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Film / Wild Orchids

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Wild Orchids is a 1929 silent film directed by Sidney Franklin, starring Greta Garbo. Garbo is Lillie Sterling, the young, gorgeous wife of a considerably older man, John Sterling (Lewis Stone). The Sterlings leave San Francisco on a ship bound for Java, where John is looking to invest in the production of tea. On board the ship they meet the dashing Prince de Gace, who is returning to his plantation in Java and invites the Sterlings to stay with him. Clueless John Sterling thinks this is simple courtesy, but in fact de Gace is infatuated with Lillie and seeks to seduce her. Not only does Sterling not pick up on the fact that the Prince is after his wife, he himself seems to have little interest in sex with her. This only helps drive Lillie into the Prince's arms, but Sterling eventually finds out, setting up a violent climax.

Wild Orchids was one of the last silent films made in Hollywood, probably because MGM was nervous about transitioning Garbo and her heavy Swedish accent to sound.

Not to be confused with the Mickey Rourke erotic drama, Wild Orchid.

Provides examples of:

  • Catapult Nightmare: Lillie wakes up this way after her dream of de Gace whipping her.
  • Desperately Craves Affection: In the end, Lillie succumbs to de Gace less because she's interested in him, and more because her husband won't pay attention to her.
  • Dude, She's Like in a Coma: When Lillie is out cold after fainting, the prince unbuttons her blouse.
  • Establishing Character Moment / A Taste of the Lash: The first time Lillie meets the prince is when she sees the Prince whipping his Asian servant in the passageway.
  • Fainting: Lillie faints after finding out that they are going to stay at de Gace's estate.
  • Hunting "Accident": Sterling's plot for de Gace—he takes the prince on a tiger hunt, but gives him a gun that isn't loaded.
  • Ignore the Fanservice: Lillie puts on an elaborate Javanese costume in order to get a rise out of her husband. She fails, but the prince is definitely interested.
  • Love Triangle: A pretty standard one with Lillie, her husband, and the handsome prince.
  • Married to the Job: John Sterling's single-minded fixation on his potential investments in Java completely blind him to his wife's obvious need for attention and de Gace's obvious willingness to give it to her.
  • May–December Romance: It's actually difficult to figure out how the Sterlings wound up together. Her obvious affection towards him and his lack of any sexual interest in her seems to argue against Gold Digger or Trophy Wife.
  • Sexless Marriage: Apparently the case with the Sterlings, although it's not clear why, given Lillie's obvious interest in her husband—The Loins Sleep Tonight, maybe?
  • Sexy Backless Outfit: Lillie wears one for the dance on board the ship.
  • Sleeping Single: A plot point, at a time when Hollywood actually allowed men and women to share a bed. Sterling says "My God, a double bed!" when de Gace shows them Lillie's room, and is relieved to hear that he is getting his own room. This helps build Lillie's sexual frustration.
  • Title Drop: The prince says that Lillie is like an orchid, and then remarks that "in Java, the orchids grow wild."