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Film / Mata Hari

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Mata Hari is a 1931 film directed by George Fitzmaurice, starring Greta Garbo and Ramon Novarro.

Garbo plays the title role, as the exotic dancer Mata Hari in Paris during World War I, who is also a spy for the Germans. Lionel Barrymore plays General Shubin, a Russian staff officer in Paris who is Mata Hari's lover and has been passing her secret information. Meanwhile, Lt. Rosanoff (Ramon Novarro) has landed in Paris after flying direct from St. Petersburg, carrying dispatches from the Russian government to France. Shubin takes Lt. Rosanoff to see Mata Hari onstage, and Rosanoff is instantly smitten. Mata Hari then gets to know Rosanoff, in order to steal a copy of the dispatches that he is set to take back to Russia from France—but she winds up falling in love with him.

Mata Hari was one of the biggest hits of Garbo's career. It was one of the last big roles for Novarro, who had been a big star in the silent movie days but whose career went into decline in the early '30s, probably because of his thick Mexican accent.

Later film adaptations include Mata Hari, Agent H21 (1964), starring Jeanne Moreau, and Mata Hari (1985), starring Sylvia Kristel. Compare The Mysterious Lady, a 1928 Garbo silent film with a similar plot.


  • Evil Cripple: The hit man that Andriani uses has a short leg. He wears a special shoe with a thick sole, and walks with a noticeable limp.
  • Femme Fatale Spy: Well, duh, it's about Mata Hari!
  • Have a Gay Old Time: "I like gambling. They laugh, it's gay there."
  • High-Class Glass: Both Shubin and Andriani, being very fancy people, wear monocles.
  • High-Heel–Face Turn: Mata Hari resigns from spy work rather than go to Amsterdam and abandon her wounded lover, Rosanoff.
  • Honey Trap: Mata Hari is this for Gen. Shubin, her lover, who helps her pass information out of France. She's this for Rosanoff too, sort of—she gets him to take her home and thus gains access to the secret dispatches.
  • Historical Beauty Update: The real-life Mata Hari was commonly regarded as being rather plain. Here, she's anything but, being played by the gorgeous Greta Garbo.
  • Leave Behind a Pistol: Andriani, the German spymaster, does this for one of his operatives after said operative passed on bad intel about a new weapon called a "tank".
  • MacGuffin: The secret dispatches that Lt. Rosanoff is supposed to take back to St. Petersburg.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Novarro and Barrymore, both playing Russian officers, sound like a Mexican and an American respectively.
  • Resignations Not Accepted: After Mata Hari quits spying, Andriani sends his hit man out to kill her. She escapes from the hit man but winds up getting arrested.
  • Sexy Backless Outfit: Mata Hari wears such a dress when she goes out to the casino.
  • Shot at Dawn: The film opens with some German spies being executed. This is Mata Hari's fate as well, but the film ends as she's being marched away.
  • Spy Fiction: Classic "Martini Flavored" variety, with glamorous women, guys in tuxedoes and dress uniforms, passing secret info at a fancy casino, etc.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Mata Hari (actually her stage name, her real name was Margaretha Geertruida Zelle MacLeod) was a dancer on the stage, she was a spy for the Germans, and she was executed by firing squad. The rest of the movie is fictional.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Apparently sending spies to Marseilles is the equivalent of this for Andriani. Carlotta (Karen Morley) knows exactly what it means when he tells her she's going there.