The Garden of Eden (1928) A Silent Film Review

Toni is an innocent Austrian girl who dreams of an operatic career but the only job she can get is as a showgirl in a nightclub. After refusing the advances of a wealthy customer, Toni and the club seamstress are sacked. The unlikely pair make their way to Monte Carlo where Toni gets a chance at real love.

Home Media Availability: Released on DVD.

The Seamstress and the Opera Singer

Toni LeBrun (Corinne Griffith) lives above a bakery in Austria. Not content to stay home and make pretzels all her life, Toni is determined to start a career as an opera singer. With a job offer in hand, Toni takes a train to Budapest. The promised job is at a night club. Toni can’t figure out why the club owner, Madame Bauer (Maude George), wants to see her legs but isn’t at all interested in hearing her sing.

Then the club seamstress, Rosa (Louise Dresser), dresses her in a costume that is clothing more in theory than in practice. The audience (but not Toni) should by now be pretty sure just what kind of nightclub this is and it ain’t an opera-lovers club.

Henri D’Avril (Lowell Sherman) is one of Madame Bauer’s best patrons and he is always looking for a new… face. Madame Bauer introduces Toni to D’Avril and leaves the lovebirds alone. When Rosa saves Toni from D’Avril’s advances, Madame Bauer fires them both.

Toni is not cut out for nightclub life
Toni is not cut out for nightclub life

Since Toni has nowhere else to go, Rosa takes her with her on her annual vacation. You see, Rosa the seamstress spends two weeks a year as a baroness in Monte Carlo. Like many members of the European aristocracy, Rosa was ruined by the War. She works through the year and spends her entire pension on one fabulous pre-War splurge.

Signed in at the hotel as Rosa’s daughter, Toni quickly catches the eye of, well, almost every man in the hotel. Richard Dupont (Charles Ray) falls head over heels for the charming Toni but so does his wealthy uncle, Colonel Dupont (Edward Martindel). Rosa starts to become a real mother to Toni; screening her phone calls and trying to keep her safe from fresh young men.

No dates for you!
No dates for you!

After a zany courtship, Richard finally wins Toni over and gains Rosa’s approval. A whirlwind wedding seems to be the solution to all her problems. However, Toni’s happiness is marred by the fact that feels guilty about hiding her past from Richard. She would be even more nervous if she knew that Richard has invited another one of his uncles to the wedding: Henri D’Avril, the masher from Budapest.

The Garden of Eden represents silent film at its peak. It’s a charming romantic comedy that boasts snappy intertitles, beautiful photography and some of the best character actors of the silent era.

Like too many stars of the period, Corinne Griffith is largely forgotten today but she was one of the top stars of the silent feature film. A beautiful woman and popular dramatic actress, Griffith was also an accomplished comedienne. Her cute facial expressions reminiscent of Lucille Ball and her panicked reactions are funny without being too goofy.

Toni and Richard trade quips in the hotel garden.
Toni and Richard trade quips in the hotel garden.

Charles Ray was best known for his bumpkin roles, type-casting that he was eager to escape. His career was on the ebb by this period but he turns in an appealing performance as Toni’s playful suitor. Lowell Sherman plays a more likable version of his cad from Way Down East. No one in silent film could despoil maidens with more flourish than Mr. Sherman. Louise Dresser is a treat as Rosa, the penniless aristocrat. She is best remebered as the lusty Czarina in Valentino’s classic, The Eagle. In this film, she is still regal but more of a mother figure to the clueless Toni.

The Garden of Eden originally featured a color dream sequence. That footage is now lost but, fortunately, the storyline is easy to follow without it. A great pity nonetheless.

The Garden of Eden is a funny, accessible film and it is an ideal choice for introducing your friends to silent movies. It plays with the film cliches of its era while fulfilling audience expectations at the same time. This delicate balancing act makes it one of the best romantic comedies of the late silent era.

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Where can I see it?

Available on DVD from Grapevine. You can also try to track down the out-of-print Flicker Alley DVD.