Beautiful enigma: Garbo’s mystery lives on

‘We didn’t need dialogue’, glares Gloria Swanson’s crazed silent picture star midway through Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard. ‘We had faces!’ She had a point. Even those of us who believe the movies weren’t really the movies until they had snappy dialogue (and no dialogue ever snapped the way Wilder’s did) have to concede that Swanson had a face that could stop a train. Still, she was an also-ran compared with Greta Garbo, who had a face that could start a religion. As her first champion, the Swedish filmmaker Mauritz Stiller, once said that Garbo’s mush would ‘make the gods happy’. Her embonpoint was rather less empyreal. John Gilbert, her most