret documents, she sleeps with him and darkens the apartment so that her fellow agents can take the papers, copy them and return them without notice. The ruthless Andriani, who believes that a spy is permitted no friends, emotions or personal life, has Carlotta, one of his spies, killed for falling in love on the job. After this, he tells Mata that she must continue her relationship with Alexis without becoming attached to him. Using a different tactic to get the evidence he needs to snare Mata, Dubois tells General Shubin, Mata's ex-lover and former accomplice, that Mata has been having an affair with Alexis, hoping that his jealous rage will result in him exposing her treachery. As predicted, Shubin angrily confronts Mata, and Mata tries to prove that she does not love Alexis by showing Shubin the secret photographs she stole from the young lieutenant. Not convinced, Shubin places a call to the embassy in order to have Mata arrested, but Mata shoots him before he can reveal her. After begging Alexis to leave and forget that he ever knew her, Mata flees from the murder scene. Fearful of what might happen to his espionage operation now that Mata has murdered Shubin, Andriani tells her that her Paris assignment is over and that she must now go to Amsterdam to avoid harm. Before Mata leaves, however, Andriani informs her that Alexis has been injured in an airplane crash and has been hospitalized. When Andriani forbids her to visit Alexis, Mata resigns from the spy ring and goes to her lover. At his bedside, Mata promises the blinded Alexis that she will never leave him again. As soon as Mata leaves the hospital, though, she is arrested by Dubois and put on trial for murder and espionage. In order to prevent Alexis from ever knowing about her crimes, Mata pleads guilty before the prosecution can call him to the witness stand. Though Mata's execution has been set, she anxiously waits for a reprieve. The reprieve never comes, and just prior to her execution, Alexis, having been told that she is in a sanitarium awaiting an operation, visits her and is fooled into thinking that the prison is a hospital. Mata asks Alexis to promise not to grieve too much if her operation fails and she dies, and she is then led outdoors, where the firing squad is prepared to execute her.
A George Fitzmaurice Production
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Distributing Corp.
H. Cullen Tate
B. P. Fineman
A. L. Lane
Charles W. Riley
Fred R. Morgan
Passed By NBR:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Distributing Corp.
Western Electric Sound System
World War I
France. Intelligence Service
Germany. Intelligence Service
This film was based on the true story of Mata Hari, the assumed name of Margaretha Geertruida MacLeod (née Zelle), and her espionage activities during World War I. According to the file for the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, in Apr 1930, Paramount producer Ben Schulberg asked the opinion of the Hays Office on doing a picture based on the book
by Major Thomas Coulson of the British Intelligence Service. The Hays Office forwarded the book to the German Consul General in San Francisco, Otto von Hentig, who called it "one of the most contemptible pieces of war propoganda I ever read" and claimed that every detail of the story was "utterly wrong or misconceived." The Consul General also complained that in the story Germans were "once again the treacherous, cunning nation compared with these gallant and clever French and English men." At least one official at the MPPDA, Maurice McKenzie, shared von Hentig's opinion that Coulson's story should not be filmed and called it "a dangerous one to deal with from both the French and German standpoint."
Paramount eventually abandoned its plans to film the story, but M-G-M took up the idea and submitted a temporary script of
a year later. According to a Dec 1931
article, an M-G-M executive asserted that "no single book written about the adventuress's exploits was used as authority for the film narrative." The Hays Office called M-G-M's version "a very strong story and an interesting one." Initially, the only objections raised by the Hays Office to the M-G-M script were those concerning Mata's dance sequence and the "bedroom situations." By Aug 1931, however, M-G-M was warned about, among other things, Mata's nudity, her sexual affairs and the portrayal of nuns as "parties to an illicit sexual affair."
pre-production news items note that Jean Hersholt was set for a part in this film and that the start of filming was delayed due to story difficulties. Although a Nov 1931
news item notes that actress Isabel Keith was signed to a role, her appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. Modern sources credit J. K. Brock with the sound and list Gordon De Main in the role of "Ivan." According to a
news item, the Aggoure ranch, located about fifty miles from Hollywood in the Sherwood Lake region, was used as the location for the execution scenes in this picture. The
also indicates that, in order to "insure the accuracy of treatment and curtail production delays," director George Fitzmaurice adopted an experimental plan of using over 300 drawings prepared by studio draftsmen to supplement his continuity sheet. The drawings, which were supervised by Fitzmaurice and Alexander Toluboff of the studio art department, included detailed pictorial compositions of the settings, the positioning of players and specifications for lighting and camera angles. The
review notes that "Mata Hari" translates to "eye of the dawn" in Hindustani.
According to the MPAA/PCA file, in Dec 1931, New York censors ordered many eliminations from the film, including the scene in which Novarro picks up Garbo from a couch, carries her into a bedroom and slams the door; the subsequent view of the city at dawn; Garbo lighting the Madonna lamp; and "Andriani's" men carrying out "Carlotta's" body. The Atlanta Better Film Committee reviewed the film in Jan 1932 and gave it a "not recommended" rating. The reviewer commented, "I wish this picture could be destroyed. It is not fit to be shown anywhere." In Jan 1936, a PCA official who reviewed the film to determine its eligibility for re-issue certification recommended against certification and wrote that the film was "the type of picture which caused adverse criticism of the motion picture industry." Although the PCA submitted a new list of required deletions to qualify
for re-issue certification, the film was rejected that year. The picture did not receive a re-issue certification number until Jul 1939.
Among the many films based on the legendary spy are: a 1927 German film entitled
, directed by Frederich Feher and starring Madga Sonia; a 1965 French-Italian production entitled
Mata Hari, Agent H--21
, directed by Jean-Louis Richard, and starring Jeanne Moreau and Jean-Louis Trintignant (see
AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70
; F6.3137); and the 1985 film
, directed by Curtis Harrington and starring Sylvia Kristel and Christopher Cazenore. In addition, Mata Hari was caricatured by Zsa Zsa Gabor in the 1972 British film
Up the Front
18 Nov 31
3 Jan 32
10 Oct 31
17 Oct 31
15 Sep 31
1 Oct 31
27 Nov 31
1 Feb 32
Motion Picture Herald
9 Jan 32
New York Times
New York Times
1 Jan 32
New York Times
5 Jan 32
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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the
AFI Catalog of Feature Films
and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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