ANNA KARENINA (1948)
You can't keep a good Russian adulteress down.
The 1948 version of Count Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina has another exceptional beauty to play our doomed heroine. Vivien Leigh had a remarkably small filmography, but among them is this adaptation that by now had been done twice over by Greta Garbo. This Anna Karenina is perhaps not on the level of either Love or 1935's Anna Karenina, but with some beautiful costumes and a strong performance by Leigh, it makes for good viewing.
The beautiful Anna Karenina (Leigh), wife of stodgy, aloof bureaucrat Karenin (Ralph Richardson) meets Count Vronsky (Kieron Moore), a dashing Imperial Russian officer who falls instantly in love with Anna. Despite a possible bride in Anna's friend, her brother's wife's sister Kitty (Sally Anne Howes), and the most eligible bachelor in Moscow, Vronsky is adamant about pursuing Mrs. Karenin.
Eventually, she gives in to the temptations of the flesh and begins an affair. Karenin eventually learns of it after she makes a spectacle of herself at the races when Vronsky is injured. He insists that Anna give up her lover for the sake of appearances and to keep their son Sergei. She cannot, and more scandal comes when she miscarries. Karenin grudgingly forgives her and Vronsky attempts suicide.
However, Anna is still too enthralled with Vronsky and runs off with him to Italy. It appears they will be happy, but he may be setting his eyes on an advantageous marriage and a desire to return to fighting for Mother Russia. Seeing that she has no son, no husband, and now no lover, Anna walks in front of a train to meet her tragic end.
Vivien Leigh was one of the most skilled actresses of her generation, and it is to her credit that she mostly elevates this slow-paced to sometimes dull version. I say mostly because at times there seemed to be a great deal of posing in Anna Karenina, where the actors feel as if their delivery has to be a bit theatrical. Even Leigh falls into this trap on occasion, though there are times that she is quite moving.
Of particular note is her final scene, where she moves slowly towards her encounter with the train, the mix of melancholy and regret touching your heart.
Ralph Richardson too had a strong performance as Karenin. He is loaded with a stiff character, but he too has glimmers of a genuinely hurt man, incapable of being truly open. When he tells Anna if anyone has asked him if he can bear this situation, his voice cracks just a bit, showing a man forcing himself to keep it together when he yearns to fall apart.
It is Moore that is the problem. I suppose he's handsome but he is also so dull in Anna Karenina. He does not inspire passion or even the suggestion of passion, of a deep enthralling romance or erotic desire that would make a woman leave her family for him. There is no sense that he is genuinely in love with Anna or even interested in her as a friend, let alone a mistress. You do not feel the sparks, and Moore is weak with everyone he is on screen with.
This Anna Karenina is a bit weak, done in by Moore's stilted performance and a lack of funds. It feels longer than it should, almost to being a bit of a drag. However, with strong performances by Leigh and Richardson and quite nice costumes by Cecil Beaton and excellent cinematography, it is worth the time spent on.