The Temptress is a 1926 silent drama film directed by Fred Niblo and starring Greta Garbo.
Elena (Garbo) is a gorgeous young Parisian socialite. At a fancy masked ball she rejects one suitor, but then meets and falls in instant love with Robledo (Antonio Moreno), an engineer who has returned to Paris from his work in Argentina. Within minutes of first laying eyes on each other they are pledging eternal devotion, with Elena, who is reluctant even to reveal her name, pledging that she belongs to no man.
So it's a surprise when Robledo calls on his old friend, a rich fop with the title Marquis de Torre Bianca (Armand Kaliz), and finds that Elena is the Marquis's wife. He's even more sickened to find out that Elena has been having an affair with a banker named Fontenoy, which her husband knew about. The situation grows uglier still when Fontenoy (Marc McDermott), right after revealing that he's gone broke from paying money to Elena, kills himself at a dinner party. Disgusted, Robledo returns to Argentina, and to his work designing and constructing a great dam. It's a rough spot in the middle of Argentine nowhere, and Robledo throws himself into hard work, forgetting all about his faithless girlfriend—until the Marquis unexpectedly arrives in the construction camp, Elena in tow.
Lionel Barrymore appears as Canterac, one of the construction foremen in Argentina who falls for Elena.
- Absolute Cleavage: The woman sitting next to Fontenoy at the dinner party has a dress cut down to her navel, the two halves being held together by an "X" tie that only serves to emphasize her breasts.
- As You Know...: In order to tell the audience that Robledo is back visiting Paris on vacation from his work in Argentina, the Marquis asks "What brings you back to Paris—after so many years in the wild Argentine?"
- Bandito: Manos Duras, the local Argentinian bandit, who lusts for Elena just like everyone else does, sometimes steals Robledo's company's horses, and for reasons that aren't clear, wants to destroy the dam.
- Barefoot Poverty: Robledo, pissed off at Elena's arrival, grudgingly tells her that the housekeeper will get her a room, but then says "But Madame will see this is not Paris." This line is followed up by a shot of the humble housekeeper's bare feet.
- Bittersweet Ending: Robledo finally builds his great dam, and at the end of the movie he's rich and successful and has a lovely fiancee. But poor Elena is a mess of an alcoholic, she's implied to be a low-rent prostitute, and she's gone insane to boot. (MGM boss Louis B. Mayer found this ending so depressing that he personally demanded and got a happier alternate ending in which Robledo and a much better off Elena make amends.)
- But for Me, It Was Tuesday: At the end Robledo meets Elena once more, and is startled to find her drinking heavily and looking strung-out and disheveled. He offers to help her but she doesn't even remember him, saying "I meet so many men." Robledo is very upset. It's subverted afterwards, however, when it becomes apparent that Elena has lost her mind.
- Call-Back: At their first meeting Robledo gives Elena a fancy ruby ring as a token of his love. At the end a strung-out, deranged Elena gives the ring to a disheveled hobo after hallucinating that the hobo is Jesus.
- Contrived Coincidence: Robledo's friend the Marquis is married to Robledo's new girlfriend. Possibly averted since the Parisian ultrarich would be a small circle.
- Distant Finale: Six years pass before the final scene where Robledo, now rich and successful and engaged to be married, has a last sad meeting with a run-down Elena in Paris.
- Distracted by the Sexy: The arrival of a smoking-hot babe in a dusty construction camp has just the effect one might imagine on a group of lonely, horny men. The work on the dam begins to be neglected as the men in charge start chasing after Elena, much to Robledo's fury.
- Dramatic Shattering: Fontenoy, having drank the poisoned wine and told everyone at dinner about his sleazy affair with Elena, grasps the glass so hard it shatters, right before Fontenoy keels over dead.
- Driven to Suicide: Fontenoy, who has ruined himself by showering money and gifts on Elena (Stealing from the Till at his bank is implied), kills himself by drinking poisoned wine, but not before telling a whole party the sleazy truth about Elena and the Marquis.
- Extra! Extra! Read All About It!: Newsies hawk papers with the headline "LE SUICIDE DE FONTENOY." The Marquis encouraged Elena's affair with another man but is not happy about public exposure.
- Fatal Family Photo: Pirovani, one of the construction foremen in Argentina, pulls out a photo and looks at his daughter, who wrote him a letter begging him to send for her. Guess who dies in the third act in an argument over Elena?
- Feet-First Introduction: Not the first time we see her. But Elena's surprise arrival in Argentina is introduced by her high-heel shoes and stocking-clad calves swinging out of the door of a carriage.
- Fish out of Water: Elena looks pretty ridiculous, wearing all her slinky dresses and fancy outfits at a roughneck construction site. But she insists on it, and soon gets all the men in the camp wrapped around her finger.
- Footsie Under the Table: A long dolly shot under the table at the dinner party shows many male and female guests engaged in this. One woman is playing footsie with two different men at the same time.
- Interplay of Sex and Violence: Elena is visibly turned on when Robledo and Manos Duras have their duel with whips. She's practically panting when Robledo strips to the waist in order to fight.
- Intro Dump: All four of the workers at the dam site are introduced when Robledo comes back and addresses each one of them by name.
- I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: At the climax, having failed to stop the destruction of the dam, a weakened and heartbroken Robledo gives up. He surrenders to Elena, saying that he's hers and he'll run away with her or do whatever else she wants. Elena, who had something of a Heel Realization after Canterac killed Pirovani, says that she won't be his ruin, and leaves. (As the ending shows, she's the one that's ruined.)
- Karma Houdini: Surprisingly, Manos Duras gets away after dynamiting the dam, although the ending shows that he ultimately failed to stop it from being built.
- Lady Drunk: The last scene finds Elena a mess of an alcoholic. When he offers to help her she asks him to buy her a drink. When the waiter brings a bottle, Elena, who could barely stand even before, starts pounding shots with alarming speed.
- Off-into-the-Distance Ending: Ends with Elena, who has been reduced to alcoholism and poverty and apparently prostitution, shuffling away down the sidewalk.
- The Plot Reaper: The Marquis is killed by accidentally stepping in front of a bullet meant for Robledo. This is to get him out of the way so that Elena is free to start messing with all the men in the camp.
- Spiritual Successor: To Torrent, Garbo's previous film, her first in America. Both were adaptations of novels by Vincente Blasco Ibanez, ornate costume dramas in which Garbo plays an exotically beautiful temptress/vamp.
- Thousand-Yard Stare: The melancholy ending finds Elena so drunk and messed up that she can do little other than stare into space.
- Title Drop: Fontenoy, right before committing suicide with a poisoned drink, raises his glass and gives a sarcastic toast to Elena, saying "To the temptress!"
- The Vamp: Elena the eponymous temptress gets pleasure out of using her feminine wiles to enrapture and manipulate men. She points out correctly to Robledo that it's really the men's fault for going wild with lust and being unable to control themselves when in her presence.